The Reconstruction Amendments were intended to give our nation what Abraham Lincoln promised at Gettysburg: a New Birth of Freedom. Unfortunately, much of their power and meaning was eviscerated in a series of egregious Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s and 1880s. These rulings are just as wrong as long-overruled opinions such as Plessy v. Ferguson, but remain on the books. Read properly, the Reconstruction Amendments provide a solid foundation for courts and the federal government to protect human and civil rights.
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The 14th Amendment’s Citizenship Clause is one of the Constitution’s most important and underappreciated provisions. The clause grants full United States citizenship to anyone born on American soil (with a narrow exception for children of foreign diplomats) or naturalized by the federal government. With text and history on our side, CAC defends the rights of new Americans and immigrants to this country in Congress, courts, and the media.
"We the People" ratified the Constitution to form a national government strong enough to establish justice, provide for the common defense and general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. Subsequent amendments expanded the power of the federal government, shifting power away from the states. Yet recently, the Supreme Court has aggressively limited federal protections for women, workers, disabled people and the environment, in a misguided attempt to protect the states.
Our Constitution never uses the term “corporations,” referring instead to protections for “persons,” “the people,” and “citizens.” Yet in recent years, the Supreme Court has in several areas given corporations more protection than individuals, a trend CAC has tracked through its reports on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Roberts Court.
Our Constitution’s vision of a government of “we the people” was quite radical for its time. The twin ideas of voting rights and jury trials are at the core of that vision. Six Amendments adopted since the Constitution was ratified expand the right to vote and three protect jury trials. The Constitution similarly allows for a system of federal courts where people can vindicate their rights under federal laws.
Corporations and special interests have poured millions of dollars into a coordinated effort to attack environmental safeguards based on interpretations of the Constitution that cannot be squared with the document’s text and history, especially its Takings and Commerce Clauses. CAC continues the path-breaking work of its predecessor organization, Community Rights Counsel, which defended the constitutionality of environmental safeguards and helped win important and surprising Supreme Court victories.