About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for “The 14th Amendment’s Shield of National Protection: A Constitutional Guarantee of Liberty and Equality”

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
December 1, 2016

Good evening, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us this evening, whether you are here in the theater or watching on YouTube.

The 14th Amendment spells out key protections that we now consider basic rights, notably due process and equal protection under law. Since the passage of the amendment shortly after the end of the Civil War, the courts have looked to the 14th Amendment when deciding many landmark cases in matters of liberty and equality.

Our partner for tonight’s examination of “The 14th Amendment’s Shield of National Protection: A Constitutional Guarantee of Liberty and Equality” is the Constitutional Accountability Center and the National Constitution Center, and we thank them for their support.

Before we begin our panel discussion, though, I’d like to tell you about two programs coming up next week to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On Wednesday, December 7th, at noon, Craig Nelson, author of Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness, will tell us about how military personnel, diplomats, the Emperor of Japan, and the President of the United States reacted and fought during this dramatic moment in world history.

Later that afternoon, at 2 p.m., in a program titled “From the Vaults: How Americans First Learned of Pearl Harbor,” Mr. Nelson will introduce radio broadcasts, newsreels, and photographs that illustrate how the media kept Americans informed of the December 7th attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, which plunged America into World War II.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events in print or online at Archives.gov. There are copies in the lobby—along with a sign-up sheet so you can receive it by regular mail or email. You’ll also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

Of all the amendments to the United States Constitution, the 14th Amendment is the longest. It contains more words than any other amendment, and its first section alone touches on what we now consider key concepts of liberty and equality.

Historian Jack Rakove has noted that “None of the constitutional provisions adopted since 1789 has done more to shape and define the concept of ‘a more perfect union’ than Section 1” of the 14th Amendment.

In fact, there are so many important parts to the 14th Amendment that each of the five major parts of Section 1 could merit its own panel discussion.

Upstairs in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, a display case in our “Amending America” exhibit contains the 14th Amendment itself, along with a selection of documents from the Brown v. Board of Education decision on school segregation.

The 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause was the basis for the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision, as was the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage. Landmark legislation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights have also been grounded in the Equal Protection Clause.

And it is through the 14th Amendment that the full protection of the Bill of Rights was extended from the Federal level to the state level. Questions of liberty, equality, and due process are continually being debated and decided today, and we look forward to an invigorating discussion of these issues tonight.

And now it I would like to welcome our first panelists to the stage: Senator Chris Coons, Judge James Wynn, and Jeffrey Rosen.

Senator Coons has served as the U.S. Senator representing Delaware since 2010. He serves on the Appropriations, Foreign Relations, Judiciary, Small Business, and Entrepreneurship Committees, and the Select Committee on Ethics. Previously he was the county executive of New Castle County, Delaware. Senator Coons is the 1983 Truman Scholar from Delaware, and the first recipient of the award to serve in the United States Senate.

Judge Wynn serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. He was nominated by President Obama in November 2009 and confirmed by the Senate on August 5, 2010. Previously, he served on the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Judge Wynn has also served as a certified Military Trial Judge and a Captain in the U.S. Navy Reserves, and has received numerous medals and commendations.

Jeffrey Rosen is the president and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center. He is also a professor at the George Washington University Law School, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. He is a graduate of Harvard College; Oxford University, where he was a Marshall Scholar; and Yale Law School.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Senator Coons, Judge Wynn, and Jeffrey Rosen.