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To what extent has the Constitution protected civil liberties in America?

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Roz Cresswell To what extent has the constitution protected civil liberties in America? The constitution is only partially successful in protecting civil liberties. At first sight there are three main ways through the constitution that are used successfully to protect American civil liberties; a codified constitution, an entrenched constitution and the protection by the Supreme Court. However, it can be said that the constitution does not protect everyone and there are many examples of its failure to protect civil liberties. Three examples of this are in the period that followed 9/11, particularly regarding the foreigners or in the case of the African Americans in general. The American constitution protects civil liberties to the extent that it is a codified constitution, which states a list of specific rights, which are included in the Bill of Rights. The language used in simple and easy to read which ensures that most Americans are able to understand and be aware of their own rights. An example of how the constitution protects can be seen in the 1st Amendment. It states a guarantee of basic rights, which include: freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly. This protects an American's right to freedom and allows them to express them selves in anyway they want. ...read more.


The Native Americans were deprived of property rights during the nineteenth century. The constitution also condoned slavery and permitted it to continue which can be seen in Article 6 which honoured all "debts contracted and engagements entered into" which was a reference again to the African slaves who were already 'owned'. Another way that the African Americans civil liberties were violated was that even after the Civil War and following the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, the Deep South were allowed to adopt a series of laws called the Jim Crow laws which allowed a formal segregated South which prevented the African Americans from voting. This violated the constitution as in 1896 the vote was extended to African Americans but this was ignored by many states. Lynching and other attacks upon the African Americans were common, and as no one stopped the Klu Klux Klan it was a violation of Amendment 5 which states that a person " cannot be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law''. It is clear that at first the African Americans did not have their civil liberties protected by the constitution and were subject to a very different experience than most. Later the constitution was more successful in protecting the civil liberties of African Americans, for example in 1964 Amendment 24 which stopped states using the failure to pay poll tax as a reason for an African American being unable to vote. ...read more.


The constitution failed to protect Guantanamo inmates in the long run. Further more, in 2008 the Intelligence Authorisation Bill, or the Torture Bill was passed by Congress. This was designed to limit interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists to 19 methods and one example it ruled out was waterboarding. Bush vetoed the Bill and Congress could not gain the supermajority necessary to overturn it. Within the constitution it sates "cruel and unusual punishments" are not permitted and it is down to the Supreme Court to state what is cruel and unusual. So although many would say torture was cruel and unusual, it was never officially unconstitutional and so never seen as an infringement on basic civil liberties. `In conclusion, although in theory the American constitution appears to protect all American civil liberties without fail because it is codified, entrenched and protected, in practise it has only been partially successful in this. It has been interpreted differently to infringe others rights. The three examples of this are the treatment of the African Americans un till the late 1960's, the treatment of the Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbour and the treatment of the suspects in the war on terror. In theory the Supreme Court should have protected them but initially did not. ...read more.

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