he 14th amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are two of the most important civil rights protections in our nation. The 14th amendment has been cited in more litigation than any other amendment – including landmark cases such as Brown v Board of Education. But recent racist attacks on these civil rights policies show that they are still vulnerable to erosion even after all these years. After the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in the 2013 Shelby County v Holder decision, extremists have now set their sights on policies, such as the 14th Amendment, that offer protection to communities of color. Ratified in 1868, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” and endowed all such citizens with the rights of due process and equal protection of the law. The amendment was passed explicitly to clarify the citizenship of the millions of African-Americans emancipated from slavery through the passage of the 13th Amendment. Overnight, the law redefined who was considered an American citizen.
The 14th Amendment is not a relic of the past – people of color continue to receive protections under the statute. The amendment has been grounds for rulings in cases ranging from search and seizure protections to marriage equality. It has been asserted in challenges to school discipline policies that funnel students of color into the prison system. It is among the current provisions used to challenge attacks on the right to vote for voters of color in states like North Carolina, where extremist state legislators undermined access to the ballot at every stage of the electoral process. The 14th Amendment is an enduring and essential instrument to secure and protect racial justice.
Any attack on the 14th Amendment is an affront to history and compromises the rights of African-Americans. Yet the measure does not only provide protection for African-Americans. In recent years conservative pundits and politicians are assailing the 14th Amendment because it provides protections for children of undocumented parents.