The creation of the United States constitutional document was driven by various theories and principles which begun long before the country attained its independence from England. It is worth to note that even today, these theories and principles are vibrant in the modern American society. This has been exhibited in the constitutional changes and struggles that have been witnessed in aspects of governance, civil rights and liberties and federalism. The aspect of civil liberties has brought about numerous issues since this is an area that touches on individuals’ freedoms and rights. Nonetheless, the American society has continued to witness changes in this aspect so as to cope with the demand of the ever changing socio-political environment. The aim of this paper will be to analyze the Constitutional aspects of civil liberties, and how the same has been affected by the changes that have been witnessed in the US. The constitutional aspect of civil liberties is regarded as a critical aspect of the constitutional framework in the United States. This is because it touches on individual rights and freedoms as provided for in the constitution.
The American Civil Liberties
The civil liberties can be described as the protections against the government that are legally provided for in the constitutional framework. These protections are entrenched in the Bill of Rights. On many occasions, the court has had to come in and offer its interpretations to determine the constitutional meaning of the civil liberties. It is true that the aspect of civil liberties has witnessed increased disputes due to the complexity and divisiveness of the issues. It has widely been acknowledged that individuals theoretically advocates for constitutional rights. However, when they are required to put what they advocate for in practice, their support for the rights dramatically wanes (Edwards, Wattenberg & Lineberry, 2008).
It is worth to note that the cases become extremely complex when there is a conflicting situation instigated by the civil liberties or when the facts and interpretations presented are understated and vague. The Bill of Rights as provided for in the Federal constitution is critical to the freedom of American citizens. Before the 1787 Convention, the various states had the bills of rights well entrenched within their respective constitutions. Therefore, the issue of having a bill of rights added to the proposed Federal constitution was critical for the ratification process. It has to be noted that the Bill of Rights, as instituted in the Federal constitution, was passed as a group. This was implemented by the First Congress in the year 1789. The ratification of the first 10 amendments was done in the year 1791 which saw the amendments become part of the Federal Constitution (Edwards, Wattenberg & Lineberry, 2008).
The Bill of Rights was designed in such a way to offer restrictions to the powers of the government. The first Amendment was critical in establishing the four liberties. This amendment is made up of various freedoms such as the freedom of press, the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the freedom of assembly. There has been a tussle between the state governments and the liberties as provided for in the Bill of Rights for over a long time. In Barron v. Baltimore (1833), the Supreme Court ruling observed that the Bill of Rights applied only to the Federal government. Therefore, the states and cities could pass laws that violated any of the provisions in the Bill of Rights (Edwards, Wattenberg & Lineberry, 2008).
However, in 1925’s case of Gitlow v New York; the court, while basing on the provisions of the 14th Amendment, upheld that some of 1st Amendment rights were to be respected by the state governments. The court ruled that freedoms related to speech and press were protected under the 14th Amendment and states could not violate them. Over the years, the Supreme Court has seen the Bill of Rights being applied to the states, just like is the case with the Federal government. This observation was made during the 1960s when Ear Warren was serving as the Chief Justice. This is a time that saw the development of “the concept of the incorporation doctrine”. Much of the provisions of the Bill of rights have since been applied to the states. However, it can be observed that though most of the Amendments have been applied at the state level, there are those that have not been comprehensively applied. In particular, the 2nd, 3rd, and 7th Amendments together with the grand jury of the 5th Amendment are yet to be applied at the state level in a significant manner (Edwards, Wattenberg & Lineberry, 2008).
Application of Civil Liberties
It has already been noted that individuals seem to be aware of the civil liberties in theory. However, when it comes to implementing what they know about civil liberties, the score is worrying. They only seem to support the civil liberties in theory and not in practice (Edwards, Wattenberg & Lineberry, 2008). Previously, it has been assumed that there is a strong relationship between knowledge about the civil liberties and support for the same. There was research to back these assumptions with researchers establishing that “the willingness to extend civil liberties to unpopular target groups increases with formal education” (Green, et al., 2011, p. 643). This has been interpreted blindly by researchers who claim that there is a causal relationship between education and civil liberties. In this regard, they have argued that when individuals are educated, then they are likely to appreciate and embrace the tenets of civil liberties (Green, et al., 2011).
In their article, Green and his associates set to find out whether increased knowledge of constitutional principles increases support for civil liberties. From their study, it was found out that even with increased knowledge of civil liberties; no significant support for civil liberties was noted. This finding leaves a lot to be desired in the assumption that knowledge and attitudes are casually related (Green, et al., 2011).
Donald P. Green; Peter M. Aronow; Daniel E. Bergan; Pamela Greene; Celia Paris; and Beth I. Weinberger (2011). Does Knowledge of Constitutional Principles Increase Support for Civil Liberties? Results from a Randomized Field Experiment. The Journal of Politics, Vol. 73, No. 2, pp. 463–476
These authors are renowned scholars attached to various institutions of higher learning in the United States. Donald P. Green is a PhD holder from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. He has also authored various articles and books. Peter M. Aronow is a lecturer at Yale University in the Department of Political Science. Daniel E. Bergan is a PhD holder in political science from the Northwestern University. Currently, he is a lecturer at Michigan State University in the Department of Political Science. Pamela Greene, Celia Paris, and Beth I. Weinberger are all reputable scholars who are serving at Yale University as lecturers.
In their article, the six authors set to find out whether increased knowledge of constitutional principles Increases support for civil liberties. From their study, it was found out that even with increased knowledge of civil liberties; no significant support for civil liberties was noted. This finding leaves a lot to be desired in the assumption that knowledge and attitudes are casually related.
William Bloss (2007). Escalating U.S. Police Surveillance after 9/11: an Examination of Causes and Effects. Surveillance & Society Special Issue on ‘Surveillance and Criminal Justice’ Part 1, 4(3): 208-228. Retrieved on 28th Feb. 2012 from:
William Bloss is a criminal justice officer based at the Criminal justice at Citadel Military College of Science. He is an associate professor with a PhD in criminal justice from Sam Houston. William Bloss is Professor and Chair of Criminal Justice Department at the Citadel Military College. In his article, William notes that the police have been provided with increased powers in their surveillance duties, which can infringe on freedoms and liberties of individuals. This has been facilitated by various aspects including technology, court interpretation of privacy issues and changes in the federal law among other elements. This article focuses on the examination of the aspects leading to the increase in the powers of the security agencies in surveillance that has led to limited individual privacy civil life.
Russell Hardin (2004). Civil Liberties in the Era of Mass Terrorism. The Journal of Ethics 8: 77–95.
Russell Hardin is a legal expert based in Houston where he has established his law firm, Rusty Hardin & Associates, P.C. Russell holds a law degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. His legal firm has represented various clients resulting in land mark rulings such as the ruling in the Enron scandal of 2005.
In his article, he discussed the effects that the war on terrorism has had on the civil liberties. He asserts that the American constitution in Madison’s thinking was meant to protect the citizens from the powers of the government. Nonetheless, after the 2001 terrorist attack, this has changed and the government seems to be violating the constitutional principles as viewed by Madison.
George C. Edwards, Martin P Wattenberg & Robert L. Lineberry, (2008). Government in America: People, politics, and policy. New York: Longman.
George C. Edwards III is a professor of Political science at Texas A & M University. In addition, he is the Jordan Chairperson in Presidential Studies. George is a reputable scholar with wide experience in political matters. Martin P Wattenberg is a professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine. He is well versed in American elections and party politics. Robert L. Lineberry is a professor in political science where he serves in the Department of Political Science at the University of Houston. The three co-authors have also authored other works.
In their book, the three authors focus on the impact that the government has on the American people. This text encourages participation in the political system from the public and discourages apathy towards government. It has to be noted that people have become suspicious of the increased government powers that infringe on their civil liberties as provided for in the constitution.
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