A Critical Guide to Using the Legislative History of the Fourteenth Amendment to Determine the Amendment's Original Meaning

69 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2017

See all articles by Gregory E. Maggs

Gregory E. Maggs

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: May 2017


Judges, lawyers, and scholars often look to the Fourteenth Amendment’s legislative history for evidence of the Amendment’s original meaning. Members of the Supreme Court, for instance, have cited floor statements, committee records, preliminary proposals, and other documents relating to the drafting and approval of the Fourteenth Amendment in many important cases. The documents containing this legislative history, however, are difficult to use. As explained in this Article, the Amendment came about through a complex process, in which Congress rejected several prior proposals for constitutional amendments before settling on a markedly different proposal that became the Fourteenth Amendment. Although the primary sources containing the legislative history are widely available online, some of them lack useful indexes and are only partially electronically searchable. In addition, statements made during the drafting and debate over the Fourteenth Amendment do not always yield clear answers to modern questions. Aggravating the situation, most lawyers, judges, law clerks, and legal scholars receive little or no instruction on how to use the documents containing the legislative history of the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, they may feel unequipped either to use the legislative history to make claims about the Amendment’s original meaning or to evaluate the claims of others. Even the Supreme Court appears to have difficulty with the details. This Article seeks to improve the situation by providing a critical guide to the Amendment’s legislative history.

Keywords: Constitution, Constitutional Law, Fourteenth Amendment, Due Process, Equal Protection, Privileges and Immunities, Original Meaning, Original Intent, Original Understanding, Original Public Meaning, Legislative History, John Bingham, Thaddeus Stevens, Jacob Howard, Congressional Globe, Reconstruction

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Maggs, Gregory E., A Critical Guide to Using the Legislative History of the Fourteenth Amendment to Determine the Amendment's Original Meaning (May 2017). 49 Conn. L. Rev. 1069 (2017), GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2017-77, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017-77, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3068014

Gregory E. Maggs (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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