Fundamental Rights: What Defines Them
Rocheen Dawn Pearson
“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Preamble – Constitution of the United States
Fundamental orders (rights) date back to biblical days, recorded by Moses in the first chapter of Deuteronomy (Skousen, 2009). In essence, religious order and belifs are the foundation of our Constitution. The Constitution was drafted by a wide variety of men who, although from different backgrounds and areas of the country, shared beliefs concerning religious principles, political guidelines, economic rudiments, and long-ranged social goals. Because individual liberty lies at the core of the American constitutional system, more rights are protected under law in the United States than in other societies (Hall, 2005).
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, were intended to delineate the fundamental rights of the people of the United States. The Ninth Amendment is short, but not simple: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” (Cavanaugh, 2010, February). But what does this mean? Four amendments have been added to the original Constitution to ensure that everyone enjoys equal rights: The Thirteenth Amendment to provide universal freedom; the Fourteenth Amendment to provide universal rights of citizenship; the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to provide universal voting rights regardless of race, color or sex; the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to provide the right to vote regardless of economic status (no poll tax). Fortunately, through the Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments, the United States Constitution grants all fundamental rights to all people. If violations of fundamental rights are not remedied, then fundamental rights are denied. By definition, preservation of fundamental rights is essential to society. According to
Loving v. Virginia: The Right to Marry
Who are we to dictate who to fall in love with? Inter-racial relationships are no ones business except the people involved. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution states in part that “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law” (DeLeo, 2006) and the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution grants all fundamental rights not already granted in other parts of the Constitution. Each right is a liberty and liberty is the ability to do whatever one wants.
The Fourteenth Amendment of our Constitution requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by racial discriminations. The freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed upon by the State. After the Civil War, especially in the south, states instituted anti-miscegenation laws which harshly prohibited interracial unions in an attempt to continue to assert white supremacy over blacks, despite the official abolishment of slavery. In the case Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), the Supreme Court ruled the State of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, unconstitutional, ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. This statute was in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment right that protects life, liberty, and property. The Supreme Court was correct in this decision since Loving exemplified the rights afforded by the Constitution. The Virginia statute was written as a means to continue racism, discrimination, and segregation. There may be, in some countries, traditions wherein marriage is restricted by that countries culture, but that does not apply to the United States.
Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections: The Right to Vote
The Fourteenth Amendment (for the states) and the Fifth Amendment (for the federal government) forbid unreasonable discrimination by the law: that is discrimination by criteria irrelevant to the law's application (Taranovsky, 2003). The right to vote is a vital protection under the law. Each person is entitled to the right to vote. This right must be given equally to all people otherwise the power would belong to the elite who can use it to manipulate elections for their benefit.
In the case of Harper v. Virginia Bd. Of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), the State of Virginia Board of Elections had a statute that required a tax of $1.50 be paid by each citizen 21 years of age and older in order to cast a vote. This was in direct conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment and was probably one of the catylysts for the Twenty-Fourth Amendment. Since Virginia could not discriminate on the basis of race, color or sex, they targeted economic status. The Supreme Court found that Virginia's poll tax was in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment's "equal protection clause." They could find no reasonable relationship between voting and paying a tax. This paved the way for eliminating all restrictions on voting. Persons who were not of financial means to pay a poll tax were excluded in the process of putting into office representatives who would best serve and understand their needs and circumstances. If a poll tax were in place today there would be a good chance the estimated 12-18% of Americans living in poverty would not vote, leaving a huge disparity in representation.
Brown v. Board of Education: Desegregation of Public Schools
There is no doubt that racially segregated public schools violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause (Erler, 2004, July). In the case of Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the plaintiffs contended that segregated public schools are not equal and cannot be made equal, and that hence thay are deprived of the equal protection of the laws (Harrison & Gilbert, 2003).
The desegregation of public schools became a movement toward civil rights in that the minority children were afforded the same educational opportunity as their majority counterparts since majority white schools tend to have better teachers and resources. They were allowed to attend public schools close to their homes. Although private institutions can be more selective in whom they admit, public institutions can and should not be, especially since they receive state and federal funding to operate. It seems though that re-segregation has made its way into the news . Within the last 60 days, a federal judge ordered a rural county in southwestern Mississippi to stop segregating its schools by grouping African American students into all-black classrooms and allowing white students to transfer to the county's only majority-white school. This practice was cited to be in direct violation of Brown v. Board of Education. We, as in “we the people” are charged with upholding the findings of the U.S. Supreme Court when it comes to Constitutional law. Our fundamental right for liberty depends on it. In this day and age where all races serve this country in a variety of capacities, why is racism such a problem? The answer is simple: ignorance. Ignorance leades to prejudice and both can be neutralized in the home. God created us in his image. We are to love one another as we love ourselves. We need each other to survive. Laws cannot discriminate based on race, sex, age and other irrelevant criteria.
Then why is it that fundamental rights have been denied people for generations? The answer could be as simple as education. If all the same rights and privileges afforded by the Constitution are administered fair and equally amongst all citizens regarless of race, religion, gender and any other exclusionary characteristic, each person in this country would have no one to blame for their ignorance except themselves. Public libraries, the internet, nespapers and informative journals are available for each of us to get the latest information on past, present and potential future issues.
Cavanaugh, T. (2010, February). Ninth configurations: Rights “retained by the people” make a comeback. Reason, 41(9), 62.
Deleo, J. D., (2006). The student’s guide to understanding constitutional law. Clifton Park, N. Y.: Delmar
Erler, E. J. (2004, July). Is the constitution color blind?. USA Today, 133(2710), 60.
Friendly, F.W., & Elliott, M. J. H. (1984). The constitution: That delicate balance. New York, N.Y.: Random House.
Hall, K. L. (2005). Fundamental rights. The oxford companion to the supreme court of the united states. Retrieved May 30, 2010 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O184-FundamentalRights.html
Harrison, M.,& Gilbert, S. (2003). Great decisions of the u. s. supreme court. United States.: Barnes & Noble, Inc..
Hsu, S. S. (2010, April 13). Miss. county schools ordered to comply with desegregation order. Retrieved May 30, 2010 from Washington Post Online:
Skousen, W. C., (2009). The 5000 year leap (16th Ed.). United States.: National Center for Constitutional Studies.
Taranovsky, D., (2003). Dmytro taranovsky: My collected works. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/dmytro/www/main.htm