Dear Colleague’s Letter of the Law

Societal attitudes and mores can and do change dramatically over time, but (aside from Humpty Dumpty) the meaning of commonly understood words does not. Slavery, existing at the Founding, was abolished following the Civil War through the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution. Suffrage, which many states could and did restrict to white men (and literate property owners at that), was eventually extended to blacks and women through the 15th and 19th amendments. Traditional gender-role distinctions that were sacrosanct enough to defeat ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s are now being altered by legislation—including the once-inconceivable notion of women serving in combat roles and women registering for the draft.

Even the judicial legerdemain culminating in the recognition of same-sex marriage in Obergefell was a result of an elaborate kabuki dancethat took decades (beginning with Romer v. Evans in 1996 and becoming explicit with Lawrence v. Texas in 2003).

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