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Civil and political rights

Related subjects: Animal & Human Rights

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Lyndon B. Johnson signs the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Lyndon B. Johnson meets with civil rights leaders. Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, James Farmer, Jr.

Civil rights refers to two related but different terms. In civil law jurisdictions, a civil right is a right or power which can be exercised under civil law, which includes things such as the ability to contract. In civil law jurisdictions, lawsuits between private parties for things such as breach of contract or a tort are usually expressed in terms of infringement of a civil right. For example, Article 2 of the Contract Law of the People's Republic of China defines a contract as "an agreement establishing, modifying and terminating the civil rights and obligations between subjects of equal footing".

In common law jurisdiction, the term civil right is distinguished from "human rights" or " natural rights". Civil rights are rights that are bestowed by nations on those within their territorial boundaries, while natural or human rights are rights that many scholars claim that individuals have by nature of being born. For example, the philosopher John Locke ( 1632– 1704) argued that the natural rights of life, liberty and property should be converted into civil rights and protected by the sovereign state as an aspect of the social contract. Others have argued that people acquire rights as an inalienable gift from a deity (such as God) or at a time of nature before governments were formed.

Laws guaranteeing civil rights may be written down,or falsely stated; derived from custom or implied. In the United States and most continental European countries, civil rights laws are most often written. Examples of civil rights and liberties include the right to get redress if injured by another, the right to privacy, the right of peaceful protest, the right to a fair investigation and trial if suspected of a crime, and more generally-based constitutional rights such as the right to vote, the right to personal freedom, the right to freedom of movement and the right of equal protection. As civilizations emerged and formalized through written constitutions, some of the more important civil rights were granted to citizens. When those grants were later found inadequate, civil rights movements emerged as the vehicle for claiming more equal protection for all citizens and advocating new laws to restrict the effect of current discriminations.

Theoretical background: The concept of rights

Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld (18791918) maintained that analysis of legal issues is frequently muddled and inconsistent because the legal concepts are improperly understood. The first question, therefore, is to understand what the rights are in "civil rights". There are two major schools of thought:

  • Nozick and Rawls approached the concept of rights from the perspectives of libertarian and Logical belief.

Implied rights

"Implied" rights are rights that a court may find to exist even though not expressly guaranteed by written law or custom, on the theory that a written or customary right must necessarily include the implied right. One famous (and controversial) example of a right implied from the U.S. Constitution is the "right to privacy", which the U.S. Supreme Court found to exist in the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut. In the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, the court found that state legislation prohibiting or limiting abortion violated this right to privacy. As a rule, state governments can expand civil rights beyond the U.S. Constitution, but they cannot diminish Constitutional rights.

By region

United States

Civil rights can refer to protection against public (government) and or private sector discrimination. In the United States, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens against many forms of State discrimination, with its due process and equal protection requirements. Civil rights can also refer to protection against private actors or entities. The U.S. Congress subsequently addressed the issue through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Sec. 201. which states: (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, colour, religion, or national origin or sex. This legislation and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 are constitutional under the Commerce Clause, as the Supreme Court has ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment only applies to the State. States generally have the power to enact similar legislation, provided that they meet the federal mininuim standard, under the doctrine of police powers.

The terms civil rights and civil liberties are often used interchangeably in the United States. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "a free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."

The United States Constitution recognizes different civil rights than do most other national constitutions. Two examples of civil rights found in the US but rarely (if ever) elsewhere are the right to bear arms ( Second Amendment to the United States Constitution) and the right to a jury trial ( Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution). Few nations, not even including a world organization body such as the United Nations, have recognized either of these civil rights. Many nations recognize an individual's civil right to not be executed for crimes, a civil right not recognized within the US.

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