Selective Incorporation: Definition & Doctrine

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  • 0:00 What Is Selective…
  • 2:02 Doctrine
  • 3:00 Miranda v. Arizona
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Richard Robertson

Richard has taught college Criminal Justice subjects and has a master's degree in criminal justice.

In this lesson we will discuss how a person's rights granted under the Constitution of the United States are protected from laws enacted by states through the process of selective incorporation. We also provide an example of selective incorporation in the case of Miranda v. Arizona.

What Is Selective Incorporation?

Selective incorporation is the process that has evolved over the years, through court cases and rulings, used by the United States Supreme Court to ensure that the rights of the people are not violated by state laws or procedures.

You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…blah, blah, blah. We have all heard these warnings on police dramas on TV, but your state did not always provide you with these rights. You may be thinking that the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution has always provided you these rights. The 5th Amendment explicitly says that a person shall not be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. So why have you not always had this right and other rights found in the first ten amendments to the Constitution?

When the first ten amendments were added to the Constitution, they were designed to protect the people from the federal government, not the states. The founders of our country were very concerned about creating too powerful of a centralized government that might infringe on the given rights of the people. Thus, the first ten amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were added to protect those rights against abuse by the federal government.

From the very beginning of the formation of the new government, there were concerns about how to incorporate federal laws into state laws. One of the main concerns was how to prevent the states from enacting laws that infringed on the rights of the citizens guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. States had their own constitutions, and their laws only had to comply with their constitution.

This was reaffirmed in the case of Barron v. Baltimore (1933) in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government. John Barron owned a wharf in Baltimore's harbor that was made unusable when the City of Baltimore diverted the water during the construction of city streets. He sued the city, claiming his property was taken without just compensation, which was a violation of his 5th Amendment rights, specifically the taking of property without just compensation. The Supreme Court ruled that nowhere in the Constitution does it say the amendments apply to the states; thus, an individual has no claims of rights violations against a state.


The Supreme Court does not have the power to make laws, only interpret if a law is Constitutional or not. Until the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868, there was nothing in the Constitution that forced the states to protect those rights found in the Constitution. The 14th Amendment, Section 1, reads:

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