What is the 14th Amendment? Yahoo News Explains

The response to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is moving at breakneck speed. As a nationwide dragnet continues to lead to the arrest of many of those involved, members of Congress are debating how best to address President Trump’s alleged role in sparking the violence. Then there’s this question: Should anything be done to members of the House and Senate who are accused of inciting the attack? The answer leads to the 14th Amendment, one of the amendments enacted after the bloodiest conflict in American history — the Civil War. Yahoo News explains.

Video Transcript


SAM MATTHEWS: The response to the January 6th attack on the US Capitol is moving at breakneck speed. A nationwide dragnet continues to lead to the arrest of many of those involved.

- So you have seen their faces caught on camera breaking into the US Capitol. And tonight, the FBI says that these are some of the people arrested accused of federal crimes.

SAM MATTHEWS: President Trump has been booted off Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other tech platforms. While Parler, where there was chatter about the attack before it happened and new calls for violence in the aftermath, has essentially been removed from the internet.

- Apple and Google removed Parler from their app stores for failing to moderate content that incites violence, and Amazon says it is removing the app from its website hosting service for violating its terms of service.

SAM MATTHEWS: There's also been a lot of talk of removing President Trump from office immediately through use of the 25th Amendment, and calls from Democrats to impeach him over his role in the violence.

- House Democrats are moving forward with plans to impeach President Trump.

SAM MATTHEWS: Then there's this question-- should anything be done to the members of the House and Senate who are accused of inciting the attack? The answer to that question leads to the 14th Amendment, one of the amendments to the Constitution put in after the bloodiest period of unrest in American history, the Civil War. The 14th Amendment was adopted just after the North vanquished the South as a way to ease former Confederate states back into Congress. There are five sections, each dealing with how to move forward after that insurrection-- or any future rebellion.

The major provisions of the Amendment were to grant freed slaves citizenship and prevent states from passing laws that infringe upon the rights of American citizens. It's been invoked in some pretty major Supreme Court cases. Notably, in the decisions on Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v Wade, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage.

Today we're talking about section 3, which states that no one who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution-- which is a huge number of people at all levels of government and military, including senators and congressmen-- shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion, or giving aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. And that Congress may, by a vote of 2/3 of each House, remove such disability. Put it more simply, you go to war against the United States or give aid and comfort to the nation's enemies, you're banned from running or even being in Congress unless 2/3 of the members of each chamber says, well, he or she can stay.

And that's what's being argued in some corners today. Did senators like Ted Cruz and Josh Howey or House members like Alabama's Mo Brooks engage in insurrection or give aid to insurrectionists?

MO BROOKS: Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass! Now, our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes, and sometimes their lives to give us-- their descendants-- an America that is the greatest nation in World history. So I have a question for you. Are you willing to do that same?

Did those words from Brooks-- and others from folks like Cruz and Howey-- meet section 3's definition of being engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States? That's the debate. And this is totally uncharted territory. Some, including Democratic representatives Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Cory Bush, are saying this is an open and shut case. Others are saying that encouraging President Trump's supporters to fight hardly rises to the level of insurrection or rebellion. So as those move forward, we're just going to have to wait and see.