Table of Contents
The US Congress and Domestic and Economic Policy The Presidency and Foreign Policy
The National Bureaucracy The National Courts Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
The US Congress and Domestic and Economic Policy
I. Qualifications to Run for Congress
II. Congressional Leadership
III. Powers of Congress
found in Article 1, section 8, of the Constitution -
IV. How a Bill Becomes Law
A. Introduction: any member can introduce a piece of legislation
House: legislation is handed to clerk of the House or placed in hopper
Senate: members must gain recognition of the presiding officer to announce the introduction of a bill during the morning hour … introduction of bill postponed until next day if any senator objects
B. Committee: bill referred to appropriate committee by Speaker of the House or presiding officer in Senate … often actual referral decision made by the House or Senate parliamentarian
1. comments about the bill's merit are requested by government agencies
2. bill can be assigned to subcommittee by chair
3. may hold hearings
4. subcommittees report findings to the full committee
5. vote by the full committee: bill is "ordered to be reported"
6. committee will hold "mark-up" sessions during which it will make revisions and additions ... if substantial amendments are made committee can order the introduction of a "clean bill" which will include the proposed amendments, have a new number and be sent to floor while the old bill is discarded (chamber must approve, change or reject all committee amendments before conducting a final passage vote)
7. after bill reported, committee staff prepares written report explaining why they favor bill and why they wish to see amendments, if any, adopted … committee members who oppose a bill sometimes write a dissenting opinion in report
8. report sent to whole chamber and placed on calendar
9. House: most bills go to Rules committee before reaching floor and committee adopts rules that will govern procedures under which the bill will be considered, for example, a "closed rule" sets strict time limits on debate and forbids introduction of amendments
10. rules can have major impact on whether bill passes … rules committee can be bypassed in three ways: (1) a ⅔ vote of members to suspend rules, (2) file a discharge petition or (3) the House can use a Calendar Wednesday procedure
House: bills placed on one of four House Calendars in the order which reported but don't usually come to floor in that order and some never reach the floor at all
Speaker of the House and Majority Leader decide what will reach floor and when (legislation can also be brought to floor by discharge petition)
Senate: legislation placed on Legislative Calendar … Executive Calendar deals with treaties and nominations
Scheduling of legislation is job of Majority Leader but bills also brought to floor whenever majority of Senate chooses
House: Debate limited by rules formulated in the Rules Committee … Committee of the Whole debates and amends bill but cannot technically pass it. Debate guided by Sponsoring Committee and time divided equally between proponents and opponents. Committee decides how much time to allot to each person. Amendments must be germane to subject of bill - no riders allowed. Bill is reported back to House (to itself) and voted on. A quorum call is a vote to make sure there are enough members present (218) to have final vote. If no quorum, House will adjourn or will send Sergeant at Arms out to round up missing members.
Senate: debate unlimited unless cloture invoked. Members can speak as long as they want and amendments need not be germane - riders are often offered. Entire bills can be offered as amendments to other bills. Unless cloture is invoked, Senators can use a filibuster to defeat a measure by "talking it to death"
If passed, sent to other chamber unless that chamber already has a similar measure under consideration. If either chamber does not pass bill dies. If the House and Senate pass the same bill then sent to President. If the House and Senate pass different bills they are sent to Conference Committee. Most major legislation goes to a Conference Committee.
D. Conference Committee
E. President: bill sent to President for review
V. The Budget Process
A. Budget Facts
B. Types of Spending
C. The Budget Process
The President's budget is sent to Congress in early February. This proposal is his plan for the next fiscal year, beginning October 1. This plan, however, only becomes official after Congress passes and the President signs spending bills and legislation creating new taxes and entitlements.
After receiving the President's budget, Congress examines it in detail. Scores of committees and subcommittees hold hearings on proposals under their jurisdiction. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees, for instance, hold hearings on the President's defense plan. If the President's plan contains proposals that affect federal revenues, the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees hold hearings. The President, the Budget Director, the Cabinet and others work with Congress as it accepts some proposals, rejects some and changes others.
Each year Congress must pass and the President must sign, 13 appropriation bills that include all of the discretionary spending. The President and Congress do not have to enact new laws governing entitlements or taxes. If they do not, the government will pay the benefits for Social Security and other programs and collect the taxes required by laws already in place.
D. Budget Calendar
VI. Making Policy (Click on link to access notes.)
VII. Domestic Policy (Click on link to access notes.)
VIII. Economic Policy (Click on link to access notes.)
The Presidency and Foreign Policy
III. The President's Roles
IV. The Powers of the President
V. Making Policy (Click on link to access notes.)
VI. Foreign Policy (Click on link to access notes.)
The National Bureaucracy
The executive branch consists of a number of different people/offices other than the president.
I. Vice President
Traditionally, the power of the vice president has depended on the president. The Constitution makes the VP the 'president' of the Senate, but he has no actual power in the Senate. The Constitution mainly provides for a VP who waits around for the president to die. Few VPs, then, are given any real power by their president. Most presidents don't like their VPs (since each was chosen to balance a ticket and has little in common with the president) and don't trust their VPs (since they assume the VP is out to replace him).
The cabinet is the collective heads of the various executive departments - the head of State, Defense, Commerce, etc. The cabinet was intended to come together and act as a source of wisdom for the president on policy matters. After all, you have in one group the leading authority of every subject in the country. However, the cabinet has never been a major source of policy because members tend to think in terms of departmental interests, rather than national interest.
III. White House Staff / Office
These are the presidential advisors that actually have offices in the White House. These people - the press secretary, the national security advisor, etc. - will always be the president's closest advisors since, unlike any other officials, they have daily access to the president.
IV. Executive Office of the President
These agencies report directly to the president and perform services directly for him but are not located in the White House. Their contact with the president is direct, but not as intimate as the White House staff. The Executive Office of the President includes such positions as the CIA director and the OMB director.
...the people who are responsible for implementation: putting specific policies into operation. The chief advantage of a bureaucracy is that is tends to standardize everything so that procedures and personnel can be easily transferred or replaced. Today over 85% of the government operates on the merit system. It is this vast group of people that add stability to the government. Presidents, congressman, judges may come and go but the bureaucracy remains the same. The chief disadvantage of a bureaucracy is that is tends to standardize everything so that people become numbers and problems become cases. How far can the bureaucracy go in the name of efficiency? By the way, most people who work in government don’t work in Washington: 85% of the federal workforce is based elsewhere, and nearly 18 million of the 20 million civilian government jobs are at the state and local level.
The National Courts
The Constitution created one national court - the Supreme Court - but did not mandate its structure. Instead the structure of the Supreme Court is determined by Congress. Originally, the Supreme Court had a chief justice and five associate justices. Today, it has a chief justice and 8 associate justices.
The Constitution also gave Congress the power to create any additional national courts necessary. Over time, the national court structure has evolved into what we have today, with 91 national district courts, 13 national appeals courts, the Supreme Court and a handful of specialized national courts.
Each level of the national court system has its own jurisdiction (types of cases a court is competent to hear and decide). The national district courts are courts of original jurisdiction, while the national appeals courts have appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has both types of jurisdiction, depending on the case. It exercises its appellate jurisdiction when it hears an appeal from a lower court. When the Supreme Court hears a case directly it is exercising original jurisdiction.
Types of Supreme Court Cases Heard
The Supreme Court hears three types of cases:
The justices decide which cases they will hear, about 80 each year. The US Supreme Court decides fewer cases than any other court in modern times. In recent years, the Court has heard an average of about 80 cases a term, which is half the number they heard 20 years ago and makes up fewer than 1% of the approximately 10,000 review petitions they receive. They decide another 50 without hearing arguments. The cases they choose usually address constitutional issues or federal law. The Court decides cases based on merit: cases in which two lower courts have issued contradictory decisions and issues that have broad impact on the country. Judicial review is the power of courts to declare acts of Congress, actions of national executives or laws enacted by any level of government to be unconstitutional. There are many cases that don't get heard. If the justices decide not to hear a case, the decision of the lower court stands.
What Happens When the Supreme Court Hears a Case?
Typically, all nine of the justices hear each case. Sometimes less than the full nine justices may hear a case due to illness, a vacant position, or if one justice recuses him/herself (chooses not to participate in a case) due to conflict of interest. A minimum of six of the nine judges must be present to make a decision on a case.
Each case is decided by majority vote. In case of a tie, the decision of the lower court is upheld.
Since the court only reviews cases which are appealed from a lower court, there is no evidence presented, and no witnesses are heard. There are simply briefs (written arguments) and oral argument by the parties. Each side has 30 minutes to present oral arguments, and the justices interrupt with questions while they are speaking.
After the attorneys are finished speaking, the justices meet in secret to discuss the case and come to a decision. No official record is kept of this discussion.
When the Supreme Court announces what they have decided in a case, they issue a formal document called a decision, and sometimes more than one.
The conclusion of the court is a majority opinion.
The justices that disagreed with the majority vote may issue one or more dissenting opinions, explaining their reasons for disagreeing.
Sometimes, one or more justices may be on the majority side but disagree with the reasoning behind the decision, and issue a concurring opinion.
In recent years many long-held traditions of the Court have changed or been dropped without explanation. The Supreme Court building has been closed to the public since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Then, not long after the leak in early May 2022 of a draft of the opinion that overruled Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court building was surrounded by an eight-foot fence. Always cloistered and remote, the Court is now impenetrable.
For unexplained reasons, the justices have stopped announcing their decisions from the bench, abandoning a tradition that is both ceremonial and illuminating. In the old days, the author of the majority opinion would give a quick and conversational summary of the ruling that could be extremely valuable for a reporter on deadline and, by extension, for members of the public trying to understand a decision. More important yet were oral dissents, reserved for decisions that the justices in the minority believed were profoundly mistaken. Ordinarily, one or more of the justices who dissent in a case would raise their voices in protest. These days, the Court makes do with posting PDFs of its decisions, robbing the occasion of ceremony, drama and insight.
The Supreme Court opinion allowing Texas to ban nearly all abortions (2021) was different from most major rulings by the court. This one came out shortly before midnight. It consisted of a single paragraph, not signed by the justices who voted for it and lacking the usual detailed explanation of their reasoning. And there had been no oral arguments, during which opposing lawyers could have made their cases and answered questions from the justices. Instead, the opinion was part of something that has become known as “the shadow docket.” In the shadow docket, the court makes decisions quickly, without the usual written briefings, oral arguments or signed opinions. In recent years, the shadow docket has become a much larger part of the Supreme Court’s work. Shadow-docket cases are frequently those with urgency - such as a voting case that must be decided in the final weeks before an election. As a result, the justices don’t always have time to solicit briefs, hold oral arguments and spend months grappling with their decision. Doing so can risk irreparable harm to one side in the case. For these reasons, nobody questions the need for the court to issue some expedited, bare-bones rulings. But many legal experts are worried about how big the shadow docket has grown, including in cases that the Supreme Court could have decided in a more traditional way.
Why have the justices expanded the shadow docket? In part, it is a response to a newfound willingness by lower courts to issue decisions that apply to the entire country. By acting quickly, the Supreme Court can retain its dominant role. But there is also a political angle. Shadow-docket cases can let the court act quickly and also shield individual justices from criticism: In the latest abortion case, there is no signed opinion for legal scholars to pick apart, and no single justice is personally associated with the virtual end of legal abortion in Texas. The only reason that the public knows the precise vote - 5 to 4 - is that the four justices in the minority each chose to release a signed dissent. Critics argue that judges in a democracy owe the public more transparency. The idea of unexplained, unreasoned court orders seems so contrary to what courts are supposed to be all about. If courts don’t have to defend their decisions, then they’re just acts of will, of power. The shadow docket also leaves lower-court judges unsure about what exactly the Supreme Court has decided and how to decide similar cases they later hear. Because the lower-court judges don’t know why the Supreme Court does what it does, they sometimes divide sharply when forced to interpret the court’s non-pronouncements.
Currently, the court’s six Republican-appointed justices are driving the growth of the shadow docket, and it is consistent with their overall approach to the law. They are often (though not always) willing to be aggressive, overturning longstanding precedents, in campaign finance, election law, business regulation and other areas. The shadow docket expands their ability to shape American society. The three Democratic-appointed justices, for their part, have grown frustrated by the trend. Chief Justice Roberts also evidently disagrees with the use of the shadow docket in the Texas abortion case. In his dissent, joining the three liberal justices, he said the court could instead have blocked the Texas law while it made its way through the courts. That the court chose another path means that abortion is now all but illegal in the nation’s second-largest state.
What Do Supreme Court Justices Do Besides Hear Cases?
In remarks in May 2022, Justice Clarence Thomas reflected on how things had changed at the Court since an 11-year stretch without changes in its membership before the arrival of Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005. “This is not the Court of that era,” Justice Thomas said, adding: “We actually trusted each other. We may have been a dysfunctional family, but we were a family.” A less collegial Court seems like it could be especially problematic for justices in the minority. There are now five Republican-appointed justices who are even more conservative than Chief Justice Roberts. If the Court is a less collaborative place, it probably gives justices in the minority less ability to shape decisions. It’s possible to overstate the power of collegiality, though. Justices cast votes based on the strength of the relevant arguments and the desired outcomes, not on how likable their colleagues are. The justices also say there is no vote-trading across cases. On the other hand, there are certainly negotiations within cases. It seems fairly clear, for instance, that Justices Breyer and Kagan shifted positions in one part of the 2012 case that upheld a key portion of the Affordable Care Act to make certain they would secure Chief Justice Roberts’s vote on another part. Justices may well be prepared to narrow or reshape a draft opinion that seeks to speak for a five-justice majority in exchange for a vote. But once the author has gotten to five, the value of another potential vote plummets. It is that dynamic that must worry the Court’s minority justices.
Table for Nine (Lunch at the US Supreme Court)
Speaking of collegiality … On June 30, 2022, Justice Breyer officially retired and helped swear in his replacement, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. When a new justice joins the Supreme Court, tradition requires the second-most junior justice to arrange a little party. In 2006, for instance, when Justice Samuel Alito came on board, that task fell to Justice Breyer, who knew his new colleague to be a Phillies fan. Before dessert was served, Justice Breyer introduced a special guest: the Phillie Phanatic, the team’s mascot. This year, Justice Amy Coney Barrett is the second-most junior justice and will presumably be in charge of the welcoming celebration for Justice Jackson.
The Court is in recess from sometime near the end of June until October each year. During the break justices analyze new petitions for review, consider motions and applications, study argued and forthcoming cases and work on their opinions, travel extensively, make public appearances and speeches (for which they are well compensated), and write books and articles. The justices often teach courses in exotic places. In 2012, for instance, after voting to uphold the Affordable Care Act (and thus angering Republicans), Chief Justice Roberts left for Malta to teach a two-week class on the history of the US Supreme Court. “Malta, as you know, is an impregnable island fortress,” Roberts said. “It seemed like a good idea.”
Because the justices do not meet to decide whether to grant or deny review in cases during the summer months, thousands of legal petitions pile up during their absence. The Court plows through this backlog at their first conference (aptly referred to as the “long conference”) in the last week of September. But they obviously cannot give these petitions the same consideration as those that arrive later in the term. (For this reason, savvy appellate attorneys know that it is best to avoid filing petitions over the summer if they can.) When pressing issues arise during the recess, the matter is often handled by a single justice “in chambers” who must make important decisions about whether to grant stays, injunctions or extensions without consulting with his/her absent colleagues.
A charity tied to the Supreme Court offers donors access to the Justices.
Supreme Court Jurisdiction
Under the Constitution, federal courts exercise only judicial powers. The Supreme Court only considers cases that are justiciable:
o the petitioner has standing to sue (stake in outcome): In an actual case or controversy, the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit also must have legal standing to ask the court for a decision. That means the plaintiff must have been aggrieved, or legally harmed in some way, by the defendant. This means that federal judges may interpret the law only through the resolution of actual legal disputes, referred to in Article III of the Constitution as “Cases or Controversies.” A court cannot attempt to correct a problem on its own initiative, or to answer a hypothetical legal question.
o the case is ripe for decision (will have an impact on the country)
o it is not moot (has not already been decided): it must present an ongoing problem for the court to resolve
o it is not a political question (an issue with which the Congress or the President should deal)
The case must present a category of dispute that the law in question was designed to address, and it must be a complaint that the court has the power to remedy. In other words, the court must be authorized, under the Constitution or a federal law, to hear the case and grant appropriate relief to the plaintiff. The federal courts, thus, are courts of limited jurisdiction because they may only decide certain types of cases as provided by Congress or as identified in the Constitution .Although the details of the complex web of federal jurisdiction that Congress has given the federal courts is beyond the scope of this brief discussion, it is important to understand that there are two main sources of the cases coming before the federal courts: federal question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction.
In general, federal question jurisdiction arises in cases that involve the US government, the US Constitution or federal laws, or controversies between states or between the United States and foreign governments. A case that raises such a federal question may be filed in federal court. Examples of such cases might include a claim by an individual for entitlement to money under a federal government program such as Social Security, a criminal prosecution by the government that alleges someone violated a federal law, or a challenge to actions taken by a federal agency.
A diversity jurisdiction case also may be filed in federal court based on the diversity of citizenship of the litigants, such as between citizens of different states or between US citizens and those of another country. To ensure fairness to the out-of-state litigant, the Constitution provides that such cases may be heard in a federal court. An important limit to diversity jurisdiction is that only cases involving more than $75,000 in potential damages may be filed in a federal court. Claims below that amount may only be pursued in state court. Moreover, any diversity jurisdiction case regardless of the amount of money involved may be brought in a state court rather than a federal court.
Federal courts also have jurisdiction over all bankruptcy matters, which Congress has determined should be addressed in federal courts rather than the state courts. Through the bankruptcy process, individuals or businesses that can no longer pay their creditors may either seek a court-supervised liquidation of their assets, or they may reorganize their financial affairs and work out a plan to pay their debts.
Although federal courts are located in every state, they are not the only forum available to potential litigants. In fact, the great majority of legal disputes in American courts, civil or criminal, are addressed in the separate state court systems. State courts have jurisdiction over virtually all divorce and child custody matters, probate and inheritance issues, real estate questions, and juvenile matters, and they handle most criminal cases, contract disputes, traffic violations, and personal injury cases. In addition, certain categories of legal disputes may be resolved in special courts or entities that are part of the federal executive or legislative branches or state and federal administrative agencies.
Contrary to popular belief the Supreme Court has traditionally been limited by a number of factors:
o The Constitution sets certain outer limits by guaranteeing certain rights and liberties.
o Past decisions – Precedents must serve as general guidelines for current decisions. A super-precedent is a case that is so deeply embedded in the fabric of the law that it should be especially hard to overturn, a decision so widely accepted that it is invulnerable to serious legal challenges that could see it overturned, a cases that is so well settled that no one seriously pushes for its overruling, e.g., Brown v. Board of Education (1954 ruling that outlawed racial segregation in public schools), Marbury v. Madison (1803) decision giving courts the authority to strike down laws as unconstitutional. Recent decisions by the current very conservative Court, however, have shown that the current Court does not feel bound by precedent.
o The Supreme Court does not have any enforcement power. However, as recent decisions have shown, if state legislatures agree with the Court, they will provide enforcement power of the Court's decisions.
o The Supreme Court relies on public acceptance of its rulings ... although that seems to be changing. The Court's rejection of Roe v. Wade and a constitutional right to reproductive choice (2022) was unpopular with an overwhelming majority of the country.
SCOTUS asked governors to quell non-violent protests.
o The public must be willing to follow a ruling even if it doesn't like it.
o We can amend the Constitution, which could negate any ruling the Supreme Court may have made on any applicable issue. However, as the past has shown, amending the US Constitution is difficult, perhaps impossible in modern times.
There are limits to the Supreme Court’s power: Political progressives and moderates who are alarmed about the 2022 Court - the combination of its aggressiveness and the relative youth of its conservative members - have many options for confronting it.
Some options are fairly radical, like changing the size of the Court or passing a law declaring any subject to be off limits from Supreme Court review (both of which, to be fair, have happened in previous centuries). Other options are more straightforward. They involve the basic tools of democratic politics: winning over public opinion and winning elections. The founders did not design the Court to be the final arbiter of American politics, anyway. At the state level, progressives still have the ability, for example, to protect abortion rights, so long as they can persuade enough voters. At the federal level, Congress has more authority to defy Court decisions than many people realize. For example, the same-sex marriage bill is so intriguing because it is a rare recent instance of Congress acting as a check and balance on the Supreme Court, just as the founders envisioned and the Constitution allows.
When the Court overturns a specific law, Congress can often pass a new law, written differently, that accomplishes many of the same goals. Congress took this approach with civil rights starting in the 1980s, including with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which made it easier for workers to sue for pay discrimination. The law was an explicit response to a Supreme Court ruling against Ledbetter. More recently, however, Congress has been too polarized and gridlocked to respond to Court decisions. As a result, the courts have tended to dominate federal policy, by default.
However, after the Court’s abortion decision in June 2022 contained language that seemed as if it might threaten same-sex marriage rights, House Democrats quickly proposed a marriage bill that would defang any future Court decision. The Court could still issue a ruling allowing states to stop performing same-sex marriages but the House bill would require one state to recognize another state’s marriage. Two women or men who married in, say, California would still be legally married in South Carolina even if it stopped performing same-sex weddings. According to a recent Gallup poll, 71% of Americans support same-sex marriage.
[It should be noted that progressives still face obstacles to achieving their goals through Congress. The Senate has a built-in bias toward rural, conservative states. The House suffers from gerrymandering (although 2022’s districts don’t actually give Republicans a big advantage). And the Supreme Court has made it easier for states to pass voting restrictions.]
The Right accuses the Supreme Court of being too liberal.
The Left accuses the Supreme Court of being too conservative.
If both Republican and Democratic presidents have been able to make their share of Supreme Court nominations over time (and that's a big "if" given the US Senate's behavior regarding Court appointees in the last decade), can we not say that, over time, we have had a balanced Supreme Court? As of 2022, however, an ambitious Republican-appointed majority controls the Supreme Court even though Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections.
Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
The American system of government is based on the concept that power flows from the people to the government.
When the power of government is limited by a framework of fundamental written law,
I. Civil Liberties
Civil liberties refer to individuals in general situations.
Civil liberties guarantee individuals freedom from government intrusion into their lives.
Government does not provide liberty but it can provide the condition of legal order necessary for liberty.
Government can get too strong without restraint -- thus the Bill of Rights -- but civil liberties are significant only if individuals use them.
Civil liberties are found in the Bill of Rights, Articles 1, 3 and 6, and in various Congressional laws -- for example, the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.
Liberties Guaranteed in the US Constitution (before the Bill of Rights was added)
May not suspend writs of habeas corpus (except during invasion or rebellion).
Congress or states may not pass bills of attainder.
Congress and states may not pass ex post facto laws.
The right of trial by jury in criminal cases is guaranteed.
Citizens of each state are entitled to the privileges and immunities of the citizens of every other state.
No religious test or qualification for holding federal office are imposed.
States may not pass laws impairing the obligation of contracts.
Protections Afforded Citizens to Participate in the Political Process
Amendment 1: Freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly; right to petition government
Protections against Arbitrary Police and Court Action
Amendment 4: No unreasonable searches or seizures
Amendment 5: Grand jury indictment required to prosecute an individual for a serious crime, no double jeopardy (being tried twice for the same offense), forcing an individual to testify against himself prohibited, no loss of life, liberty or property without due process
Amendment 6: Right to a speedy, public, impartial trial with defense counsel and right to cross-examine witnesses
Amendment 7: Jury trials in civil suits where value exceeds $20
Amendment 8: No excessive bail or fines, no cruel and unusual punishments
Protections of States' Rights and Unnamed Rights of People
Amendment 9: Unlisted rights necessarily denied
Amendment 10: Powers not delegated to US or denied to states are reserved to states
Amendment 2: Right to bear arms
Amendment 3: Troops not quartered in homes in peacetime
Although the Bill of Rights is the fundamental charter of American civil liberties, the Supreme Court determines how those rights are defined and applied.
Civil liberties were established at a time when the common perception was that individuals could take care of themselves if government left them alone. Gradually Americans became less optimistic about the individual's ability to take care of himself and more optimistic about the government's ability to take care of people.
Do you think this has led to our willingness to allow our freedoms to erode? Do we now say "the government can have my freedom of privacy if they will keep drugs off of my street"? If so, have our priorities shifted?
...In Your Home
II. Civil Rights
Civil rights are the freedom or opportunity to take part in government. They usually come about after a struggle leading to new laws that offer guarantees to a previously excluded group. America's history is one of the extension of opportunity to participate in politics to more and different groups of people.
Expansion of the franchise (right to vote) is an obvious example of civil rights struggles.
Specific civil rights are found in Amendments 13-15, 19, 24 and 26.
In addition, Congress has passed a number of Civil Rights Acts over the past several decades.
Although the civil rights movement of African Americans is the most obvious struggle, it is certainly not the only one. Other groups -- women, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, migrant workers, children, disabled -- have struggled and continue to struggle to increase their rights in the system.