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Fourteenth Amendment: From Political Principle to Judicial Doctrine

NCJ Number
W E Nelson
Date Published
253 pages
In a historically grounded reinterpretation of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, this book argues that the amendment was written to affirm the general public's long-standing rhetorical commitment to the principles of equality and individual rights on the one hand, and to the principle of local self-rule on the other.
The 14th amendment provides that no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. The framers assumed that future Congresses or the courts would translate these general principles into specific legal doctrine, and, in the process, bridge any tensions that might emerge between them. The book supports neither the conservative 'original-intention' school regarding the meaning of the Constitution nor those attempting to broaden the principle of equality. Rather, the book reasons that a gap emerged in the late 19th century between 14th amendment rights and State legislative freedom, a gap which the U.S. Supreme Court attempted to narrow by applying the amendment's principles to individual cases. Overall, the book demonstrates that the Supreme Court built up a body of doctrine that achieved a balance between individual rights and local self-rule. Chapter notes, subject index.