Teaching the Fourteenth Amendment: The Power of Citizenship

This is the second post in our four-part Teaching the Constitution series of blogs about U.S. Supreme Court cases.

What does it mean to be a citizen of the United States? That is a particularly relevant topic these days, and it places the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution squarely in the spotlight. This amendment, ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War, on July 9, 1868, granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” That included former slaves who had recently been freed. The Fourteenth Amendment also mandated that states could not deprive citizens of "life, liberty or property, without due process of law," nor could any state deny to any U.S. citizen within its jurisdiction “the equal protection of the laws.”

As such, the Fourteenth Amendment may well be the most important one. It has certainly been cited in more litigation than any of the other amendments. Its wide-ranging and historic effects are still discussed and examined regularly today, with citizens of all different backgrounds invoking it to ensure they receive equal treatment under the law. This makes teaching the Fourteenth Amendment to your students not just timely, but essential. 

In the table below, we spotlight eight U.S. Supreme Court cases you can cover when teaching the Fourteenth Amendment, with several relating directly to schools and children. Among them are cases that address the constitutionality of whether juveniles are entitled to due process rights, public universities can use specific racial quotas in their admissions standards, and students should receive a hearing if they are facing suspension from school.

These cases, and the complex issues they address, should prompt spirited discussions and debates amongst your students. Download the accompanying student handout to explore Fourteenth Amendment issues.

Suggested Activity: 

  1. Break your class into small groups. Have each group select a case from the handout.
  2. Have students research the background, arguments, decision, and how the case impacts today’s students.
  3. Students should present their research to the class in a format of their choosing—a trifold exhibit, a PowerPoint presentation, a video, etc. Or, set up your classroom like courtroom and have students roleplay as attorneys to argue their points.

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Learn more about HMH Social Studies, including the Judicial Inquiries program for middle and high school students to study 25 landmark Supreme Court cases that continue to impact their lives.