Identify the distinctive attributes of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights

POL 2301, United States Government 1

Course Learning Outcomes for Unit III Upon completion of this unit, students should be able to:

  1. Identify the distinctive attributes of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. 2.1 Define civil liberties and civil rights. 2.2 Discuss landmark Supreme Court cases and laws related to civil rights and civil liberties. 2.3 Identify the civil rights and liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. 2.4 Describe the meaning of equal treatment. 2.5 Summarize the movements in the United States to achieve equal rights.


Learning Outcomes Learning Activity


Unit Lesson Chapter 4, pp. 109–148 Chapter 5, pp. 155–194 Unit III Assessment


Unit Lesson Chapter 4, pp. 109–148 Chapter 5, pp. 155–194 Unit III Assessment


Unit Lesson Chapter 4, pp. 109–148 Chapter 5, pp. 155–194 Unit III Assessment

2.4 Unit Lesson Chapter 5, pp. 155–194 Unit III Assessment

2.5 Unit Lesson Chapter 5, pp. 155–194 Unit III Assessment

Required Unit Resources In order to access the following resources, click the links below. Throughout this course, you will be provided with sections of text from the online textbook American Government 2e. You may be tested on your knowledge and understanding of the material presented in the textbook as well as the information presented in the unit lesson. Chapter 4: Civil Liberties, pp. 109–148 Chapter 5: Civil Rights, pp. 155–194

Unit Lesson The civil liberties and civil rights established in the Bill of Rights provide the foundation of American individual freedom and protection from arbitrary government intervention in the lives of citizens. These guarantees establish the groundwork for full engagement in the political and civil life of our society. Following the Enlightenment, philosophers such as John Locke, Charles Montesquieu, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the architects of American democracy, held that the individual rights and liberties were inherent in human


Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

POL 2301, United States Government 2



beings—not derived from government. They further contended that a key function of government was to protect rights and liberties.

Authored by James Madison, the Bill of Rights consists of 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Originally, 12 amendments were proposed by Congress to the state legislatures; however, only 10 were ratified. On December 15, 1791, after 2 years of debate, the Bill of Rights was adopted. The Bill of Rights, along with other founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, are on display in the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C. Take a closer look at the Bill of Rights by visiting “The Bill of Rights” webpage, which is hosted by the U.S. National Archive and Records Administration.

The Rotunda at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C., is where the Bill of Rights and other founding documents are housed. They are displayed around the Rotunda in specially designed cases to help preserve the aging documents. (National Archives Museum, n.d.)

POL 2301, United States Government 3



In this lesson, we will examine civil liberties and civil rights through two case studies. The first focuses on a civil liberty—the right to privacy. While not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, citizen demands for privacy rights date back to the country’s founding. The second case study centers on a more contemporary controversy— equal access to education. Civil liberties are the freedoms that individuals are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, national and state laws, and judicial interpretations. They guarantee citizens’ freedom to engage in certain actions such as speech or journalism. At the same time, these guarantees place limits on what types of actions the government can restrain and to what degree the government can restrain the actions of citizens. There are two broad categories of civil liberties: personal freedoms and rights of the accused. They include the rights to free speech and a free press, the right to privacy, the right to peaceably assemble, the free exercise of religion, the rights of criminal defendants such as due process and protection against self- incrimination or double jeopardy, and the rights to a jury trial and council. Civil rights guarantee freedom from arbitrary or discriminatory treatment by the government. The government is required to ensure citizens receive equal treatment in a variety of settings such as employment, education, housing, and access to

public facilities regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, disability, and other legally protected characteristics (Krutz, 2019). In some cases, civil rights and civil liberties issues remain narrowly focused over time while others broaden and diversify. In this unit’s case studies, we will examine controversies associated with both civil liberties and civil rights. In particular, this lesson illustrates some of the key debates over citizens’ freedom from excessive government intrusion into their private lives and the right of all citizens to have equal access to education.

Case Study I: Privacy Rights In the 21st century, privacy is often considered to be one of the most important rights held by American citizens; however, there is no one explicit right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution or the amendments. Rather, privacy is rooted in law, judicial interpretation, and a compilation of constitutional amendments (i.e., the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth) (Gifis, 2016). The right to privacy has been carved out of existing amendments and created by laws and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of individual rights and liberties. (McLeod-Simmons, 2018)

POL 2301, United States Government 4



An alternate version of the infographic above is provided using assistive technologies.

POL 2301, United States Government 5



Following the legal tradition championed by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cooley, Harvard-educated Boston attorney Samuel D. Warren and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis aptly defined privacy in their 1890 seminal work “The Right of Privacy” as “the right to be left alone” (Warren & Brandeis, 1890, p. 205). However, this idea that government should leave individuals undisturbed unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise has expanded over the past 130 years in ways that these early constitutional scholars could not have imagined. In today’s world, privacy rights extend into numerous areas of modern life—from communications to reproduction.

Privacy Rights Today, privacy rights can be categorized into three key areas, which are discussed below. Personal Data Privacy Constitutional basis: Drawing from the protections in the Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment, the right to keep sensitive information private includes medical records, educational records, and financial reports collected by both the government and the private sector. Defined: The ownership of private information is a legally complex issue since personal data is often owned, at least in part, by several parties. For example, ownership or control over a person’s medical records can be shared by the patient’s family if an information release is signed, or the patient is a minor. Ownership may also be shared by a physician’s office or hospital; medical labs; pharmacies; insurance companies; and state and federal government agencies if Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or infectious diseases are involved. Further, that ownership may be shared by Internet service providers through which medical information about a patient is shared and pharmaceutical companies (McCarthy, 2018). Law: While there is no single federal data protection statute, there are several landmark statutes that provide privacy protections for personal data. Review the following landmark privacy statutes by clicking the links below.

 Review the “Privacy Act of 1974” webpage to learn more about the legislation.

 Learn more about Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) by accessing the “Health Information Privacy” webpage.

 Review the “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)” webpage to learn more about the FERPA legislation.

Physical Privacy Constitutional basis: The Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments serve as a foundation for physical privacy, which is an individual’s right over his or her physical person, including reproductive rights and education pertaining to physical privacy, mandatory drug testing, and physical searches.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (Harris & Ewing, 1916)

Boston attorney Samuel D. Warren (Notman, 1875)

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Defined: Reproductive rights refer to an individual’s right to determine when and if to reproduce, to use contraceptives, to terminate a pregnancy, and to have access to reproductive health services and education (FindLaw, n.d.). Cases: There have been several landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases that establish a right to privacy and define privacy in terms of reproductive rights. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) established a right to use contraceptives, and Roe v. Wade (1973) established the right to terminate a pregnancy as a fundamental right to a woman’s life and future (American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU], n.d.-b).

In order to access the following video, click the link below. Watch the news announcement given by Walter Cronkite on CBS News of the Roe v. Wade (1973) Supreme Court decision in this video On This Day: Supreme Court Legalizes Abortion. The video transcript is also available at the link above.

Later, U.S. Supreme Court cases held that federal funds could be used to terminate a pregnancy even if the life of the mother was not at risk, Harris v. McRae (1980). However, the 1989 high court decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services took a step away from reproductive privacy by restricting late-term abortions, and Rust v. Sullivan (1991) upheld a gag order barring abortion counseling by and referrals to family planning programs that receive federal funds. In the 1992 Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the core principles of Roe v. Wade but slightly weakened it. However, the Court made substantial inroads into striking down Roe in the 2007 Gonzalez v. Carhart (2007) decision when it upheld the federal ban on abortion imposed by the Partial Birth Abortion Act (2003) and in Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (2007) where the court declared partial birth abortions unconstitutional. In the recent 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a state law restricting women access to abortion by reducing the number of abortion clinics in the state (Liptak, 2016).

In order to access the following video, click the link below. Watch the news coverage by C-SPAN in the video Plaintiff Reaction to Supreme Court Ruling on Texas Abortion Restrictions. The transcript for the video Plaintiff Reaction to Supreme Court Ruling on Texas Abortion Restrictions is also available.

See how your state ranks in the protection of reproductive rights by engaging with the following interactive map from the Status of Women in the States website, which can be accessed by clicking the link below. Reproductive Rights Interactive Map

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