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Constitutional Rights

What are constitutional rights?

Constitutional rights are the protections and liberties guaranteed to the people by the U.S. Constitution. Many of these constitutional rights are described in the bill of rights and through various amendments to the United States constitution. Not all rights are protected by the U.S. Constitution are explicitly stated. Some rights are implied or unenumerated, like the right to privacy. Many of these rights are significant because they give citizens the power to express themselves and attain certain privileges. It is vitally important to argue our constitutional rights because they are what gives citizens their limits mandated by the government. 

The United States Bill of Rights

Landmark cases that changed United States history

  • Marbury v. Madison (1803) - Judicial Power 

  • Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) - Federal Power 

  • Scott v. Sandford (1857) - Slavery and Racial Discrimination 

  • Korematsu v. United States (1944) - War Powers

  • Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. Sawyer (1952) - Separation of Powers

  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) - School Desegregation 

  • School District of Abington Township v. Schempp (1963) - Public School Prayer 

  • New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) - Freedom of the Press 

  • Miranda v. Arizona (1966) - Right to Counsel 

  • Tinker v. Des Maines Independent Community School District (1969) - Student Free Speech

  • Furman v. Georgia (1972) - Capital Punishment 

  • Roe v. Wade (1973) - Abortion Rights 

  • United States v. Nixon (1974) - Presidential Power 

  • Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) - Affirmative Action 

  • United States v. Virginia (1996) - Gender Discrimination 

  • Bush v. Gore (2000) - Voting Rights 

  • District of Colombia v. Heller (2008) - Right to Bear Arms 

  • Citizens United v. Federal election Commission (2010) - Campaign Finance 

  • National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012) - Health Care 

  • Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) - Same-Sex Marriage 

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) - Affirmative Action 

The Supreme Court issues a split opinion on the constitutionality of so-called "affirmative action" programs that take race into account as a positive factor in college admissions, hiring, and other benefits. The court ruled that the programs have permission except when they involved quotas that reserve a certain number of slots for minorities and exclude whites from eligibility. 

"Affirmative action" programs proliferated during the civil rights movement in the 1960s to compensate for the lingering effects of centuries of racial discrimination, economic disadvantage, and poor school opportunities. 

Allen Bakke symbolized the concerns that some affirmative action programs could be "reverse discrimination" that violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He embarked on a career in medicine in 1973 at the age of 33, applied to the University of California at Davis, which twice rejected his application for admission. He learned that the university had set aside sixteen of the one hundred spots in its entering class for African Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans. The sixteen spots were filled through a separate admissions process. 

Bakke filed suite against the University claiming that he was being discriminated against because he was white. The final decision was that the University violated the fourteen amendment and ordered that Bakke be admitted. This ruling was significant because it was a deeply split decision that had concurring opinions on how the constitutional rights of student and admission processes should accept students. 

Separate opinion by Justice Byron White 

He questioned the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and whether it provides for a private cause of action. He knew that the Justices were split on the decision because it would in act decide vitally important cases in the US Supreme Court and the lower courts. The Courts would be without jurisdiction to consider the respondent's Title VI claim and decide that affirmative action is the answer to university acceptance. He understood the particular management of court intervention on cases of racial discrimination and addressed the threshold that the court system had on their jurisdictional rights. 

Separate opinion by Justice Thurgood Marshall 

I agree with the judgement of the Court only insofar as it permits a university to consider the race of an applicant in making admissions decisions. I do not agree that the petitioner's admissions program violates the Constitution. The position of the Negro today in America is the tragic but inevitable consequence of centuries of unequal treatment. Measured by any benchmark of comfort or achievement, meaningful equality remains a distant dream for the Negro. I do not believe that the Fourteenth amendment requires us to accept that fate. Neither its history nor our past cases lend any support to the conclusion that a university may not remedy the cumulative effects of society's discrimination by giving consideration to race in an effort to increase the number and percentage of Negro doctors." 


Constitutional rights are implicit and use the power of politics to make new laws and policies that change the way our institutions manage citizens. We have a right and power as private citizens to advocate for justice in every case that we see injustice. Support organizations and institutions that explicitly grant your constitutional rights in every instance. Be outspoken and believe in the possibilities of tomorrow. 

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