3.10 Social Movements & Equal Protection


What you need to learn

How has the 14th Amendment been used to support & motivate social movements advocating for expanded civil rights, how it has been used by Congress to pass legislation, and interpreted by the Supreme Court in landmark court cases that expanded/strengthened civil rights?

14th Amendment & Social Movements

-Civil Rights Movement & Letter from a Birmingham Jail

-Woman’s Rights Movement

-National Organization for Women (NOW) & the Equal Rights Amendment (proposal)

-LGBTQ+ Rights Advocacy

-Right to Life Movement & the Hatch Amendment (proposal)

14th Amendment & Legislation

-Civil Rights Act

-Education Amendments Act, Title IX (9)


-Civil Rights

-Civil Liberties

-Jim Crow

Court Cases


U.S. Constitution
Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 14th Amendment and its Role in Supporting and Motivating Social Movements

The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1868, has been a cornerstone for civil liberties and social justice. By guaranteeing citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the U.S., including formerly enslaved individuals, and by providing the promise of “equal protection under the laws,” the Amendment has acted as a powerful tool for social change. This chapter explores how the 14th Amendment has been central to various social movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Rights Movement, the Right to Life Movement, and the movements for LGBTQ rights.

Civil Rights Movement and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
The 14th Amendment’s Role in the Movement

The Civil Rights Movement was a struggle to end institutionalized racial discrimination and segregation against African Americans. The 14th Amendment served as the legal groundwork for dismantling segregation, especially through landmark Supreme Court cases like Brown v. Board of Education, which made school segregation illegal.

Martin Luther King Jr. and the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous letter was penned while he was imprisoned for participating in a nonviolent protest. King appealed to the ethos of the 14th Amendment, emphasizing that laws enforcing segregation were fundamentally unjust. The letter was not just an eloquent defense of civil disobedience, but also a strategic use of Constitutional principles to argue for racial equality.

Women’s Rights Movement

14th Amendment and Gender Equality

The Women’s Rights Movement aimed for gender equality in social, political, and economic domains. Many activists and lawyers have used the 14th Amendment to argue cases that focus on gender discrimination, such as Reed v. Reed, which challenged differing inheritance laws based on gender.

National Organization for Women (NOW)

Founded in 1966, NOW sought to accelerate constitutional equality for women. They campaigned for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and filed lawsuits based on the 14th Amendment to fight job discrimination, unequal pay, and other forms of gender-based inequalities.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)

The ERA aimed to amend the Constitution to guarantee gender equality. Although it was not ratified, legal scholars and activists still use the 14th Amendment as a basis for combating gender discrimination in the courts.

Right to Life Movement and the Hatch Amendment

Constitutional Arguments

The Right to Life Movement focuses mainly on opposing abortion, often turning to the 14th Amendment to argue that fetuses should be recognized as persons deserving of legal protection.

The Hatch Amendment

Named after Senator Orrin Hatch, this proposed constitutional amendment was crafted to negate the impact of Roe v. Wade by allowing states to independently regulate or ban abortion. While the amendment didn’t pass, it symbolizes how the Right to Life Movement uses the 14th Amendment in advocating for their cause.

Movements for LGBTQ Rights

LGBTQ activists have often turned to the 14th Amendment to gain equal treatment under the law. Over the years, court cases based on the 14th Amendment have struck down laws discriminating against LGBTQ individuals in various aspects of life, from employment to marriage.

Obergefell v. Hodges

In 2015, the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges declared that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, leaning heavily on the 14th Amendment’s clauses about equal protection and due process. This case represented a significant victory for the LGBTQ community, and cemented the importance of the 14th Amendment in advocating for equal rights.

The 14th Amendment has proven itself to be a key instrument for social change and justice in America. It has been central to the legal strategies of various social movements, providing a constitutional basis for the ongoing fight against discrimination and inequality. Through its clauses on citizenship, equal protection, and due process, the 14th Amendment continues to inspire and support movements aimed at creating a more equitable society.