Historical Evolution of the Constitution in Terms of Equal Rights
The Constitution of the United States is truly the most important document of the nation. One cannot underestimate its significance not only in terms of its influence on the development of the state, but also on everyday life of the US citizens. One might not know the Constitution or not be fully aware of its articles, but each person knows how crucial the document is. In fact, even without knowing the exact meanings of some articles and amendments, people tend to use them in everyday life, which quite often results in the misuse of notions and misunderstanding. In fact, the concept of equal rights described in the US Constitution is much more complex and open to debate than one can imagine.
The first thing one should do while analyzing the concept of equality described in the Constitution is to clearly read it and understand its meaning. In fact, this has to be done while exploring any concept, as it is a common mistake of people to use words and notions they do not understand. The 14th Amendment, which defines the equality of all people reads as such: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States… No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United State; nor shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws” (The US Constitution). This Amendment defines several very important things: firstly, all people born in the United States are citizens of the country; secondly, no state law is allowed to limit the citisens’ rights or deprive them of liberty, property or life; finally, every US citizen has a right to equal protection. Further, this paper will explore each of the significant spheres defined in the Amendment.
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It is truly interesting that the US Constitution does not speak about the equality of the nation’s citizens and does not define all people born within the US territory as such. This fact shows the conditions, in which the United States existed at times of the creation of the Constitution. One should remember that those were the days of slavery and the rights of black population were a complex issue. While some of the states were strongly against the slavery, others openly supported it. Therefore, if someone should have proposed to include the notion of the equality between White and Black population of the country in the Constitution, no one would have signed the document. Therefore, at the time of signing the Constitution, the issue of actual signing and unity was more important than some topics that caused major disagreements. Still, the concept of equality of everyone living within the United States was so essential that many years later, after even a civil war, the 14th Amendment was introduced. Thus, it truly gave a lot of possibilities to underprivileged and unprotected members of the US society.
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No one should undermine the significant role, which the 14th Amendment played in the life of the US population. People, who used to be literally no one as well as the unprotected part of the society, have gained their voice and place in the community. Some people believe that the 14th Amendment was so significant that it even changed the Constitution as it put the concept of equality in the heart of it, which was for the first time ever in history. Although earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled out that black people could not be the US citizens, the 14th Amendment finally reversed the case, fixing the same basic rules for the whole US territory. As it has already been stated, the chance to be equal was given to previously unprivileged members of the community, who received a possibility to become participants of various processes in the country, including the economic one. Indeed, the way to a real equality between different races in the United States was still very long, but the 14th Amendment had created a solid background for further fights for the equality, whether that was a suffrage movement of the early 20th century or the desire for the equal right for marriage for gay couples in the beginning of the 21st.
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Modern people do not imagine life prior to the enactment of the 14th Amendment and the provision of equal rights to every US citizen. People had different rights and opportunities depending on their skin color. White citizens perceived black people as unequal citizens without any legal rights. Thus, one can state that the 14th Amendment played a significant role in the development of the United States that people know nowadays.
One of the interesting things about the 14th Amendment is that it is one of the most commonly named in courts (at least according to Peter Sagal). People use it to demand an equal treatment as others. The causes might differ greatly: either a right to marry in the same way as heterosexual couples can; or a possibility to marry a person of a different race; or the right to earn income; or a desire to overcome the state legislation, which limits some group of rights of people. The concepts of equality and various rights (life, liberty, property) protected by the Constitution give people a possibility to challenge the legislation in both public and private matters.
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Still, there are several aspects of the concept of equality that could be questioned and debated. However, one can say that these are not the flaws of the 14th Amendment, but rather its interpretation by people. As one can see in Peter Sagal’s film, there are cases when neither White nor Black population of the US are satisfied with the existing legislation. Thus, there is even an idea that the Constitution might not adequately protect any of the groups in the society.
While trying to introduce the equality within a community, there is a possibility of discrimination of other groups of population. This might happen when the equality is used as a primary concept while making decisions, as it happened in the case of firemen. While ignoring other categories (such as experience, qualifications, knowledge, education, etc.), the authorities have set the racial equality as a primary concept while choosing high-ranking firefighters. This discriminated not only white firefighters who wanted equal chances for taking the higher-ranking position, but also ordinary people, who were deprived of a better protection for the sake of seemingly equal treatment. Thus, while striving for one form of equality, other forms were ignored, as well as factors, which had to be the main one while choosing firefighters.
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At the same time, while striving for the equality, there is always a chance to provide it for the majority while ignoring minorities. That was the case for equal rights for homosexual and heterosexual couples. The majority could make a decision that would have negative impacts for the minority. On the one hand, that would be the main execution of democratic principles, but on the other, that is the lack of equal treatment of all the US citizens.
In this regard, there are debates in the process of interpretation and implementation of the 14th Amendment, but no one would ever question its importance. The concept of equality fixed in the US Constitution is a truly significant one, as it laid the basis for the further development of the state. Without the 14th Amendment, it would be much harder to achieve the freedoms and possibilities that the US citizens have nowadays.