Civil liberties in the United States

Civil liberties in the United States are certain unalienable rights retained by (as opposed to privileges granted to) citizens of the United States under the Constitution of the United States, as interpreted and clarified by the Supreme Court of the United States and lower federal courts.[1] Civil liberties are simply defined as individual legal and constitutional protections from entities more powerful than an individual, for example, parts of the government, other individuals, or corporations. The liberties explicitly defined, make up the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and the right to privacy.[2] There are also many liberties of people not defined in the Constitution, as stated in the Ninth Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The extent of civil liberties and the periphery of the population of the United States who had access to these liberties has expanded over time. For example, the Constitution did not originally define who was eligible to vote, allowing each state to determine who was eligible. In the early history of the U.S., most states allowed only white male adult property owners to vote (about 6% of the population).[3][4][5] The 'Three-Fifths Compromise' allowed the southern slaveholders to consolidate power and maintain slavery in America for eighty years after the ratification of the Constitution.[6] And the Bill of Rights had little impact on judgements by the courts for the first 130 years after ratification.[7]

United States Constitution

Freedom of religion

Free Exercise Clause

The text of Amendment I to the United States Constitution, ratified December 15, 1791, states that:

"Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"[8]

— United States Constitution, Amendment I

Freedom of expression

Free Speech Clause

The text of Amendment I to the United States Constitution, ratified December 15, 1791, states that:

"Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech,"[8]

— United States Constitution, Amendment I

Free Press Clause

The text of Amendment I to the United States Constitution, ratified December 15, 1791, states that:

"Congress shall make no law... abridging... the press,"[8]

— United States Constitution, Amendment I

Free Assembly Clause

The text of Amendment I to the United States Constitution, ratified December 15, 1791, states that:

"Congress shall make no law... abridging... the right of the people peaceably to assemble,"[8]

— United States Constitution, Amendment I

Petition Clause

The text of Amendment I to the United States Constitution, ratified December 15, 1791, states that:

"Congress shall make no law... abridging... the right of the people... to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."[8]

— United States Constitution, Amendment I

Free speech exceptions

The following types of speech are not protected constitutionally: defamation or false statements, child pornography, obscenity, damaging the national security interests, verbal acts, and fighting words. Because these categories fall outside of the First Amendment privileges, the courts can legally restrict or criminalize any expressive act within them. Other expressions, including threat of bodily harm or publicizing illegal activity, may also be ruled illegal.[9]

Right to keep and bear arms

The text of Amendment II to the United States Constitution, ratified December 15, 1791, states that:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."[8]

— United States Constitution, Amendment II

Sexual freedom

The concept of sexual freedom includes a broad range of different rights that are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The idea of sexual freedom has sprung more from the popular opinion of society in more recent years, and has had very little Constitutional backing. The following liberties are included under sexual freedom: sexual expression, sexual choices, sexual education, reproductive justice, and sexual health.[10] Sexual freedom in general is considered an implied procedure, and is not mentioned in the Constitution.

Sexual freedoms include the freedom to have consensual sex with whomever a person chooses, at any time, for any reason, provided the person is of the age of majority. Marriage is not required, nor are there any requirements as to the gender or number of people you have sex with. Sexual freedom includes the freedom to have private consensual homosexual sex (Lawrence v. Texas).

Equal protection

Equal protection prevents the government from creating laws that are discriminatory in application or effect.

Right to vote

The text of Amendment XIV to the United States Constitution, ratified July 9, 1868, states that:

"when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one (eighteen) years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one (eighteen) years of age in such State."[8]

— United States Constitution, Article XIV

The text of Amendment XV to the United States Constitution, ratified February 3, 1870, states that:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."[8]

— United States Constitution, Article XV

The text of Amendment XIX to the United States Constitution, ratified August 18, 1919, states that:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."[8]

— United States Constitution, Amendment XIX

The text of Amendment XXIII to the United States Constitution, ratified January 23, 1964, states that:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."[8]

— United States Constitution, Amendment XXIII

The text of Amendment XXVI to the United States Constitution, ratified July 1, 1971, states that:

"The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age."[8]

— United States Constitution, Amendment XXVI

Right to marriage

In the 1967 United States Supreme Court ruling in the case of Loving v. Virginia found a fundamental right to marriage, regardless of race. In the 2015 United States Supreme Court ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges found a fundamental right to marriage, regardless of gender.

Right of self-defense

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Expansion of Rights and Liberties - The Right of Suffrage". Online Exhibit: The Charters of Freedom. National Archives. Archived from the original on July 6, 2016. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  4. ^ Murrin, John M.; Johnson, Paul E.; McPherson, James M.; Fahs, Alice; Gerstle, Gary (2012). Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People (6th ed.). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. p. 296. ISBN 9780495904991.
  5. ^ Janda, Kenneth; Berry, Jeffrey M.; Goldman, Jerry (2008). The challenge of democracy: government in America (9. ed., update ed.). Houghton Mifflin. p. 207. ISBN 9780618990948.
  6. ^ "We Hold These Truths to be Self-evident;" An Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Roots of Racism & slavery in America Kenneth N. Addison; Introduction P. xxii
  7. ^ "The Bill Of Rights: A Brief History". ACLU. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k United States Constitution
  9. ^
  10. ^

Further reading

Abby Rubenfeld

Abby Rubenfeld (born 1953) is an American civil rights attorney who practices in Nashville, Tennessee.Rubenfeld received an A.B. with honors from Princeton University, where she was class president, and a J.D. from Boston University School of Law in 1979, where she helped create the Boston University Law Association. She was admitted to practice law in 1979.She was an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University Law School and chair of the Individual Rights and Responsibilities section of the American Bar Association and of the National Law Association.

She is also an attorney, mother, and board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. She serves on the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign, and was an attorney and Legal Director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc.Rubenfeld is the daughter of Milton Rubenfeld and the sister of actor Paul Reubens (born Paul Rubenfeld). She is married, has two daughters, and a stepdaughter.

Arthur Kramer

Arthur Kramer (January 10, 1927 − January 26, 2008) was the founding partner of influential law firm Kramer Levin. Kramer retired from the firm in 1996. He was found alone by a ski patrol in Sun Valley, Idaho on January 13, 2008. He ultimately died from a stroke on January 26 in New York City. He was 81 when he died, having lived in Stamford, Connecticut.

Assisted person

An assisted person has several meanings in law, referring generally to indigent people.

Under Great Britain statutory law, one who is eligible for Legal aid. It also refers to such a person under Scottish law.Under U.S. Bankruptcy law, it is also a person who applies to a debt relief agency. A debt relief agency is "any person who provides any bankruptcy assistance to an assisted person in return for the payment of money or other valuable consideration, or who is a bankruptcy petition preparer" under 11 U.S.C. § 110. "The term 'assisted person' means any person whose debts consist primarily of consumer debts and the value of whose nonexempt property is less than $150,000." 11 U.S.C. § 101(3). Debt relief agencies are subject to certain rules regarding information they must provide to an assisted person.

Benjamin Franklin True Patriot Act

The Benjamin Franklin True Patriot Act (H.R. 3171) is a bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives intended to review the previously passed USA PATRIOT Act. The bill was referred to subcommittees where it languished without action taken before the end of the 108th United States Congress. The bill will have to be reintroduced in order to be considered again.

Cutting the Mustard

Cutting the Mustard: Affirmative Action and the Nature of Excellence is a 1987 non-fiction book by civil libertarian and United States lawyer Marjorie Heins about Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and its relationship to affirmative action and sexism. Heins discusses the case of Nancy Richardson, dean of student affairs at the Boston University School of Theology, who was removed from her position by the school's administration in 1981. Heins represented Richardson in an unsuccessful lawsuit against Boston University for wrongful termination and sexism. Cutting the Mustard recounts the case, interspersing reflections on the lawsuit with a discussion of relevant case law, decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States related to affirmative action and multiple criticisms of contradictory court decisions in affirmative-action cases.

The book was positively received by the Harvard Law Review which recommended From Midterms to Ministry for further information. It was also reviewed by the Women's Review of Books, Women's Rights Law Reporter and California Lawyer. A review in Library Journal by a Harvard Law School librarian criticized the book for lacking a substantive analysis of the case.

Electronic Privacy Information Center v. Department of Justice

EPIC v. Department of Justice is a 2014 case in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia between the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) where EPIC seeks court action to enforce their Freedom of Information Act request for documents that the Department of Justice has withheld pertaining to George W. Bush's authorization of NSA warrantless surveillance.

Enemy Expatriation Act

The Enemy Expatriation Act (HR 3166 and S. 1698) is a proposed law in the United States sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Scott Brown (R-MA) and Representatives Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Jason Altmire (D-PA). The bill would allow the United States government to strip US citizens of their citizenship if they participate in terrorism, defined as "providing material support or resources to a Foreign Terrorist Organization, as designated by the Secretary of State, or actively engaging in hostilities against the United States or its allies." In early 2012, the proposal was compared to the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, and some writers have suggested that the two laws could be used together to take away citizens' civil liberties. If passed, the bill would add to the circumstances under which US citizenship can be lost.

Fetal protection policies in the United States

Fetal protection policies in the United States are various private sector rules intended to protect women's reproductive health and the health of developing fetuses in the workplace. These policies have evolved in response to the nature of many modern businesses, which use toxic chemicals or ionizing radiation during ordinary business and production activities. These policies have also evolved based on the liability a given business entity might incur, for example, for causing sterility or damage to an otherwise healthy fetus during pregnancy.

These policies were highlighted in the national media in the early 1990s when the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed a lower federal appellate court's decision in UAW v. Johnson Controls, Inc.. Also, scholarly journals have discussed these policies before and after the Johnson Controls case.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that these policies violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 by promoting gender discrimination.

Flemming Rule

The Flemming Rule of 1960 was named after Arthur Flemming, who at the time was the head of United States' Department of Health and Human Services. The Flemming rule was an administrative ruling which decreed that U.S. states could not deny income assistance eligibility through the U.S. Aid to Families with Dependent Children program on the basis of a home being considered unsuitable per the woman's children being termed as illegitimate, a term for the status of a child born to parents who are unmarried to one another.

In 1960, the U.S. state of Louisiana expelled 23,000 children from its welfare program in what became known as the "Louisiana Incident." This was done because the children had been born outside of wedlock, and were considered illegitimate by the state. Similar types of welfare denial had occurred in other states. In response to this, the Louisiana Department of Health, Education and Welfare, administrator of the income assistance program, implemented the Flemming Rule.A 1997 article by Claudia Lawrence-Webb claimed that the child welfare system had problems fairly representing children of color and signified this problem was due to the Flemming Rule. Webb suggested that the rule was implemented poorly, which led to unnecessary negative consequences for African American children. In the article, Webb also discusses how the Flemming Rule may have influenced future policies.

General Order Number 38

General Order Number 38 was issued by American Union general Ambrose Burnside on April 13, 1863, during the American Civil War while Burnside commanded the Department of the Ohio. Among other issues, the order attempted to make it illegal to criticize the war within that Department:

That hereafter all persons found within our lines who commit acts for the benefit of the enemies of our country, will be tried as spies or traitors, and, if convicted, will suffer death. This order includes the following classes of persons:


The habit of declaring sympathies for the enemy will no longer be tolerated in the department. Persons committing such offences will be at once arrested, with a view to being tried as above stated, or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends.

Any kind of opposition to the war — such as that expressed by the Copperheads peace movement — was considered sympathy to the enemy, and the order was immediately used as justification to arrest Ohio Representative Vallandigham, a prominent leader in the movement (in fact, he was arrested for criticizing the order itself) and to try him in a military court.

Burnside’s order inspired a political campaign song that mentioned Clement Vallandigham:

O, brothers, don't forget the timeWhen Burnside was our fate,And laws were supersededBy order 38.Then like a free-born western man,Our Val spoke bold and true,O, when he’s chosen governorWhat will poor Burnside do.Wont he skedaddle,As he’s well used to do.

Individual rights advocate

An Individual rights advocate is an advocate "to protect the legal and human rights of individuals with disabilities." United States law provides for advocates to protect the legal rights of persons with disabilities. This advocacy can be life-changing:

Over the last 25 years, disability rights advocacy has played a crucial role in broadening the concept of disability and of what people with disabilities can accomplish. This advocacy has been instrumental in shaping new images of people with disabilities. In emphasizing individual independence and empowerment since the beginning of the disability rights movement in the early 1970s, advocates have tried to show that people with disabilities are a vital part of society and have the right to participate fully in it.

There are some writers who feel that, "only individuals have rights," rather than groups.

Loss of rights due to conviction for criminal offense

Loss of rights due to criminal conviction refers to the practice in some countries of reducing the rights of individuals who have been convicted of a criminal offence. The restrictions are in addition to other penalties such as incarceration or fines. In addition to restrictions imposed directly upon conviction, there can also be collateral civil consequences resulting from a criminal conviction, but which are not imposed directly by the courts as a result of the conviction.

Massachusetts Body of Liberties

The Massachusetts Body of Liberties was the first legal code established by European colonists in New England. Compiled by the Puritan minister Nathaniel Ward, the laws were established by the Massachusetts General Court in 1641. The Body of Liberties begins by establishing the exclusive right of the General Court to legislate and dictate the "Countenance of Authority".

In 1684 King Charles II revoked the Body of Liberties and reinstated English law over the Commonwealth. When King James II established the Massachusetts Colony the Body of Liberties took effect and remained so until it was replaced by the 1691 Provincial Charter.

Meshal v. Higgenbotham

Meshal v. Higgenbotham is a U.S. federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Amir Mohamed Meshal, a natural born citizen of the United States, charging two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Chris Higgenbotham and Steve Hersem, and two other unknown U.S. government officials for their roles in subverting Meshal's rights under the United States Constitution and the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991.

Mozert v. Hawkins

Mozert v. Hawkins (6th Cir. 1987) was a notable US Circuit Court case involving exercising first amendment rights of religion in protesting required public school reading for students in Tennessee.

Special administrative measure

A special administrative measure (SAM) is a process under United States law (28 C.F.R. 501.3; see also USAM title 9 chapter 24 — Requests for Special Confinement Conditions) whereby the United States Attorney General may direct the United States Bureau of Prisons to use "special administrative measures" regarding housing of and correspondence and visitors to specific inmates. It includes prisoners awaiting or being tried, as well as those convicted, when it is alleged there is a "substantial risk that a prisoner's communications or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury to persons, or substantial damage to property that would entail the risk of death or serious bodily injury to persons." Such measures are used to prevent acts of violence or terrorism or disclosure of classified information.

The law is considered particularly controversial because it permits monitoring of attorney-client communications of designated prisoners. Initiated in November 2001, the Department of Justice considered this an expansion of an existing regulation. Formerly it was only allowed through a court order. It specified that information protected by attorney-client privilege could not be used for prosecution; however, communications related to ongoing or contemplated illegal acts was not covered."As of May 22, 2009, 44 out of 205,000 federal inmates were subject to SAMs, 29 incarcerated on terrorism-related charges, 11 on violent crime-related charges and four on espionage charges. Well known individuals who have been under special administrative measures include American Taliban supporter John Walker Lindh and organized crime figure Frank Calabrese, Sr. Perhaps the best known application of this provision was the prosecution of attorney Lynne Stewart and interpreter Mohamed Yousry for passing messages between Omar Abdel-Rahman and his supporters in violation of a special administrative measure against communications. After her conviction, sentencing and re-sentencing to 10 years in prison, she appealed on freedom of speech grounds. Other cases include Syed Fahad Hashmi (see below), and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Boston Marathon bomber, who never could speak privately to his attorneys.

The End of America (film)

The End of America is a 2008 documentary film directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, adapted from Naomi Wolf's 2007 book, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. The film analyzes policy changes made during the Bush Administration, and makes the case that these changes threaten American democracy.

Walter Karp

Walter Bernard Karp (May 14, 1934 – July 19, 1989) was an American journalist, historian, and writer who published in magazines such as American Heritage and Horizon, and was also a contributing editor for Harper's Magazine (edited by friend Lewis H. Lapham), which re-published some of his political history books in 2003. As an historian, he emphasized the close relationship between domestic and international politics, and the shallowness of the modern two-party system of the US, proposing power and militarism, not money, as the corrupting influences upon politics.

Your papers, please

"Your papers, please" (or "Papers, please") is an expression or trope associated with police state functionaries, as popularized in Hollywood movies featuring Nazi Party officials demanding identification from citizens during random stops or at checkpoints. It is a cultural metaphor for life in a police state.The phrase has been used disparagingly in the debate over Real ID and national ID cards in the United States.It has also been used to refer to interactions with citizens during police stops and immigration enforcement. Arizona's controversial SB 1070 law requiring people to carry identification was dubbed the "Papers, Please" law.The phrase has also been used by the press in relation to a February 2017 incident in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents searching for a suspect demanded identification from passengers exiting a domestic flight. In January 2018, bus passengers allege that Border Patrol agents boarded a Greyhound bus in Florida and demanded U.S. identification or a passport from all of those on board.A lawsuit against Glendale, Arizona police officers alleges that a passenger in a car was tasered on the genitals after he asked an officer why he needed to identify himself during a 2017 traffic stop.

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