The Fourteenth Amendment and the Rights Revolution

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 Research Paper: Cases in Context

Final Draft Due: Friday Dec. 12 (beginning of class). See below for Intermediate Deadlines.

Purpose: One of the central objectives of this class is to gain an understanding of how the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment has evolved over the 135 years since it became a part of the Constitution. As we have seen in our class discussions, the historical context in which the 14th Amendment was adopted and in which it has been interpreted since have fundamentally shaped the particular questions brought before the Supreme Court and the Court’s interpretation of the Amendment. This assignment is intended to give you the opportunity to focus on the historical context of a single Fourteenth Amendment case of specific interest to you and to share what you learn with the class as a whole.

Assignment: Each student will select one 14th Amendment case from the attached list and write a research paper that makes an argument for how the historical context shaped the case. Your paper must draw on primary and secondary sources.

Audience: Your audience will be other students in this class, but you will be the only one working on the particular case and so must assume that others will not be familiar with the case itself or the broader historical context.

Format: Your final paper should be 8-10 pages (plus bibliography), word-processed or typed, double-spaced, 12 point font.

Grading Criteria: Students must meet each interim deadline. Failure to meet one or more deadlines will mean a paper cannot receive above a grade of C. I will use the following criteria to evaluate your final paper. For each element, I will assess the paper on a scale ranging from 6 (best) to 1 (worst). I have listed the elements in order, from those that carry the most weight to those that carry less weight.

  • Quality, Originality, and Creativity of Ideas and Thesis
  • Quality of Research and Integration of Primary and Secondary Evidence
  • Organization and Development
  • Clarity and Style
  • Sentence Structure and Mechanics

Help with Ideas, Organization and Writing: In addition to our conversations in class, I am available during office hours and by appointment to help you at every stage of your work on this project. But there are others who can help as well. These resources are as important for the good writer as the struggling writer.

  • Student Writing Center. The Student Writing Center is a free and fantastic resource available to every student. Make your first contact by checking their website at
  • History Department Writing Tutors. The history department writing tutors are a free service provided to all students in history courses. The writing tutors can help you with elements of the research and writing process like working through your ideas, developing an argument, organizing your analysis and evidence, citing sources, and review of drafts. They will not edit or proofread for you. The tutors are available on either an appointment or walk-in basis. Their office (and sign-up sheets for appointments) is located in room 122A Social Sciences Tower (612-625-1083).

Deadlines: To help you do your best work, I have broken the assignment down into a series of stages, these are noted below with the due dates for each. The intermediate stages are required parts of the assignment.

1. Selecting a case. Due: September 19. List 3 cases in ranked order that you would like to work on with a one or two sentence explanation (per case) of what interests you about each case or time period. To ensure access to relevant library materials and to give the class as a whole as broad a learning experience about the history of the 14th Amendment as possible, only one student may work on each case. A good source to look for a brief introduction to many Supreme Court cases is Kermit L. Hall, The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (New York, 1992)(Law Ref KF8742.A35 093). I will post a list of case assignments on the Announcements page of the website by the following Monday.

2. Case and Context: Narrowing the Focus. Due: October 17th. Bring 5 copies to class (one for each member of your peer consulting group and one for me). It should include the following elements:

  • [Case Name]. A brief description of the key elements of “your” case. This should include the year the case was decided; the general subject area (e.g., adoption, segregation, Native American citizenship etc.); and, how the court decided the case. (one paragraph)
  • Historical Context. A brief summary of key elements of the historical moment. (one paragraph)
  • Elements of Context to Focus on. What seem (at this point) the most salient elements of the time period in which the case was decided for the case itself. You may frame these as questions or arguments. (one paragraph)
  • Tentative Thesis. Try to express this in one to two sentences.
  • Concept Web. You should be thinking here: What would I need to show in order to convince a reader of my argument (thesis)? What kinds of evidence would I need to support each of these points?
  • Research Ideas. Some preliminary research explorings both primary and secondary. Have their been books written about the case or books, not solely about the case, but in which the case is discussed? Are their important histories considering the topic you want to focus on (e.g., race relations, women's history, etc.) in the relevant time period? What kinds of primary sources might give you greater insight into the period?

Where to begin: I would recommend that you begin this part of the assignment by reading the opinion in “your” case and then reading generally about the time period (broadly defined: reconstruction, “progressive era,” “WWI era”, “Great Depression and New Deal,” Cold War Era,” etc.) in a U. S. survey text. Consider: Elaine Tyler May, Created Equal, vol. 2 ; Alan Dawley, Struggles for Justice; Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century; William Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II.

Peer Consulting: Each peer consulting group will need to find a time during this week when they can meet outside of class as a group to go over each student's work. You should plan on 1 and 1/2 hours. I will distribute peer consulting sheets to each of you in class on October 10th and discuss how the peer group workshops should work. You will each be reading and giving feedback to the other 3 students in your group. The feedback will be written and oral. Each student will attach the peer consulting worksheets from the students in their group to their draft and final paper.

3. Best Draft You Can Write At This Point. Due: Nov. 7. Bring 2 typed copies to class (one for me and one for the member of your peer consulting group who will be reading your paper). In-class peer review.

Peer Group Workshops of the Drafts will be in class on Nov. 14th. I will distribute information and a worksheet for each of you to complete later in the term.

4. Final Draft. Due: Friday Dec. 12.

List of Cases

  • Strauder v. West Virginia, (1880)
  • Elk v. Wilkins, (1884)
  • Yick Wo v. Hopkins, (1886)
  • Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, (1886)
  • U. S. v. Wong Kim Ark, (1898)
  • Patsone v. Pennsylvania, (1914)
  • Terrace v. Thompson, (1923)
  • Gong Lum v. Rice, (1927)
  • Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932)
  • Nebbia v. New York, (1934)
  • Breedlove v. Suttles, (1937)
  • Palko v. Connecticut, (1937)
  • West Coast Hotel v. Parrish, (1937)
  • Korematsu v. U. S., (1944)
  • Shelley v. Kraemer, (1948)
  • Goesaert v. Cleary, (1948)
  • Gayle v. Browder, (1956)
  • Loving v. Virginia, (1967)
  • Levy v. Louisiana, (1968)
  • Graham v. Richardson, (1971)
  • Stanley v. Illinois, (1972)
  • San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973)
  • Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974)
  • Harris v. McRae, (1976)
  • Moore v. East Cleveland, (1977)
  • Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, (1978)
  • Rostker v. Goldberg, (1981)
  • Plyler v. Doe, (1982)

Note: This list represents only a fraction of the cases decided by the U. S. Supreme Court interpreting the 14th Amendment. If there is a 14th Amendment case (other than one we are talking about in class) that is not on the list and that you would like to use as the focus of your paper, I would be happy to consider it.

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