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Amdt14.S1.8.9.1 Meaning of Person in the Equal Protection Clause

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:

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.

In the case in which it was first called upon to interpret this clause, the Court doubted whether this provision could apply to state actions that were not directed at newly freed slaves, arguing that this Amendment was “clearly a provision for that race” and intended to remedy discriminatory laws directed at freed slaves.1 Nonetheless, in deciding the Granger Cases shortly thereafter, the Justices, as with the Due Process Clause, seemingly entertained no doubt that the railroad corporations were entitled to invoke the protection of the Clause.2 Nine years later, Chief Justice Morrison Waite announced from the bench that the Court would not hear argument on the question whether the Equal Protection Clause applied to corporations. “We are all of the opinion that it does.” 3 The word has been given the broadest possible meaning. “These provisions are universal in their application, to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction, without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality. . . .” 4 The only qualification is that a municipal corporation cannot invoke the clause against its state.5

Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36, 81 (1873). Cf. Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164, 177 (1972) (Justice Rehnquist dissenting). back
Chicago, B. & Q. R.R. v. Iowa, 94 U.S. 155 (1877); Peik v. Chicago & N.W. Ry., 94 U.S. 164 (1877); Chicago, M. & St. P. R.R. v. Ackley, 94 U.S. 179 (1877); Winona & St. Peter R.R. v. Blake, 94 U.S. 180 (1877). back
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pac. R.R., 118 U.S. 394, 396 (1886). The background and developments from this utterance are treated in H. Graham, Everyman’s Constitution: Historical Essays on the Fourteenth Amendment, the Conspiracy Theory, and American Constitutionalism chs. 9, 10, and pp. 566–84 (1968). Justice Hugo Black, in Connecticut Gen. Life Ins. Co. v. Johnson, 303 U.S. 77, 85 (1938), and Justice William O. Douglas, in Wheeling Steel Corp. v. Glander, 337 U.S. 562, 576 (1949), have disagreed that corporations are persons for equal protection purposes. back
Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369 (1886). For modern examples, see Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68, 70 (1968); Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365, 371 (1971). back
City of Newark v. New Jersey, 262 U.S. 192 (1923); Williams v. Mayor of Baltimore, 289 U.S. 36 (1933). back