The American Democracy, 10th Edition (Patterson)
Civil Liberties: Protecting Individual Rights
The author focuses on civil liberties issues in this chapter. He examines a range of specific individual rights and their evolution over time. These rights include freedom of speech, religion, and privacy. However, these rights are constantly being balanced against competing individual rights and society’s collective interests, making these increasingly complex and important in contemporary American politics. The main points of this chapter are as follows:
- Freedom of expression is the most basic of democratic rights, but like all rights, it is not unlimited.
- “Due process of law” refers to legal protections (primarily procedural safeguards) designed to ensure that individual rights are respected by government.
- Over the course of the nation’s history, Americans’ civil liberties have been broadened in law and more fully protected by the courts. Of special significance has been the Supreme Court’s use of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect individual rights from action by state and local governments.
- Individual rights are constantly being weighed against the demands of majorities and the collective needs of society. All political institutions are involved in this process, as is public opinion, but the judiciary plays a central role and is the institution that is normally most protective of civil liberties.