Today is the 138th anniversary of the passage of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
Libertarians see the protection of individual liberty and the guarantee of equality before the law as among the principal and legitimate?responsibilities of government. We recognize the 14th Amendment as the instrument that allows an equal and uniform enforcement of liberty and equal rights throughout the country
Prior to the 14th Amendment, the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution was applicable only with respect to the federal government. In cases involving one’s rights with respect to a state or locality, Americans had to avail themselves of differing state constitutions for guarantees of their rights. There was no enabling clause to allow the national government to enforce a uniform guarantee of individual rights throughout the Union.
The 14th Amendment was most explicit in remedying the foregoing weakness. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. . .The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” Thanks to the 14th Amendment, the federal government has?been able to curb significantly?the abuse of our individual rights in countless instances, from local governmental establishment of religious beliefs, to the failure to apply due process of law, to mandatory racial discrimination, and to many similar instances of the unequal treatment of our people.
The 14th Amendment is one of the most libertarian provisions that govern national policy, because it exemplifies the proper purpose of government power, which is to protect our rights. But?be wary against any misuse of the 14th Amendment to justify interference in the internal affairs of the states in areas that transcend the Amendment’s explicit language.
My thanks go out to Christopher Costanzo for his help in drafting this article.