Spears Conservatorship Drama Poses Fourteeth Amendment Questions

individual liberties scrutinized as singer forced on lithium, contraception

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution details individual liberties. Its provisions and clauses outline the rights to life and liberty of a U.S. citizen. The guardianship of Britney Spears raises questions about personal liberties.

The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment includes the Due Process Clause, Privileges or Immunities Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and others. Photo by Mark Hayes/Shutterstock

Having been forced onto a lithium regimen against her will and involuntarily placed on birth control 13 years ago, pop star Britney Spears has sought help from courts this year to regain her individual liberties. No ordinary piece of celebrity gossip, the conservatorship the singer has been under is being revealed as the nightmare that it has been for her. The ending of the conservatorship may start as a legal argument for individual rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Placed under the care of her father, Jamie Spears, in 2008 amid her psychological struggles, she was recently told by a court that the court-appointed guardianship would remain in effect. In his video series Law School for Everyone: Constitutional Law, Professor Eric Berger, J.D., Professor of Law and the Associate Dean for Faculty at the University of Nebraska College of Law, explained the sections of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Section 1

“Though Congress spent significant time debating Sections 2, 3, and 4, it is Section 1 that draws the most attention today,” Professor Berger said. “It states that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are U.S. citizens. Another provision holds that states may not abridge the privileges or immunities of U.S. citizens.”

Another provision of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment declares that a state may not deprive its citizens of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Finally, another provision says that the states cannot deny anyone equal protection of laws. These clauses—the Privileges or Immunities Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause—concern individual rights and liberties, adding to those protected under the Constitution.

The Due Process Clause is best known for its use by the Supreme Court to protect substantive rights, rather than outline procedural rights. This doctrine is known as substantive due process and has allowed courts to identify rights that aren’t specifically listed elsewhere in the Constitution.

Substantive Due Process

“The roots of the substantive due process doctrine can be traced back to the era of the progressive movement in the late 19th century,” Professor Berger said. “Progressivism was partially a backlash against the Industrial Revolution, as concern began to grow about the poor and workers’ rights. During this period, several states passed laws regulating conditions of industrial labor and labor relations.”

One such law was the New York Bakeshop Act, which prohibited the employment of bakery workers for more than 60 hours per week, or 10 hours per day. A baker in Utica, Joseph Lochner, was convicted of violating the statute when he worked his employees for more than 60 hours. He argued that the state law interfered with his liberty of contract in the 1905 case Lochner v. New York—and the Supreme Court agreed, striking down the Bakeshop Act as unconstitutional.

“In so doing, the Court said that the right to contract that it protected could be found in the liberty component of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment—the ‘liberty’ part of the phrase ‘life, liberty, and property,'” Professor Berger said. “The Court reasoned that the right to contract was part of the liberty the clause protected. By the late 1930s, however, the Court disavowed Lochner‘s use of the Due Process Clause.”

Professor Berger said that in one 1937 case, West Coast Hotel v. Parrish, the Supreme Court upheld minimum wage law for women, arguing that Lochner‘s “freedom of contract” rights were nowhere to be found in the Constitution. The case also began the Court’s employment of a deferential rational basis test when reviewing economic legislation that was being challenged on substantive due process grounds. In other words, so long as the law in question was rational, courts would uphold it.

Some of the specific facts in the Spears case, such as her family forcing her to undergo an IUD insertion procedure for birth control, to prevent future pregnancies, could end up as key evidence in her fight to end her conservatorship.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily