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Chan Lowe: Changing the Fourteenth Amendment


So is the U.S. Constitution a living document, written and designed to be flexible enough to be interpreted through the prism of the times—thereby remaining current⎯or is it a strict set of iron rules that we must use to psychoanalyze the minds of the Founding Fathers and divine their intent; a screed frozen in the mindset of the Eighteenth Century?

The tension between these views will persist for as long as the republic lasts, and is at the core of philosophical fights over Supreme Court Justice nominations.

Anyway, it’s easy to be a strict constructionist as long as you agree with the particular fragment under discussion. This Fourteenth Amendment battle is a case in point. It’s part of the Constitution. There’s a process to change it, but once you start fiddling with one thing, what’s to keep people from messin’ with the rest?

I can see it now: Since the Founding Fathers had flintlock muskets in mind at the time they wrote the Second Amendment, maybe it should only cover the right to bear a single-shot rifle that you painstakingly load from the muzzle, and that won’t work when it’s raining. No automatic weapons of any kind. Or, conversely, if you should manage to get your hands on a tactical nuclear weapon, who's to say you can't bear it if you want to?

Freedom of religion? Maybe the government should only be allowed to butt in and restrict it if we’re talking about building a Muslim mosque somewhere. In fact, a lot of people last week already thought that’s what it meant.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Not if you’re gay and want to get married. Besides, that isn’t even in the Constitution, although many Americans don’t know that.

I could go on and on.

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Your cartoon implies the Far Right wants to "tweak" the constitution. An amendment by definition is a "tweak". Using your logic the Far Right is merely un"tweaking" the constitution. The amendment was created to prevent Southern states from trying to deny former slaves their rights. The reason for the fourteenth amendment has happily long since expired. Should not the amendment also expire? After all we repealed prohibition.

While I understand that the 14th Amendment was passed in order to prevent the South from essentially stripping former slaves of the rights other citizens held, we have to be careful how this goes. Part I of the 14th Amend. also says that the states cannot pass any laws that infringe on the rest of our civil rights--you know, right to bear arms, right to counsel, etc. In other words, before the 14th Amend. the States could pass laws that potentially infringed on those rights. Afterward they could not. So, simply repealing the entire amendment is probably not the answer. Having said that, is it possible to tweak it to eliminate the automatic citizenship? Perhaps. But tread carefully.

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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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