Updated 10:47 p.m.
POP QUIZ: What kind of government do we have in the United States of America? Tick. Tock. Time’s up. If you said anything other than a “republic,” then you’re wrong. No, we’re not a Democracy. We’re not a “Democratic Republic.” No, we’re not a “Constitutional Republic.” We are simply a “Republic.”
The difference between a republic and a democracy is clear, even though it might seem redundant at first. A democracy is a system of government where the people have complete power over their own government. Laws are defined and established by the people, leaving for a clear “majority rules” system. A republic, on the other hand, is a system of government where leaders are elected — by the people — but the leaders make the laws. In our system of government, we happen to call these leaders “legislators.”
The founders of our country knew ahead of time that such a legislative government would have some inherent weaknesses. Because of this, they created a document that would dictate exactly how they’d govern — a document that also defines the roles of two additional branches of government, executive and judiciary branches — the United States Constitution. This document not only defines the roles of the three branches of our government, it also includes clear language for the protection of individual rights.
It’s this protection that made our government unique in the world. In fact, it’s still very much the standard by which all others are judged, and is still a shining example of just how strong our Constitution remains. Much of its strength is not only in the original document, but also in its amendments. Of particular interest was the bill of rights, the first ten amendments.
Of course, the first and second amendments get the most press in most situations. However, it’s the 14th amendment that eventually led pivotal Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education (which ended segregation in schools) and Roe v. Wade (which legalized abortions). Before we discuss this amendment further, it’s a good idea to point out the section which has all of the sudden become “controversial:”
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. 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.
Senators Lindsey Graham and John Kyl, both Republicans, have called to
repeal tweak the 14th amendment. UPDATE: The article linked has clarified that the senators wish to “tweak,” not “repeal” the amendment. The reason, they claim, is because of what some call “anchor babies.” Essentially what happens is that when illegal aliens give birth to a child within the borders of the USA, that child is granted citizenship. The parent(s) of that child are then placed in a kind of legal limbo that’s very difficult for lawmakers or the public to address completely.
However, the suggestion to repeal the 14th amendment should bring chills down the spine of everyone in the country — not only because of its crucial role in American history, but because it still affects us today. If this amendment were repealed, consider some possible consequences:
- Women could be denied jobs.
- A special police force could be created to round up all illegals. Who’d be next?
- Various groups — gays, religious fundamentalists, people of various nationalities — could be forced into internment camps.
- Interracial marriage could be outlawed.
- Artificial birth control could be outlawed.
- Prisoners could be tortured or imprisoned without legal recourse.
- Segregation could be restored.
- The Miranda Act (you have the right to remain silent) could be repealed.
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would no longer be constitutional.
- Brown v. Board of Education would no longer have a basis in the Constitution.
- Roe v. Wade could be repealed.
Fox & Friends co-host Clayton Morris referred to this amendment as the “anchor baby” amendment. Clearly, such a reference is beyond ludicrous, and trivializes the very real issues that not only led to its ratification, but to its continued relevance today. If there’s one point that this amendment makes above all others, it’s this: Minorities have rights whether the majority likes it or not.
Here’s the reality: No one is given “new rights” or “special rights” because of the 14th amendment — those rights are simply affirmed. The amendment didn’t create anything new, but was written and ratified because we knew that some states would allow pockets of systemic discrimination if protections weren’t made clear. Sadly, it took nearly 100 years for the law to finally catch up to this amendment.
The law is still catching up, according to U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker. In his nuanced and detailed 136-page ruling, he declared Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional according to two clauses of the 14th amendment: the due process clause and the equal protection clause. The case has been immediately appealed to the 9th court of appeals, and is widely expected to reach the Supreme Court.
Backers of Proposition 8, which changed the California constitution to ban same-sex marriage, claimed that the voters should decide what should be a “right” or not. Judge Walker disagreed, as should the rest of us. Again — civil marriage is a right, not a privilege.
So why shouldn’t it be put to a vote? Desegregation wasn’t put to a vote. If it were, it would have been overwhelmingly rejected. In fact, in 1956 — two years after the historic 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision — 85 percent of the people in Arkansas opposed school desegregation. That state spent years in attempt to have the decision overturned, but it ultimately failed in that attempt.
When put to a vote, civil rights issues will always fall short. They’ve failed historically. When polled about desegregation in the Army, soldiers overwhelmingly opposed such a notion. President Harry Truman integrated the troops in 1948 regardless of intense opposition. Sweeping changes like ending segregation and allowing same-sex civil marriages are never popular. They’ll always be voted down, usually for “moral” reasons.
I shouldn’t be surprised that the 14th amendment is now under fire. It’s the single most important barrier to a denial of rights across the board, and it’s the one constitutional element that protects everyone who’s in the minority in our country.
Senators Graham and Kyl should be ashamed of themselves as should Fox “news” anchor Clayton Morris. They have rejected the very nature and purpose of the 14th amendment, and dismissed it as “the anchor baby” amendment, relegating it to a crude talking point for political hysteria.
It’s clear that illegal immigration and same-sex marriage remain political hot-button items in today’s political discussion. However, we simply cannot allow the 14th amendment to be even remotely considered to be a casualty in the culture war — a war where reason, sense, or sensibility have already been slaughtered.
Or have they?