Civil Rights and Liberties

595 words | 2 page(s)

Why do you think some states have more codified rights / liberties contained within their constitutions than other states?
One of the strengths of the US system of government is that it allows individual state governments to have extensive choice and freedom with regard to the rights, liberties and laws which govern them. This freedom means that state governments are able to more accurately represent and protect the interests of the people over whom they govern, rather than being limited to decisions made centrally which might not reflect the specific needs of the state community. As Samuel P. Tepperman-Gelfanf explains, “The regime of “constitutional tort” liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 treats local governments as integral to the protection of constitutional rights” (Tepperman-Gelfanf, n.p.). This means that it is the power of the judiciary in state government which helps to enshrine specific liberties within state constitutions, giving the state greater freedom to interpret the general guidelines of the federal constitution. This freedom and flexibility is the reason that some states have more codified rights / liberties contained within their constitutions than other states: they are reflecting the specific needs and perspectives of their citizens. In a country as vast and diverse as the United States, those needs and perspectives may vary widely from state to state, and the codified rights and liberties vary accordingly.

Why do you think state constitutions have more explicit rights / liberties contained within them in comparison to the U.S. Constitution?
Historically, it has been the division of power between the federal and state governments that has made the U.S. system unique. The U.S. Constitution forms the basis of American identity, and contains within it a codified version of the ideals that American society has been founded on. These include ideas such as freedom, justice, equality, liberty, and diversity. However, these rights and liberties, as expressed in the constitution, are necessarily very generalised: they are overarching abstract concepts, which offer guidelines and ideologies, but no specific details in most instances.

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They can be considered as guidelines for American law. In contrast, it is the state governments which have the responsibility, in most cases, of interpreting those guidelines and applying them legally to the lives of real citizens. As Usman explains, “Unlike their federal counterpart, state constitutions unambiguously confer positive constitutional rights” (Usman, n.p.). As stated above, state constitutions and state law reflect the specific needs and perspectives of their citizens: it is therefore at the level of the state constitution that specific and explicit rights and liberties need to be defined and applied. These address the specific liberties and rights that are applicable to a particular state’s population. For example, in a state with a high crime rate, more specific liberties pertaining to fire-arms ownership may need to be codified than is provided by the second amendment, which might not, however, be necessary in states with a very low crime rate.

Which state constitution has more rights / liberties contained within it, Idaho or Utah?
There are a number of specific rights enshrined in the Utah constitution, including: protection against self-incrimination, protection to privacy of home and automobiles, spousal privileges, women’s suffrage and equality, public schooling, and prohibition of prison labour (Utah State Legislature, n.p.). Idaho’s constitution reasserts the inalienable rights laid out in the federal constitution, but also provides specific rights on a number of issues such as suffrage, education, corporations, immigration, water rights, and livestock (State of Idaho Legislature, n.p.). Overall, therefore, Idaho’s constitution contains more rights and liberties than that of Utah.

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