On May 1st, we celebrate the rule of law and the role of the law and legal processes, including the court system, in promoting democracy and freedom through our celebration of Law Day. First envisioned by the American Bar Association’s then-president, Charles S. Rhyne, in 1957, National Law Day was established as a day of national dedication to the principles of government under law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958, and May 1st was designated as the official date of celebration by a joint resolution of Congress in 1961.
The topic of this year’s Law Day is the Fourteenth Amendment. Consisting of five sections, it is the following language from Section 1 which is a cornerstone of the Amendment’s extension of federal guarantees of equal protection and due process to all citizens:
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 any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Until the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868 there was no provision in the federal Constitution or federal law to prevent the States from enacting laws that “denied to their own citizens the equal protection of laws or deprived them of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law.” Westel Woodbury Willoughby, The Constitutional Law of the United States at 177-78 (1910).
Representative John Bingham of Ohio played an important role both in drafting crucial language of the Amendment and ensuring its passage in Congress and ratification, was called by Justice Hugo Black “the Madison … of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
For a more detailed analysis please see the section on the 14th Amendment in Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation available at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/ – the Federal Digital System.