The high ideals of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” endowed with “unalienable rights,” didn’t make it into the Constitution in 1787. It took three-quarters of a century, and a bloody civil war, before the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 made equality a constitutional right, and gave the federal government the power to enforce it.
In this episode, Peter learns how the far-reaching changes created by that amendment established new notions of citizenship, equal protection, due process, and personal liberty, altering the relationship between the federal government and the states. In many ways it is this “Second Constitution” that governs the nation we live in today, and it is the Fourteenth Amendment that underlies many landmark Supreme Court decisions that have reshaped the contours of American society.
In Tyler, Texas, Peter meets a group of siblings named Lopez, whose parents successfully challenged a law that prohibited the children of illegal aliens from attending public school. In Kentucky, he talks to a former convict who has served her time and is fighting to regain her right to vote. In Berkeley, California, two women’s insistence on their right to marry has thrust them into a battle with the state of California, in a case headed to the United States Supreme Court. And in New Haven, a white firefighter successfully challenges affirmative action policies that blocked his promotion, claiming the right to “equal protection.”