The U.S. Supreme Court on Civil Rights
The Supreme Court on Civil Rights
Litigators often define civil rights and civil liberties as separate and independent entities, yet, technically, these two have the same implication protections in as much as they differ. In a broad sense, civil rights is protection of people against all forms of discrimination whereas civil liberties is freedom from oppressive governance (Schlanger, 2015). In the United States, the civil rights refers to policies to extend the privilege of human rights to the people who have been perpetually subject to discrimination. The United States Supreme court is an important mechanism to enforce and protect civil rights and civil liberties in the country. This mechanism was enacted in the constitution by establishing chapters five and four of the constitution. This essay examines the impact of United States Supreme Court in shaping the course of civil rights and civil liberties since the declaration of independence.
The United States Supreme Court is the cornerstone for enforcing the principles and the facets on which the civil rights and the civil liberties enjoyed by all American citizens (born or adopted) are enclaved. Over the past decade, the United States Supreme Court has had an enormous impact on the civil rights and the civil liberties movements (Schlanger, 2015). For instance, during the late 1960’s, the supreme court made a series of landmark rulings with regards to the relation between civil rights and civil liberties. During the same period, the Supreme Court elaborated the provisions of chapter five and four of the constitution by expanding the protections of the first amendment to cater for the seceding states which were against the civil rights movements. In a case between The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and the State of Alabama, the Supreme Court made a unanimous ruling implying that the first amendment protected the right to association and freedom to assemble (Schwartz, 2014). The State Law of Alabama had a provision which required that all confederate state organisations to register before conducting business within these states. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), an organization incorporated in New York failed to meet the provision for registration, in turn also coming short in meeting the order to disclose the names of its employees based in Alabama. The state of Alabama court had denied NAACP a chance to conduct business in Alabama, despite NAACP’s decision to comply with these provisions later on.
In January, 1958, the United States Supreme Court overturned the initial ruling of State of Alabama by unanimously granting NAACP and its members the right to peacefully assemble and freedom of association (Schwartz, 2014). Every organization was mandated to protect the identity of its employee. In turn, the state was denied the right to obtain the list of names of every member as per the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case, hence the first amendment granted NAACP members the right to association. Also, the Supreme Court impacted on the civil rights and social liberties by ensuring gradual and selective incorporation of the Bill of rights into practices of every states since the beginning of 1897. In other words, the Supreme Court ensured that the Bill of Rights was inserted into the American constitution and state laws bit by bit despite the fact that these insertions were not explicit at the time.
Following the move to insert parts of the Bill of rights into the American Constitution and the state laws, the Supreme Court decided the constitutionality of cases in reference to the legal bearing of these cases on the Bill of Rights (Schwartz, 2014). In another case pertaining to civil rights and liberties, the Supreme Court held that matters of public interest should be open to all American citizens. This includes the media, as well as American citizens in their quest to take part in national dialogue and public issues. In this case, the New York Times was pitted against Sullivan on a matter in which anti-civil rights activities wanted to use the state laws to counter the efforts of civil rights activists and their bid to attain equality.
In this case, L.B. Sullivan was a Montgomery official and city commissioner who had sues the New York Times on account that the Newspaper had allowed a human rights activist affiliated to Martin Luther King Jr. to publish an advertisement condemning provisions in Alabama State Laws which were against civil rights protestors (Bernstein, 2014). A ruling by The Alabama Supreme Court amounted to a $500,000 fine against the New York Times. When the case was taken to the United States Supreme Court, the ruling was overturned in favour of the Newspaper. Just Brennan’s verdict read; “the profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,” the verdict infringed on the newspaper’s First Amendment rights. The verdict was in line with the First Amendment rights on civil liberty.
Despite the United States Supreme Court’s positive impact to enforce the principles that led to the declaration of America’s independence, some rulings have also proven to be difficult in reaching a unanimous verdict in support of the civil rights and civil liberties. For instance, in cases pertaining to civil disobedience, the verdict by the supreme court have proven to be divisive rather than unifying and championing for unity and equality (Bernstein, 2014). For instance in the case between Garner and the State of Louisiana, Supreme Court Judge Justice Marshall concurred with State Laws verdict by claiming that the court did not allow peaceful protests on a factual basis. Despite a breach of America’s constitutional values (chapter five and four), the court through Justice Marshall held that there were limits applicable to the use of peaceful demonstrations (Bernstein, 2014). The verdict prohibited the right to civil disobedience, which in turn had an effect on speech restriction.
The protection of civil liberties and civil rights were the basic ideas in the minds of America’s founding fathers. The role of the Supreme Court in discharging it duties has had a crucial impact in the alliance between the civil rights and civil liberties throughout the history of the United States. Over the course of history, the United States Supreme Court has been a mechanism of the civil rights and civil liberties since the declaration of independence. To see the impact of the Supreme Court in upholding chapters five and four of the United States Constitution, one has to look at it as a regulatory role rather than a basic principle. This is because the journey to fully adopt the Bill of rights in the United States has been marred by statutory challenges especially in various States which had at first seceded from the United States.
Bernstein, D. E. (2014). Contemporary Trends in Constitution Writing. In D. E. Bernstein, REHABILITATING LOCHNER: DEFENDING INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS AGAINST PROGRESSIVE REFORM (pp. 78-80). Chicago: America Political Science Review.
Schlanger, M. (2015). “Beyond the Hero Judge: Institutional Reform Litigation as Litigation.”. Michigan Law Review, 97(6), 20-36. doi:10.2307/1342709
Schwartz, J. (2014). The Politics of Initiative, Referendum, and Recall. In J. Schwartz, Rethinking the AMerican Preference for Short Framework-Oriented Constitutions (pp. 17-20). New York: Thomson Gale.