The Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment
Why is the Fourteenth Amendment sometimes called a Second Bill of Rights?
The Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments of the Constitution—only protects individuals from the federal government. The beginning of the Bill of Rights refers only to “Congress shall make no law.” This refers to the U.S. Congress, which was quickly interpreted by the U.S. Court to mean all three branches of the federal government—not just Congress.
However, in the 1833 decision on Barron v. Baltimore, Chief Justice John Marshall for a unanimous Court wrote that the Bill of Rights only limited the federal government, not the state governments. This meant that individuals harmed by their state or local governments could not state a claim under the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Rather they had to assert a claim under their own state constitution.
However, members of the 39th Congress in the aftermath of the Civil War created three amendments during the period of Reconstruction. Included among those three was the Fourteenth Amendment. The primary sponsor of the Fourteenth Amendment—Rep. John Bingham from Ohio—wanted the Fourteenth Amendment to extend the reach of the U.S. Bill of Rights to the states.
Eventually, the United States Supreme Court—nearly exclusively in the twentieth century—began to incorporate various provisions of the U.S. Bill of Rights to the states. The vehicle of this incorporation process was the “due process” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment contains a due-process clause—“nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The U.S. Supreme Court has used this due process clause to extend the Bill of Rights to the states.