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The Evolution of Inequality in the U.S. Legal System
In the United States, true equality has never existed. From the Declaration of Independence to modern times, the U.S. legal system has failed in any attempt at equality. The ideology of "all [men] are equal but some [men] are more equal than others" has been present throughout the history of the U.S. (Orwell). Inequality has always existed in the United States legal system and continues to exist today; however, the inequality presently in the system is not as blatant as what it once was, but the system has come to depend on inequality.
Since the very beginning of a legal system in the United States, there has been inequality. The Declaration of Independence declared that "?all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights?"(Jefferson). The reality of the Declaration of Independence was that all free, white, landowning men are created equal. Slavery continued in the U.S. for nearly ninety years after the Declaration, and black Americans still feel the sting of inequality. Women were also left out of "?all men are created equal?." The implied meaning of the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence is what the U.S. legal system has strived for and failed to grasp fully.
After the establishment of independence in the United States, the development of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights ensued. The Bill of Rights was to establish the basic rights of every citizen of the United States, but failed to do so. The rights of white, male citizens were the only rights that were ensured by the Bill of Rights. The rights of blacks and the underprivileged were not even considered. The Fifth Amendment states, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury?, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation" ("Constitution", Amendment V). These rights were often denied to those that were second class citizens or those people that were not even considered to be people, such as slaves. The rights ensured by the first ten amendments have been denied to some part of the population at any given time in American history.
The denying of the basic rights established by the Bill of Rights is not limited to the any one amendment. Even today there are cases that cite the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, and the Fifth Amendment, as a basis for defense. The First Amendment right to freedom of speech is probably the most challenged in today?s society. With the "Information Age" upon us, the right to free speech has been seeking out its limits and future potential. Because of the extent of free speech and peoples use of it to speak out against the government, there is inequality currently in the system. People who use their voices against the system are often caused a great deal of legal troubles while those that use their voices to support the system are free to do so at will.
To return to America?s early history of inequality, one must look at the black codes. The black codes are defined as "laws [that] were designed to replace the social controls of that had been removed by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution [(1865)], and were thus intended to assure continuance of white supremacy" ("black codes"). The Grandfather Clause and Jim Crow Laws were all part of the black codes of the South. "[The Grandfather Clause]?provided that those who had enjoyed the right to vote prior to 1866 or 1867, or their lineal descendants, would be exempt from educational, property, or tax requirements for voting?[T]hese clauses worked effectively to exclude blacks from the vote but assured the franchise to many impoverished and illiterate whites" ("Grandfather Clause"). Jim Crow Laws were "any of the laws that enforced racial segregation in the U.S. South between the end (1877) of the formal Reconstruction period and the beginning of a strong civil-rights movement (1950s)" ("Jim Crow Laws"). Thus, Jim Crow Laws were a large part of black codes.
Jim Crow Laws included the statute set by Plessy v. Ferguson, in 1896, of "separate, but equal" (USSC, "Plessy"). With the topic of Plessy v. Ferguson
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Social inequality, Income distribution, Social systems, Egalitarianism, Social equality, United States Declaration of Independence, Inequality, Economic inequality, due process of law, true equality, male citizens, constitution and the bill of rights, united states legal system, certain unalienable rights, amendment states, infamous crime, opening lines, levan, fifth amendment, declaration of independence, black americans, inequality, presentment, life liberty, development of the constitution, bill of rights, grand jury, indictment
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