The American Bar Association has designated the 2017 Law Day theme as "The Fourteenth Amendment: Transforming American Democracy."
The Fourteenth Amendment has safeguarded the due process and equal protection rights of Americans for 150 years now. The principles of freedom and equality embodied in this Amendment continue to guide our nation as it seeks to fulfill its pledge of liberty and justice for all.
The Fourteenth Amendment was one of three Reconstruction Amendments ratified shortly after the Civil War. The Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery; the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited race-based discrimination in voting. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, served the immediate purpose of protecting the rights of freedmen by guaranteeing their fundamental rights and barring states from denying them the privileges and immunities of citizenship. In the 150 years that the Fourteenth Amendment has been in effect, it has become a cornerstone of historic civil rights legislation and many landmark Supreme Court decisions.
Through a doctrine known as "incorporation," the Fourteenth Amendment has guaranteed the individual rights set out in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution within each state. Before the Fourteenth Amendment, the Bill of Rights only guaranteed our individual rights against the federal government. Without incorporation, Miranda warnings would not have to be administered by local police, the First Amendment would not prevent states from restricting free speech or freedom of the press, and an individual would have no Sixth Amendment right to a lawyer in state court proceedings, to name a few.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed May 1, 1958, as the first Law Day to commemorate and reflect upon our national ideals of liberty, justice, and equality. Annually on this day, we rededicate ourselves to these principles and the importance of the rule of law and our legal system.
This Law Day, let us reflect on the importance of the Fourteen Amendment as part of our nation's legacy of liberty, recall the importance of the rule of law in our nation, and continue to work toward ensuring that our constitutional ideals for all individuals are put into practice by our government.
Thank you for the opportunity of serving as your Circuit Judge.
C. A. Woodall III
Circuit Judge, 56th Judicial Circuit