Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in the United States

The relationship that exists between civil liberties and civil rights is often confused and misunderstood. Civil liberties are rights that individuals hold over and above against the government. Civil liberties came about in the United States when citizens turned down the ratification of the constitution unless a Bill of Rights was included, that specifically protected them against government interference of their inalienable rights.

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In 1871, the Bill of Rights was adopted in the form of amendments to the United States constitution. It was designed to protect civil liberties of individuals against government infringement even when the policy of government represents the popular opinion of the majority in American society. The First Amendment to the American constitution, for instance, provides rights that protect American citizens to express opinions that the majority find offensive. In the era of racial segregation in the US, white majorities in the Southern States during the 1890s through 1960s enacted laws that restricted the rights of African Americans.

These restrictions included the creation of separate school systems, denial of voting rights, and blatant violations of individual rights. When the American Civil War came to end, the fourteenth Amendment was made to the American constitution that introduced the Equal Protection Clause, which barred government from subjecting unequal treatment to citizens who are equally situated. It is important to know that only the government can infringe or violate the civil liberties of its citizens.

Whereas civil liberty laws protect citizens from government interference of their inalienable rights, civil rights laws on the other hand, protect citizens against private acts of discrimination, for example, in education, housing, employment, and others. Civil rights laws took a lot longer to be enacted and were much controversial in the American history. It was until 1964 that the US Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act.

Most American citizens understand the Civil Rights Movement to be the struggle of African Americans for equality. However, the term civil rights generally deal with issues of equality for groups such as: minority ethnic groups, women, disabled persons, homosexuals and lesbians, and other groups.

The Civil Rights Movement has a special place in United States history. For this reason, people tend to regard civil rights and civil liberties as issues which are separate. Civil liberties and civil rights are not separate issues. However, to distinguish between civil liberties and civil rights, it is more appropriate to regard civil rights as an area of Civil liberties. Civil Rights form part of Civil Liberties. Civil Rights agitate for the basic rights of individuals to be free from treatments that are unequal based on certain protected characteristics such as race, disability, gender, and others in settings such as housing, water, employment, and others.

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In sum, civil rights advocate for the protection of equal rights which is one of the four major areas of civil liberties. Other areas of civil liberties include; the First Amendment rights, due process of law, and privacy. The equal protection of individuals entails the right to be free from discrimination for instance, in employment, housing, public accommodations, the administration of criminal justice, and other diverse areas in life.

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 better illustrates the differences between Civil Rights and Civil liberties in the US. The Act was a federal law enacted to guarantee all Americans irrespective of race, color, and other discriminatory attributes for equal treatment in “public accommodations, that is, public conveyances on land or water, inns, theatres, and other places of public amusement.” This legislation was, however, rarely applied particularly after the federal troops pooled out from the South in 1883 after the Presidential elections. In 1883, five consolidated cases filed by African Americans in the lower courts were ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

African Americans had filed cases against theatres, hotels, and transport organizations that had denied them admission due to racial segregation. The Court ruled that in accordance with the provisions of the 14th Amendment, which barred refusal of equal protection by a State, did not provide the US Congress power to regulate discriminatory behavior. According to the Judge, the 14th Amendment provisions could not outlaw racial discrimination by individuals and organizations, but rather protects individuals against infringement from State or local government. In essence the 14th Amendment provisions protected civil liberties only but not the civil rights of the litigants.

The majority of the 1875 Civil Rights provisions were enacted in the 1960s with the 1960 Civil Rights Act. This legislation barred segregation against race in schools, employment, and public places. Prior to its enactment, the bill was adjusted to include protection of women. Initially, the Act was meant to protect the civil rights of African Americans, but the inclusion of women protection, explicitly brought on board white people also.

In this second section of the discussion, I explain the political culture and the principles of American culture and how political socializations factors in this. Political culture refers to the general agreement by a political community on the means of achieving political objectives. Within a political community, political culture characteristics involve distinguishing behavioral patterns, beliefs, attitudes, values, and habits. The domains of political culture include cognitive, affective, and evaluative which are oriented towards the political system. Compared to public opinion, political culture is broader as it functions as a frame which limits political actions and discourse that is acceptable.

It gives assumptions that guide public life, and is more enduring, stable and cuts across generations. The essence of political culture is about common perceptions of the rights and obligations of the citizenship and of the rules and guidelines for participating in the political process and not an agreement on issues. The understanding of political culture enables one to observe the important distinction between what values and beliefs are central within a given society or community. In the United States, for example, political culture places more emphasis on individual freedom.

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The political culture in the US presents the common ground for both conservatives and the liberals. However, these two groups differ considerably on the political ideology, which most often presents competitive battle ground between them. The extent of their contrasts that exists between liberals and conservatives in America shows their attitudes about the role of government, especially in the protection of order, certain moral values, and community standards.

It suffices to say that, in America, both liberals and conservatives are in agreement of the existing political order. These two groups compete to use the existing American government institutions with their guaranteed procedures to achieve different results. Each group will place more emphasis upon the key issues in the American political culture to perpetuate its ideals to society. For instance, over the years, American conservatives have looked to Toqueville’s Democracy in America and Russel Kine’s “The Root of American Order” to define US political culture. Conservatives believe that these works emphasize the American social order aspects and the distinctions between the new America and its older ancestors in Europe. The US has been an exception to the European history and social fabric for most of its history.

The american nation was founded in opposition of the ideals and traditions of Europe. From the very beginning, America drafted guiding rules of its foreign policy that kept it out of European affairs. Europe had their origins in conquest and tyranny, whereas America’s independence was followed by the revolution in the principles and practices of government. The principles and practices of government included agreements on certain ideals which defined the character of the American nation. The principles of American culture provide the elements of the American national character.

United States citizens are agreed to the basic American principles that provide the framework of the nation’s political culture. These principles are so fundamental to Americans’ political psyche. The valued principles include: liberty, which articulates the importance of freedom to allow individual Americans to seek “life liberty and pursuit of happiness” with less restrictions; property, which grants individual Americans the right to own property. American citizens recognize this principle as a primary means for individuals to find their place in society, and determine what they want to do with their lives; community, which defines societal standards and provides stability and continuity from generation to generation; democracy, which makes Americans believe in the rule of law.

This means that governmental power must be exercised within constitutional restrictions; equality, where American citizens feel they are equal before the law. This principle allows them to compete in equal footing for employment, education, and income status on equal basis with others; opportunity, which rewards individual efforts and achievements rather than family standing, social class of individuals, or some other bias that is arbitrary that has not been individually earned; duty, which encourages Americans to be involved in politics and community affairs as a civic duty by participating in the electoral process and being tolerant to opposing views; and efficacy, which presents the belief that each American has the privilege of trying to influence the political system and American society.

Political socialization factors in the political culture as it transmits the central values from one generation to the next. This process is significant to an individual as it represents a significant recluse for the assimilation of society’s political culture. It’s also a factor of continuity and the source of political stability. The values and assumptions individuals hold about state policies are acquired through political socialization process. It assists individuals to learn about political values and factual assumptions about politics. Through this process, citizens understand, accept, support and approve the political system that exists.

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Political culture is maintained by political socialization as it successfully transmits it from an old generation to a new generation. In every society, this process involves a combination of three tasks of maintaining, transforming, and creating new political cultures. It is not easy to separate political socialization from political culture.

This third section offers explanation on the process of making a bill into law including the law making and representative’s roles of members of Congress. Also discussed is how the judicial review process can become a factor in the bill making process. American law making process commences when a member of the United States Senate or House introduces a bill. Once the bill is introduced properly by the Senator, it will be assigned to an appropriate committee or the subcommittee in the chamber where it originated. In the committee or subcommittee, the bill is examined, debated, and hearings may be held.

During this process, the committee in charge has the authority to change, make additions, or take a way clause of the bill. On completion of this process, the committee places the bill on the calendar for debate and vote. When the United States Senate convenes to vote on the bill proposed, the bill is either approved, in some occasions with alterations, or it’s thrown out or killed. If members of the Senate approve the proposed bill, it is then moved or introduced to the other chamber of Congress for debate and enhancement.

Once Congress debates and approves the proposed bill, it is sent to the President for assent or signature. However, incase the US Senate and Congress approve versions of the bill that are different, the proposals will be submitted to the conference committee, where both groups are expected to iron out their differences. Once the bill has been tabled to the Presidents desk for assent, he has ten days to sign it into law.

Incase the President does not assent to the bill in ten days and Congress is in session, automatically the bill becomes law. The President may use his veto authority to turn it down, by returning the bill back to Congress with his possible suggestions for changes. This process commences again from the chamber where it originated. Incase Congress and the Senate are not satisfied with the President’s decision, they may attempt to override the decision of the President.

This move will require the House to martial a two-thirds majority vote. If both chambers succeed in overriding the Presidents veto, the bill becomes law. In case the President does not act on a bill and the Congress adjourns before the end of ten days period, the law is killed, termed as a “pocket veto.”

The judicial review or courts get involved in the lawmaking process as a procedural requirement designed to; open the decisions made by agencies to the scrutiny of the public, protect the rights of individuals, and ensure that the officials of the agency considered all their interests and views. If in the courts opinion it finds that some provisions of the law passed are contrary to the constitution, it has the powers to invalidate that law.

The US government created new substantive and procedural rights as the direct product of the politics of interest groups. In case this interest groups lack the confidence in the decisions made by the regulatory agencies such as the legislature, they will view litigation as an alternative way for securing policy results that are favorable to their interests. In legislative politics, all issues are subject to give and take, for example, decision types that are reviewable by courts, possible actions that courts may take, and the standing of possible litigants. As a result of this, courts are mandated to; enforce new rights and procedures, determine whether other factors were given consideration in decisions, and evaluate the effectiveness of the agency.

American courts have often taken the step from matters of procedure to the substance of legislative decisions. In some cases, there is express provision by law for the appeal of the agency decision in court. For instance, the law which requires public schools to offer education to children with disabilities provides appeals to interest groups to challenge decisions whether legislative or administrative that affects education in their communities.

Thus, by exercising judicially derived doctrines for situations in which agencies such as the legislature have been delegated substantial discretion of making policy, judicial review has sometimes become policy makers themselves. Again, whenever members of Congress are faced with difficult choices to make or wish to avoid political blame, they often result to use courts in making rulings. In most cases, the members of Congress find themselves in situations where they are unable to resolve their differences, so they give up and leave the ambiguous law or include provisions that are contradictory. This practice will leave interested parties with no option but file the matter with the judicial review.

In conclusion, this paper has explained: the difference between civil rights and civil liberties; the political culture and the principles of American political culture, and how political socialization factors into this; and lastly, the process of making a bill into law including lawmaking representative roles of members of Congress. The role of the President and the factor of the judicial review is also explained.

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