75 Glossary

What Are Civil Liberties?

civil liberties limitations on the power of government, designed to ensure personal freedoms

civil rights guarantees of equal treatment by government authorities

due process clause provisions of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments that limit government power to deny people “life, liberty, or property” on an unfair basis

selective incorporation the gradual process of making some guarantees of the Bill of Rights (so far) apply to state governments and the national government

Securing Basic Freedoms

blue law a law originally created to uphold a religious or moral standard, such as a prohibition against selling alcohol on Sundays

common-law right a right of the people rooted in legal tradition and past court rulings, rather than the Constitution

conscientious objector a person who claims the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion

establishment clause the provision of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from endorsing a state-sponsored religion; interpreted as preventing government from favoring some religious beliefs over others or religion over non-religion

exclusionary rule a requirement, from Supreme Court case Mapp v. Ohio, that evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search or seizure cannot be used to try someone for a crime

free exercise clause the provision of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from regulating religious beliefs and practices

obscenity acts or statements that are extremely offensive by contemporary standards

prior restraint a government action that stops someone from doing something before they are able to do it (e.g., forbidding someone to publish a book he or she plans to release)

probable cause legal standard for determining whether a search or seizure is constitutional or a crime has been committed; a lower threshold than the standard of proof needed at a criminal trial

search warrant a legal document, signed by a judge, allowing police to search and/or seize persons or property

Sherbert test a standard for deciding whether a law violates the free exercise clause; a law will be struck down unless there is a “compelling governmental interest” at stake and it accomplishes its goal by the “least restrictive means” possible

symbolic speech a form of expression that does not use writing or speech but nonetheless communicates an idea (e.g., wearing an article of clothing to show solidarity with a group)

The Rights of Suspects

double jeopardy a prosecution pursued twice at the same level of government for the same criminal action

economic liberty the right of individuals to obtain, use, and trade things of value for their own benefit

eminent domain the power of government to take or use property for a public purpose after compensating its owner; also known as the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment

Miranda warning a statement by law enforcement officers informing a person arrested or subject to interrogation of his or her rights

plea bargain an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor in which the defendant pleads guilty to the charge(s) in question or perhaps to less serious charges, in exchange for more lenient punishment than if convicted after a full trial

self-incrimination an action or statement that admits guilt or responsibility for a crime

Interpreting the Bill of Rights

Patriot Act a law passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that broadened federal powers to monitor electronic communications; the full name is the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act)

right to privacy the right to be free of government intrusion

undue burden test a means of deciding whether a law that makes it harder for women to seek abortions is constitutional


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