Perspectiva Obscura: Civics 101.6 — Amendments


“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The remaining Constitutional Amendments, 10-27, added over the span of the republic, are a variety of important adjustments to the laws of the land. Whether it is corrections for injustices after the Civil War, voting rights, or laying out the succession of government in the event of presidential incapacity. The 14th Amendment, however, gives citizens equal protection rights but these amendments also gave us prohibition on alcohol (later repealed) and the income tax amendment.

Amendment XI — Suits against states

This is generally interpreted to mean that federal courts cannot hear certain lawsuits against states.

Amendment XII — Election of president and vice president

Continuation of the Electoral College and spells out that if there is a tie of electoral votes, the House of Representatives shall select the president and the Senate select the vice-president.

Amendment XIII — Abolition of slavery

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Amendment XIV — Citizenship rights, equal protection, apportionment, civil war debt

Passed in 1868, after the Civil War and during reconstruction, the 14th Amendment declared that anyone born in the U.S. (including slaves) is a citizen of the country and state they live in. It also declares that the U.S. or states cannot deprive any citizen of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

History.com states that the Supreme Court has interpreted equal protection to guarantee a host of rights “against infringement by states, including those enumerated in the Bill of Rights (freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, right to bear arms, etc.), as well as the right to privacy and other fundamental rights not mentioned elsewhere in the Constitution.”

This amendment became key in major cases involving civil rights. Again, www.history.com says, “the equal protection clause  was clearly intended to stop state governments from discriminating against black Americans, and over the years would play a key role in many landmark civil rights cases.”

Amendment XV — Right to vote not denied by race

Also passed after the Civil War (ratified in 1879) to protect voting rights, says “the rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Amendment XVI — Income tax

When it was finally ratified in 1913 it gave Congress the responsibility to collect taxes on income.

Amendment XVII — Popular election of senators

Until this was ratified in 1913 state legislatures selected U.S. Senators. This amendment removed that power and put it in the hands of the electorate. Except in the case of vacancy until an election can be held to choose a Senator.

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