The Courts and a Free Society: Role in Deciding Civil Liberties

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  • 0:03 Civil Liberties
  • 0:34 Role of the Courts
  • 1:56 Modern Day Review
  • 4:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about the origin of the court's role with civil liberties in the United States. We will take a closer look at what the court's positions entail and the effects on society today.

Civil Liberties

Civil liberties are defined as rights guaranteed to the people by the United States Constitution and by court-made law or legislation. These liberties allow us to speak out freely against our government, express our opinions, organize protests and worship in whatever way we choose. It was important to the early settlers that we have these liberties in order to be protected from unnecessary government intrusion.

Role of the Courts

The framers of the United States Constitution were concerned about the government having too much power. Therefore, they divided the government into three separate branches: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. Article III of the United States Constitution gave judicial power to the U.S. Supreme Court and other lower state and federal courts.

Federal courts in the United States are charged with hearing and deciding all cases dealing with a constitutional or federal statute issue. State courts in the United States are charged with hearing and deciding all cases dealing with state statute issues. With regards to the judiciary, it was important to the framers that the courts have freedom from influence by other branches and politics. Therefore, it is difficult to remove a judge from her job, and their salaries are set by statute. One of the most important jobs that the courts are charged with is the responsibility to review legislation to ensure that our individual civil liberties are protected.

Let's look at a few examples of what the courts have decided with regards to our civil liberties.

Modern Day Review

The role of the courts in evaluating civil liberties is a contentious one. Amazingly, our civil liberties continue to be tested, interpreted and extended to this day. For example, in 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruled that several amendments to the Bill of Rights imply a right to privacy. This landmark ruling paved the way for future civil liberty cases, such as those on abortion and same-sex marriage.

One of the biggest civil liberty cases that was seen in 2013 was a question of the right to privacy. The issue that the courts have undertaken is one that asks whether a same-sex marriage is a protected civil liberty the same as an opposite sex marriage. For example, if a female marries another female, do they enjoy the same privacy protections as a female who married a male?

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