Vail law: A guide to the constitution: Part six |

Vail law: A guide to the constitution: Part six

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

In the most recent episode of this guide to the Constitution we left off partway through the Fourteenth Amendment. Sorry to leave you hanging.

The 14th consists of four subparts, and then discussedthe first, which has to do with rights and protections assured to citizens of the United States, including due process of law and the equal protection of the laws.

The second clause of the 14th (also known as the Reconstruction Amendment, coming as it did on the heels of reconstruction following the Civil War) has to do with apportionment of representatives in Congress. This clause also established the voting age at 21 and reserved the right to vote to males, excluding Indians.

Equal rights for “colored citizens” was created by the 15th Amendment in 1869. Similarly, the male-only provision of the 14th was eliminated by 19th Amendment, enacted in 1920. The voting age of 21 was exchanged for the younger age of 18 via the 26th Amendment in 1971.

Clause three of the 14th Amendment empowers the Congress, (provided that each House of Congress votes by at least a two-thirds margin) to oust a member of Congress, the President, Vice-President, an elector, judicial officer, or other official for “insurrection, rebellion or giving aid and comfort to the enemies {of the United States}.”

The fourth and final clause of the 14th Amendment describes what debts of the United States are valid. Largely, this is another anti-insurrectionist provision which followed the understandable paranoia of a nation so recently ripped by civil war.

The 15th Amendment was the second constitutional change wrought by the Civil War. The first was the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery. The 15th ensures equal rights for “white and colored” citizens. With the Fifteenth, the former slaves were not only free, they were accorded the right to vote. The 15th provides that “The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged…by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Another short, pithy and consequential addition to our Constitution.

The 16th Amendment, adopted in 1913, still stings. This Amendment authorized, for the first time, income taxes and, I’m sure, sent the Founding Fathers rolling in their graves. The Boston Tea Party, and other tax-related uprisings, aptly come to mind.

The 16th Amendment states, in its entirety that, “The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

This Amendment was the progenitor of the IRS and other things pernicious that go bump in the night.

The 17th Amendment states that U.S. Senators are to be elected by popular vote and holds that two senators shall be elected from each of the States. It further provides that each senator shall serve six years and that each shall exercise one vote in the Senate.

When the 14th and 17th Amendments are applied together, Representatives represent the people in proportion to their numbers and senators represent the States, with each having an equal vote within the Senate regardless of a particular State’s population.

The 18th Amendment may have been the most fractious in our history. That Amendment, for a time at least (until its repeal 13 years later by the 21st Amendment) prohibited manufacture, sale or transportation of “intoxicating liquors” within the United Sates. Stated simply, the whole nation was “cut from the bar.” A dry nation was, however, not a happy nation, and whatever good intentions were promoted, failed.

In the next column, we begin by joining the suffragettes, and then march on through the work-in-progress that is our Constitution.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. His practice areas include: business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, homeowners associations, family law and divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at

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