On July 9, an ironic confluence of two important events occurred in our constitutional constellation. The first one was the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the 14th Amendment to our national Constitution. Historian Amanda Bellows, writing in The New York Times, expressed hope that “an even broader interpretation of the 14th Amendment may reshape American society in the 21st century.”

The 14th Amendment guaranteed citizenship to recently freed African-American slaves, and provided federal government protection against the denial of fundamental rights and the equal protection of the laws by state and local governments (the federal government was already bound by the U.S. Bill of Rights). Its main purpose was to prevent ongoing discrimination, particularly by southern states, against emancipated slaves who had been subjected to “black codes”—laws that essentially denied them basic civil and political rights.