The Basics of American Government 3E

Chapter 11: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

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by K. Michael Reese

Lyndon B. Johnson Signing the Civil Rights Act [No restrictions], via Wikimedia CommonsThis Republic does not exist in a vacuum. Nor does it exist only as a structural conceptualization of governmental operations and processes. The Republic also exists, and perhaps most importantly so, because of its relationship with its people. No government can long endure, at least as a democracy, if this relationship is ignored, neglected, or abused. Our government has acknowledged this basic fact by promoting and protecting the fundamental freedoms that we now know as “civil liberties” and “civil rights.” This chapter will examine the sources, scope, nature, and variety of American civil liberties and civil rights. Specific federal statutes and U.S. Supreme Court cases will be used to enhance this discussion.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Activist, speaks with reporters. From the National Archives at College Park [CC0], Public Domain.


Chapter 11: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

I. Civil Liberties
A. Include all of the freedoms and protections provided by the Constitution of the United States—those found in the Bill of Rights as well as other parts of the Constitution.
B. Protect individuals from governmental action
II. Civil Rights
A. The rights of individuals to be free of discriminatory treatment, both public and private, based on such characteristics as race, national origin, or gender.
III. Selective Incorporation: Application of the Bill of Rights to the States
A. The Bill of Rights represented a compromise, brokered by supporters of the new Constitution, designed to appease this widespread fear and suspicion of a strong and unfettered central government.
B. The 14th Amendment
1. The amendment provides in pertinent part that no "State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
2. expressly directed at state action
3. What specific protections and freedoms were included in the basic principles of due process?
a. Required protection from infringement by all levels of government
C. In cultivating an understanding of incorporation, there are some fundamental principles that must be remembered:
1. The incorporation doctrine has primary application to the rights and liberties contained in the first eight amendments
2. Once a provision has been incorporated, it applies to state action in every case thereafter
3. It is the Supreme Court that ultimately decides which provisions of the Bill of Rights are incorporated
IV. The Bill of Rights
A. Places Limits on Congress (I)
1. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.
B. Places Limits on The President (II)
1. Second Amendment
a. Right to bear arms
b. The right is so fundamental that it had to be part of due process
c. the Court incorporated the right to bear arms, making it applicable to federal and state governments (McDonald v. City of Chicago, 2010).
C. Third Amendment
1. No citizen shall be required to quarter soldiers.
D. Fourth Amendment
1. Unreasonable search and seizure
2. Reasonable expectation of privacy
3. Search warrants and the exclusionary rule
E. Places Limits on the Judicial Branch (V, VI, VII, VIII)
1. Fifth Amendment
a. Privilege against self-incrimination
b. Double jeopardy
c. Eminent domain
d. Grand jury
2. Sixth Amendment
a. Right to counsel
b. Speedy trial
3. Seventh Amendment
a. Right to a jury trial
4. Eighth Amendment
a. Cruel and unusual punishment
F. Places Limits on the National Government (IX, X)
V. Civil Liberties
A. 1st Amendment
1. The First Amendment also contains two religious clauses:
a. Free Exercise Clause: the freedom to worship as one sees fit, or not to worship at all.
b. Establishment Clause: prohibits governments from endorsing a particular religion
i. Faculty orchestrated prayer in public schools
ii. A government grant of public funds to a private organization to purchase bibles
iii. Often some involvement between a government entity and a religious oriented one, and reasonable government accommodation of religion is constitutional
c. Lemon Test
B. 14th Amendment
1. Designed primarily to promote and protect the rights of former slaves
2. Privileges and Immunities Clause: prohibits states from abridging the rights of U.S. citizens
3. Due Process Clause: prohibits the states from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law
4. Equal Protection Clause: Prohibits states from denying any person the equal protection of the laws
a. Has been the constitutional basis for a variety of challenges to alleged discriminatory state actions
b. Equal protection challenges are apt to arise when similarly situated groups are treated differently
5. In evaluating claims of violations, the Supreme Court has employed various tests, or levels of judicial scrutiny
C. Voting
1. Voting rights are civil liberties
2. The Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments prohibit states from abridging the right to vote on the basis of race and gender
3. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment prohibits states from abridging the right to vote of citizens who are eighteen years of age or older
VI. The Road to Civil Rights (Selected Examples)
A. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
1. Bans racial discrimination in any program or activity receiving federal funding
B. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
1. Prohibits sex discrimination by educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance
C. Equal Pay Act of 1963
1. Prohibits gender discrimination in the form of unequal pay for comparable work
2. Addresses the problem of women employees being paid far less than their male counterparts in similar working conditions
D. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
1. Forbids employment discrimination, such as refusal to hire or promote, on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin
E. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
1. Protects workers forty and older from discriminatory actions
2. Civil Rights Legislation
F. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968
1. Prohibits discrimination in housing and other public accommodations on the basis of such considerations as race, sex, national origin, or religion
G. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
1. Designed to eliminate barriers to persons with disabilities in such areas as employment, education, transportation, and other public services
H. Voting Rights Act of 1965
1. Voided artificial barriers to voting, such as literacy tests

The Journey to Civil Rights in the United States


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File: Abernathy Children Lead The SELMA TO MONTGOMERY MARCH with Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Juanita Jones Abernathy, Coretta Scott King and hundreds of Marchers.
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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leads the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C. on June 22, 1963. From the National Archives at College Park [CC0], Public Domain.
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Marchers in the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C. on June 22, 1963. From the National Archives at College Park [CC0], Public Domain.
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President John F. Kennedy signs the Equal Pay Act in April of 1963. Public Domain.
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President John F. Kennedy meets with Civil Rights leaders at the White House in June 1963. Photo by Cecil W. Stoughton, official White House photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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MLK Jr. giving his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in August, 1963. Public Domain.
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President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963.His body lied in state in the East Room of the White House, November 23, 1963. Public Domain.
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President Lyndon B. Johnson took office after Kennedy's assassination, and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Public Domain.
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President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with MLK, Jr. after signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Public Domain.
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Buildings were destroyed during the riots in Washington, D.C. which followed the assassination of Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Public Domain.
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President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 to end the Race Riots which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968. Public Domain.
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George H. Bush signs the ADA of 1990. Public Domain.


Test Your Knowledge

How well do you understand the concepts of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in the United States? Check your understandings using the flashcards below!

Affirmative action


For Further Reading

Please see Chapter 11 References on pages 325-326 of the textbook for primary sources and readings.

10 Supreme Court Cases about the 14th Amendment
From the National Constitution Center.