What is the role of the Supreme Court in protecting civil liberties?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Supreme Court plays an important role in protecting our civil liberties. When people believe their civil liberties have been violated, they can take their case to court. If the lower courts rule against a person, they can ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. There have been many instances where the Supreme Court has ruled that civil liberties have been violated. In Miranda v Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled that a person must be read his or her rights when arrested. If they aren’t read their rights, any statements made by a person can’t be used against that person in court. In Mapp v Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled that evidence couldn’t be used in a case if the evidence is improperly collected. In the Abington School District v Schempp case, the Supreme Court ruled that schools couldn’t have regular bible readings done in school.

The Supreme Court also protects our civil liberties by declaring acts of government unconstitutional. In the New York Times Co. v United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment to the Constitution protected the publication of the Pentagon Papers. President Nixon didn’t want these papers published, but the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. If Congress or a state legislature passes a law that violates the freedoms guaranteed to us in the Constitution, the Supreme Court may declare that law unconstitutional. The Brown v Board of Education case ruled that the separate but equal laws were unconstitutional as it applied to education.

The Supreme Court plays an important role in protecting our civil liberties.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is perhaps less accurate to say that the Supreme Court protects civil liberties than to say that it determines the extent to which the Bill of Rights protects them. This is because the Court rules on cases that involve important questions surrounding civil liberties. There are many examples, but one would be its decision in Texas v. Johnson in which the Court ruled that burning an American flag was a form of political protest protected under the First Amendment.

In Miranda v. Arizona it ruled that evidence, even confessions, obtained from an accused person who had not been made aware of their rights was inadmissible in court. This decision broadened the scope of the civil liberties of the accused by requiring the police to adhere to procedures that protect them.

On the other hand, sometimes the Court delivers a more narrow interpretation of the liberties protected by the Constitution, thus restricting these liberties somewhat. In Schenck v. US, for example, the Court held that the federal government could restrict speech that posed a "clear and present danger" to the United States, thus defining the boundaries of the First Amendment.

In New Jersey v. T.L.O. the Court ruled that students did not have the same protections against search and seizure as they would have outside the school. In so doing, they established limits on the Fourth Amendment. So again, it is more accurate to say that the Court defines the extent of civil liberties. Sometimes it expands civil liberties through its decisions; sometimes it limits them.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Supreme Court plays an important part in protecting civil liberties. The Court is the institution that can overturn acts of the elected branches if it believes that these acts violate the Constitution.  In this capacity, the Court can try to prevent the elected branches from violating civil liberties.  An example of this occurred in Boumediene v. Bush, for example, when the Court struck down laws that suspended the right to habeas corpus for people who were deemed to be unlawful combatants in the war on terror.  When the Supreme Court takes actions like this, it is (arguably) fulfilling its role as a protector of civil liberties.