The Interests Protected: “Life, Liberty and Property”.

The language of the Fourteenth Amendment requires the provision of due process when an interest in one’s “life, liberty or property” is threatened.796 Traditionally, the Court made this determination by reference to the common understanding of these terms, as embodied in the development of the common law.797 In the 1960s, however, the Court began a rapid expansion of the “liberty” and “property” aspects of the clause to include such non-traditional concepts as conditional property rights and statutory entitlements. Since then, the Court has followed an inconsistent path of expanding and contracting the breadth of these protected interests. The “life” interest, on the other hand, although often important in criminal cases, has found little application in the civil context.


Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1982). “The requirements of procedural due process apply only to the deprivation of interests encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of liberty and property. When protected interests are implicated, the right to some kind of prior hearing is paramount. But the range of interests protected by procedural due process is not infinite.” Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569–71 (1972). Developments under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause have been interchangeable. Cf. Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134 (1974). back
For instance, at common law, one’s right of life existed independently of any formal guarantee of it and could be taken away only by the state pursuant to the formal processes of law, and only for offenses deemed by a legislative body to be particularly heinous. One’s liberty, generally expressed as one’s freedom from bodily restraint, was a natural right to be forfeited only pursuant to law and strict formal procedures. One’s ownership of lands, chattels, and other properties, to be sure, was highly dependent upon legal protections of rights commonly associated with that ownership, but it was a concept universally understood in Anglo-American countries. back