Next to the Bill of Rights, the Fourteenth Amendment might well be the most momentous Amendment to the Constitution. Here’s the most interesting chunk of it:
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 to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Before this amendment, adopted after the Civil War (mainly to keep white southerners from tyrannizing ex-slaves), the Bill of Rights had applied to individuals only against the federal government. After it, states were required to follow the Bill of Rights, too.
This week, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, five of nine members of the Supreme Court decided that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own guns against prohibitive regulation by states. In Heller, two years ago, the Supreme Court had applied the Second Amendment to individuals only against federal government regulation.
McDonald is a major advance for gun ownership rights. But the most interesting thing about the case is Justice Clarence Thomas’s separate concurrence. Four of the Justices decided that the 14th Amendment’s “due process” clause applied. Thomas argued, instead, that it is the “privileges and immunities” clause that matters.
Why care? Well, “privileges and immunities” is just a fancy way of saying “rights.”
That’s why we have courts. To protect our rights.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.