In 2018, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution turned 150. In December, IJ’s Center for Judicial Engagement launched a documentary-style podcast series, Bound By Oath, which tells the dramatic story of how the Amendment came to be—and why it is so important to securing individual liberty.
The 14th Amendment is critical to IJ’s mission. That’s because the original federal Constitution constrained only the size and scope of the federal government. It wasn’t until the 14th Amendment was ratified that the Constitution also limited abuses by state and local governments. So when IJ challenges state and local laws under the U.S. Constitution—even those that violate property rights or free speech or other rights enumerated in the original 1791 Bill of Rights—we can do so only because the 14th Amendment makes those protections enforceable against the states.
Ratified in response to the former Confederate states reinstating slavery in all but name after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment has a fascinating and meaningful history. But too few people are familiar with the Amendment’s liberty-protecting roots, and for that reason they are skeptical that courts should invoke the Amendment to strike down state laws and regulations.
Indeed, the Supreme Court defanged some of the most important provisions of the Amendment almost from its beginning. Starting in 1873, in the infamous Slaughter-House Cases, the Court virtually erased one of the Amendment’s most significant provisions, the Privileges or Immunities Clause. Other cases that followed limited other parts of the Amendment, ultimately putting the country on course for a century of Jim Crow laws unchecked by the federal courts.
Although the Supreme Court has corrected course on some fronts, much of the 14th Amendment is still dormant—waiting to be resurrected by the courts to stop the kinds of injustices the Amendment was designed to guard against when it was adopted in 1868, from protectionist occupational licensing laws to policing for profit schemes.
Featuring both modern and historical cases, Bound By Oath traces the Amendment’s origins, history, and modern significance. The podcast features leading legal scholars, historians, and IJ attorneys—as well as regular people who sued the government to vindicate their rights under the Amendment.