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Other Constitutional Rights

The United States Constitution provides many civil rights and civil liberties. Besides historically vital rights against certain forms of discrimination, federal laws based on the Constitution give the right to most citizens over 18 to vote. It also protects prisoners from violations, including cruel and unusual punishment, and guarantees them minimal rights to privacy even while in prison.

While these rights do not get as much attention as protection from discrimination, they are just as important to the country's moral and political integrity. Use the resources below to learn more about the right to vote, the rights of prisoners, and other constitutional rights.

Voting Rights

Voting is fundamental to our nation as a free country. But, for much of our country's history, many citizens were not allowed to vote. This was on the basis of race, gender, and other grounds. The Voting Rights Act became law in 1965. Congress extended it in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006.

The Voting Rights Act is among the nation's most effective pieces of civil rights legislation. The act bans racial discrimination in voting and establishes the right to bilingual election materials.

The 15th Amendment of 1870 prevented state governments from denying citizens the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. But, the constitutional amendment was largely ineffective in protecting the voting rights of minorities.

The Voting Rights Act:

  • Provided oversight of elections
  • Banned literacy tests and other methods of disqualifying minority voters
  • Created legal remedies for victims of voting discrimination

Prisoner's Rights

Those accused or even convicted of crimes still have rights under the Constitution. Some significant rights that prisoners have include the following:

  • Inmates have the right to be free of "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment.
  • Inmates have First Amendment rights, though limited to the extent necessary to preserve order, discipline, and security.
  • Disabled inmates have the right, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, to access the same programs and facilities as other prisoners.
  • Prisoners have a range of rights related to due process and the ability to raise grievances about the conditions of their imprisonment. These include fair and transparent procedures for disciplinary actions and mechanisms to address concerns related to living conditions, health care, and other aspects of confinement.

There are many other prisoners' rights, many of which relate to due process and the ability to raise grievances. But, there are important limitations to many of these rights. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) created some of those limitations.

The PLRA gives the courts the right to dismiss any prisoner lawsuit found to be frivolous or otherwise improper. Each dismissal creates a "strike," and after three strikes, the inmate cannot file more suits unless they pay filing fees in advance. Similarly, a judge who finds that someone filed a lawsuit to harass can revoke any good-time credit accrued by the prisoner.

Right to Marry

Historically, the right to marry was often considered implicit in the constitutional protection of individual liberties. But, for much of history, societal norms and legal interpretations limited this right along traditional lines. This excluded certain people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. For example, in 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA defined marriage for all federal-law purposes as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."

The right to marry is now recognized as a constitutional right established by the U.S. Supreme Court in various landmark decisions. While marriage is not enumerated in the U.S. Constitution, the Court has interpreted certain constitutional provisions to encompass the right to marry. The key constitutional principles underlying the right to marry are primarily found in the 14th Amendment, which states:

"Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

  1. Due process clause. The right to marry involves the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court has said that marriage is a fundamental right protected by due process, ensuring people have the right to marry.
  2. Equal protection clause. The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment also plays a crucial role in recognizing the right to marry. It bars states from treating different groups of people unequally. Court cases such as Loving v. Virginia (1967), which struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage, have emphasized the equal protection aspect of the right to marry.
  3. Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). In the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court explicitly addressed the right to marry in the context of same-sex marriage. The Court said that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
  4. Loving v. Virginia (1967). This landmark case struck down laws banning interracial marriage. In Loving v. Virginiathe Supreme Court's ruling emphasized the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The Court said marriage is one of the basic civil rights, and the freedom to marry is essential to the dignity and happiness of a person.

The right to marry in the United States has undergone a transformative journey, shaped by legal interpretations and societal progress. Historically confined along traditional lines, the right to marry is now constitutional.

Right to Education

The right to education in the United States has undergone a profound historical evolution. This reflects a collective commitment to the principles of democracy and equal opportunity. Although the right to education isn't explicit constitutional law, legal precedents and societal imperatives have solidified education as a fundamental human right.

Legal foundations

The constitutional framework supporting the right to education primarily emerges from the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. This clause mandates that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

A seminal moment in the history of the right to education happened in Brown v. Board of Education. This declared laws establishing separate public schools for Black students to be unconstitutional. This marked a shift in the legal landscape and challenged the notion of "separate but equal."

Lau v. Nichols (1974)

The Supreme Court in Lau v. Nichols said that non-English-speaking students deserve access to meaningful education. Denying them amounted to a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This decision emphasized the principle that education should be accessible to all. It is irrespective of a student's linguistic or cultural background/national origin. Here, the Court showed how an identical education is not the same as an equal education.

State-Level Variations

Many state constitutions recognize education as a fundamental right. State-level litigation often revolves around the adequacy and equity of educational funding. The goal is to ensure that resource disparities do not result in unequal educational opportunities.

Contemporary Challenges

In the contemporary landscape, challenges to the right to education encompass many issues. These issues include school funding disparities, inadequate facilities, and the digital divide. The ongoing debate surrounding the role of standardized testing and the quality of education in underserved communities underscores the complexities of ensuring equal access to high-quality education for all.

International Dimensions

The right to education extends beyond national boundaries. It finds recognition even in international human rights instruments. These documents affirm that education is a fundamental individual right:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

The right to education reflects the nation's commitment to fostering an educated citizenry. Providing access to education means preparing for the advancement of our democratic society.

Contact a civil rights lawyer if you believe someone has violated your constitutional rights.

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