Term Paper: Civil Liberties the United States

Pages: 5 (1469 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Later, Weddington successfully argued the case in front of the Supreme Court. On June 22, 1973, the Supreme Court struck down all state laws regarding abortion and created one new law for the entire country. In the 7-2 ruling, the Court held that "the Constitution protects a fundamental 'right to privacy,' broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy" (cited in Guernsey 63). The Court ruled that on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment which protects individual civil liberties, an adult woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy was therefore guaranteed the by right to privacy.

Active role

The government ostensibly stays out of affairs private affairs to minimize infringing on civil liberties. However, there are cases where the government has decided to step in, ostensibly to protect the rights of a marginalized group.

For example, in the case of racial and sexual discrimination, the infringement on people's rights occurs not just with the government, but also in many sectors of private society. Prior to the civil rights movement, for example, many businesses and schools would not accept African-American applicants solely because of their skin color. Many women were denied access to jobs, equal pay and opportunities for advancement.

Recognizing this disparity, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted Executive Order 11246 in 1965, an order popularly known as affirmative action. In addition to merely making discrimination illegal, the government took concrete steps to address the many social, economic and political disadvantages suffered by women and minorities by adding measures designed to give these groups preferences.

When critics charged that affirmative action was unnecessary because of the many gains in civil rights represented by earlier laws such as the Voting Rights Bill, Johnson eloquently pointed at how much remained to be done, saying: "Freedom is not enough...You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'You are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe you are competing fair" (17).

The original purpose of affirmative action is thus not to interfere into the private sector of employment and schooling. Rather, it is a means to address the discrimination that continues to exist against minorities and women, a discrimination that hampers their own individual civil liberties. In this case, the government has taken an active role in ensuring that the civil liberties of a significant segment of American society are protected.

Dual role

These examples illustrate the dual role the government plays in ensuring that every citizen is able to practice his or her civil liberties. On one hand, the government maintains a passive role by avoiding the semblance of any interference in the private affairs of its citizens. This helps to ensure basic freedoms, such as expression and privacy.

On the other hand, the government has to step in, as it has done in addressing the prevailing discrimination against minorities and women. In these cases, the government justifies its rulings on private matters like hiring and university applications because historically, these practices themselves have infringed on the civil rights of a significant segment of society.

These rights as articulated, however, are far from absolute. Throughout its history, the provisions regarding the civil liberties as ensconced in the Bill of Rights have been interpreted in many different ways.

Currently, for example, provisions of the Homeland Security Act have shown that the need for security is now taking precedence over the right to privacy. New laws that recognize a late-term fetus as a person have resulted in more legal challenges to a woman's privacy rights regarding pregnancy and abortion. Whether these challenges will result in new legal interpretations of the Bill of Rights, however, remains to be seen.

Works Cited

Getz, Arlene. "Big Brother Goes to Washington." Newsweek. November 15, 2002. Available from LEXIS/NEXIS Academic Universe.

Guernsey, JoAnn Bren. Abortion: Understanding the Controversy. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 1993.

Johnson, Lyndon B. "To Fulfill these Rights." Speech reprinted in The Affirmative Action Debate. George E. Curry (ed). Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1965.

Kimball, Roger. "The Case for Censorship." Censorship: Opposing Viewpoints. Tamara L. Roleff, ed. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2002.

McMasters, Paul. "Speech Police - on the Left and Right - Trample Freedom of Expression in the Name of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Civil Liberties the United States.  (2003, May 4).  Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/civil-liberties-united-states/7623138

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"Civil Liberties the United States."  Essaytown.com.  May 4, 2003.  Accessed June 16, 2019.