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The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment

The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment

Its Letter and Spirit

Randy E. Barnett, Evan D. Bernick

ISBN 9780674295537

Publication date: 04/01/2024

A Federalist Notable Book

“An important contribution to our understanding of the 14th Amendment.”
Wall Street Journal

“By any standard an important contribution…A must-read.”
National Review

“The most detailed legal history to date of the constitutional amendment that changed American law more than any before or since…The corpus of legal scholarship is richer for it.”
Washington Examiner

Adopted in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment profoundly changed the Constitution, giving the federal judiciary and Congress new powers to protect the fundamental rights of individuals from being violated by the states. Yet, the Supreme Court has long misunderstood or ignored the original meaning of its key Section I clauses.

Barnett and Bernick contend that the Fourteenth Amendment must be understood as the culmination of decades of debate about the meaning of the antebellum Constitution. In the course of this debate, antislavery advocates advanced arguments informed by natural rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the common law, as well as what is today called public-meaning originalism.

The authors show how these arguments and the principles of the Declaration in particular eventually came to modify the Constitution. They also propose workable doctrines for implementing the amendment’s key provisions covering the privileges and immunities of citizenship, due process, and equal protection under the law.


  • The book’s impressive array of historical materials makes an important contribution to our understanding of the 14th Amendment.

    —Raymond Kethledge, Wall Street Journal


  • Randy E. Barnett is the Patrick Hotung Professor of Constitutional Law at the Georgetown University Law Center. A Guggenheim Fellow and Supreme Court advocate, he is the author of The Structure of Liberty, Restoring the Lost Constitution, and Our Republican Constitution.
  • Evan D. Bernick is Assistant Professor of Law at Northern Illinois University College of Law. He was previously Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. His scholarship appears in the Georgetown Law Journal, Notre Dame Law Review, and William & Mary Law Review.

Book Details

  • 488 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press
  • Foreword by James Oakes