Study Guide

Equal Protection - Equality and the Constitution

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Equality and the Constitution

  • "All men are created equal" is in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution
  • The word "equality" does not appear anywhere in the Constitution
  • 14th Amendment guarantees "equal protection of the laws"

The principle of equality is so central to American ideology that we often forget that the word does not appear in the Constitution. We often forget that Jefferson's iconic phrase "all men are created equal" is in the Declaration of Independence—a document that has no real legal power. It was written to declare and explain our separation from Great Britain, and while it may offer a set of ideals that we as a nation are committed to, it does not carry the sort of legal weight held by legislative statutes or judicial precedents.

The closest thing to the word or concept of "equality" in the Constitution is found in the Fourteenth Amendment. Added to the Constitution in 1868, this amendment contains a clause stating that "no state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

In other words, the closest the Constitution comes to guaranteeing or advocating equality is the Fourteenth Amendment's declaration that the states must provide all people equal treatment under the law.

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