By Dean Danielle Conway
I often like to think about the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution as the ultimate “do over.” The 14th Amendment reordered the structure of the federal government and its relationship to the states as well as its obligations to individuals in guaranteeing fundamental protections against discrimination while proclaiming equality as a cornerstone of American life and values.
The University of Maine School of Law had the great honor to partner with the Maine Humanities Council (MHC) to delve into deep discussions of the breadth and scope of the 14th Amendment. Maine Law and MHC produced a public forum titled “The 14th Amendment: A Living Document” featuring Kenneth W. Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and David Blight, Professor of American History at Yale University. I was pleased to serve as the moderator for this forum on June 1, 2016 at Rines Auditorium in Portland Public Library.
One important function of the public forum was the launch of Maine Law’s DiscoverLaw.org PreLaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Summer Immersion Program. Over 150 community members attended the public forum and celebrated Maine Law’s 22 PLUS scholars (pictured above). The forum marked the beginning of the scholars’ journey of learning about the law and exploring their roles as future leaders in Maine.
The public forum touched on a spectrum of questions from defining citizenship to the role of state vs. federal governments. Professor Blight led the audience through an exploration of how the 14th Amendment came about, how it was used, and its many interpretations through its 150 years of existence. Professor Mack discussed the pre- and post-14th Amendment legal landscape, including key United States Supreme Court cases that dealt with privileges and immunities, separate but equal laws, equal protection under the law, and the remedies provided by the 14th Amendment when states interfere with the rights of citizenship.
The June 1, 2016 public forum created a space for intellectual discourse about the 14th Amendment and its legacy. For Maine Law’s PLUS Scholars, the discussion introduced a new way of thinking about equality, justice, and the rule of law and potentially becoming a voice in the discussion by, among other ways, attending law school. The Maine Law PLUS Program is just one of a number of initiatives being introduced at the Law School that demonstrates its commitment to making a legal education accessible to all prospective law students while at the same time showing deep engagement with the community.