Prior to the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and the development of the incorporation doctrine, the Supreme Court in 1833 held in Barron v. Baltimore that the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal, but not any state governments. Even years after the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court in United States v. Cruikshank (1876) still held that the First and Second Amendment did not apply to state governments. However, beginning in the 1920s, a series of United States Supreme Court decisions interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to "incorporate" most portions of the Bill of Rights, making these portions, for the first time, enforceable against the state governments.
The doctrine of incorporation has been traced back to either Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad v. City of Chicago (1897) in which the Supreme Court appeared to require some form of just compensation for property appropriated by state or local authorities (although there was a state statute on the books that provided the same guarantee) or, more commonly, to Gitlow v.
Provisions that the Supreme Court either has refused to incorporate, or whose possible incorporation has not yet been addressed include the Fifth Amendment right to an indictment by a grand jury, and the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil lawsuits.
Incorporation applies both procedurally and substantively to the guarantees of the states. Thus, procedurally, only a jury can convict a defendant of a serious crime, since the Sixth Amendment jury-trial right has been incorporated against the states; substantively, for example, states must recognize the First Amendment prohibition against a state-established religion, regardless of whether state laws and constitutions offer such a prohibition. The Supreme Court has declined, however, to apply new procedural constitutional rights retroactively against the states in criminal cases (Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989)) with limited exceptions, and it has waived constitutional requirements if the states can prove that a constitutional violation was "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt."
Rep. John Bingham, the principal framer of the Fourteenth Amendment, advocated that the Fourteenth applied the first eight Amendments of the Bill of Rights to the States. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently declined to interpret it that way, despite the dissenting argument in the 1947 case of Adamson v. California by Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black that the framers' intent should control the Court's interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment (he included a lengthy appendix that quoted extensively from Bingham's congressional testimony). Although the