Why the 14th Amendment is one of history’s most radical ideas
In 1868, equal protection under the law was granted to every born and naturalized U.S. citizen—no exceptions. That's radical, says Van Jones.
Van Jones is a social entrepreneur, CNN political contributor and host of The Messy Truth with Van Jones. Famous for his heart-felt election night coverage, Jones showed up as “the voice of reason” for people in red states and blue throughout the volatile 2016 political season. In response to much civil unrest and energy post-election, Jones launched the #Love Army -- a values-based movement that is working for an America where everyone counts.
Jones has founded and led numerous social enterprises engaged in social and environmental justice, including The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change, and The Dream Corps.
Jones is a Yale-educated attorney. He is the author of two New York Times best-selling books, The Green Collar Economy (2008) and Rebuild the Dream (2012). The second book chronicles his journey as an environmental and human rights activist to becoming a White House policy advisor.
He was the main advocate for the Green Jobs Act. Signed into law by George W. Bush in 2007, the Green Jobs Act was the first piece of federal legislation to codify the term “green jobs.” During the Obama Administration, the legislation has resulted in $500 million in national funding for green jobs training.
In 2009, Jones worked as the green jobs advisor to President Barack Obama. In this role, Jones helped to lead the inter-agency process that oversaw the multi-billion dollar investment in skills training and jobs development within the environmental and green energy sectors.
Jones has been honored with numerous awards and spotlighted on several lists of high achievers, including: the World Economic Forum’s “Young Global Leader” designation; Rolling Stone’s 2012 “12 Leaders Who Get Things Done”; TIME’s 2009 “100 Most Influential People in The World”; and the Root's 2014 "The Root 100." In 2017, Van Jones signed a management deal with Roc Nation, becoming the first political commentator & activist in their family. Jones lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife & two children.
Van Jones: This is the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. I’m not going to read the whole thing, I’m just going to read the first section: 'All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'
Any person within its jurisdiction cannot be denied the equal protection of its laws. To me, the 14th Amendment, especially this idea of equal protection under the law, is the whole enchilada—for me. First of all, when you talk about protection that implies that there must be a harm someplace that you’re trying to protect someone from. That opens a door to have a whole discussion about reality. A lot of this stuff floats above reality, it’s all abstract principle, but to have equal protection under the law means that you’re going to have some permission for some activism from the government. You’re going to have some permission to talk about inequality, unequal treatment, unfair treatment for—they were contemplating African Americans—but they say everybody.
So it doesn’t say equal protection under the law unless you’re a lesbian. That’s not what it says. It doesn’t say equal protection under the law unless you’re African American. That’s not what it says. It says if you’re in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That’s radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical. And I think it's very, very important that we uphold the 14th Amendment. We talk about the First Amendment, we talk about the Second Amendment, we talk about sometimes the Fifth Amendment, but we don't talk about the 14th Amendment enough. Equal protection under the law.
In 1868, three years after slavery was abolished, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, granting equal protection under the law to every born and naturalized U.S. citizen. For CNN news commentator Van Jones this amendment is, in his words, the "whole enchilada." It's not the most popular amendment—it doesn't get name-dropped in TV courtroom dramas, or fiercely debated before elections—but to Jones it is a weighty principle that was far ahead of its time. "It doesn’t say equal protection under the law unless you’re a lesbian. That’s not what it says. It doesn’t say equal protection under the law unless you’re African American. That’s not what it says. It says if you’re in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That’s radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical." Van Jones is the author of Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together.
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- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.