America Started Over Once. Can We Do It Again?

The New York Times editorial board examines the 14th Amendment in light of Justice Kennedy's recent retirement.

Another truth soon became self-evident: If America was to survive, it would have to be reborn. That rebirth was embodied — after 80 years and a brutal civil war — in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which together represented a radical recommitment to our first and highest principles. They outlawed slavery, made the newly freed slaves American citizens and guaranteed their right to vote.

The 14th Amendment, in particular, “hit the reset button on American democracy,” as Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, put it recently. It extended the protections in the Bill of Rights, which applied only against the federal government, to cover people in their dealings with the states. Its best known and most litigated provision, Section 1, went even further, guaranteeing for the first time the basic equality of all people, no matter their skin color, station in life or citizenship.