May 03, 2017

Law Day event reminds students of significance of 14th Amendment

High school students from around the nation joined with American Bar Association leaders in a discussion on the 14th Amendment at a Law Day program in Washington, D.C. 

ABA President Linda Klein speaks to high school students as part of a Law Day program celebrating the 14th Amendment.

The gathering, which took place May 2 at the Naval Heritage Center auditorium at the United States Navy Memorial, was organized by the ABA Division for Public Education and the Close Up Foundation, a nonprofit organization that educates and inspires young people to become informed and engaged citizens.

Drawing on this year’s Law Day theme, “The 14th Amendment: Transforming American Democracy,” ABA President Linda Klein engaged more than 75 students from various states in a discussion about the 14th Amendment’s meaning and relevance in today’s society.

Klein said the 14th Amendment is one of the “most litigated, but least understood constitutional amendments.” 

Ratified in 1868, the 14th Amendment defines national citizenship and guarantees equal protection under the law, declaring that states may not deny any person "life, liberty or property, without due process of law."

“It’s important for every citizen to know what their constitutional rights are and the sooner we can explain it to young people the more productive citizens they will be,” Klein said.

Harry Johnson

Harry Johnson, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Public Education

Also part of the program, Harry Johnson, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Public Education, explained the purpose of the Bill of Rights and the relationship between the federal government and state and local authorities.

We see from this conversation that it has taken a long time for the courts to define that relationship, and they still are not finished,” Johnson said.

“It is the 14th Amendment that ensures that the rights granted to us under the Constitution, at the federal level, extend to us also at the state and local levels.”

Chris Vanbriesen, a JROTC instructor at Flandreau Indian School in Flandreu, South Dakota said he was pleased to have listened in on the session with students from his school.

“I look forward to taking this information back to my school to see how we can help the students understand the 14th Amendment in the context of business laws and other everyday realistic situations.”

Both Johnson and Aggie Alvez, a member of the ABA Standing Committee on Silver Gavel Awards, encouraged the students to read the full Constitution. The students received a pocket Constitution published by the ABA.

Following the program, Johnson said, “I hope that they will actually open the pocket constitution and look at some of the clauses so that when they hear terms like Freedom of Speech, they don’t just take for granted that these rights always existed, but they actually learned something about how these things have progressed and how long it has taken for these laws to be developed and become a part of our culture and how the changes in culture have helped some of these things to move forward from a legal standpoint.”

Classrooms across the country can organize similar discussions. The ABA’s Division for Public Education offers free resources for teachers to engage students in learning more about the 14th Amendment. A host of teaching aids are available, from lesson plans for all grade levels about due process and equal protection, to information on understanding executive orders.

The PowerPoint presentation that was shared at the session is available here.

About Law Day     

Envisioned in 1957 by then-ABA President Charles S. Rhyne as a national day to recognize the country’s commitment to the rule of law, Law Day was established by President Dwight Eisenhower the following year. Congress issued a joint resolution in 1961 designating May 1 as the official Law Day. Many civic groups and bar associations celebrate with a month of programs, presentations and events. Every year since 1958, every U.S. president has issued a Law Day proclamation. President Donald Trump issued his proclamation on May 1. Visit the ABA’s Law Day website for information about Law Day programs throughout the country.