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United States Constitution

The purpose of this guide is to provide information for researching the U.S. Constitution and its amendments.

Historical Examples of the U.S. Constitution in Action

“Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

  • Landmark Supreme Court Case: New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)
    • During the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s, the New York Times published an ad for contributing donations to defend Martin Luther King Jr., on perjury charges. The ad contained several minor factual inaccuracies. The city Public Safety Commissioner, L.B. Sullivan, felt that the criticism of his subordinates reflected on him, even though he was not mentioned in the ad. Sullivan sent a written request to the Times to publicly retract the information, as required for a public figure to seek punitive damages in a libel action under Alabama law. Despite the Alabama State Court and Alabama Supreme Court ruling in Sullivan's favor, when the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court ruled unanimously in favor of the newspaper, citing that their statements were protected under the 1st Amendment.

The 1960s New York Times advertisement that prompted a libel lawsuit

"[The Congress shall have Power...] To promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts, by securing for limited Time to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

  • United States Patent Application Publication: Ergonomic Surgical Loupes, Pub. No.: US 2018/0101030 A1, Pub. Date: Apr. 12, 2018
    • Abstract: An ergonomic surgical loupe consists of a housing, an objective lens, a mirrored Littrow prism, an ocular lens, and an adjustment mechanism. Light travels through the objective lens, is reflected through the Littrow prism, passes through the ocular lens and strikes the user's eye, enabling a 60 degree viewing angle for performing dental work or similar procedures. Occupational strain on the neck and back of the user is reduced by allowing the user to maintain an upright, neutral head and back position while performing work significantly below eye level.

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

  • Landmark Supreme Court Case: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)
    • In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that racially segregated public facilities were legal, so as long as the facilities were equal. However, on May 17, 1854, after a multi-year, hard-fought campaign, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the State-sanctioned segregation of public schools was a violation of the 14th Amendment and was therefore unconstitutional.

Harold P. Boulware, Thurgood Marshall, and Spottswood W. Robinson III confer at the Supreme Court prior to presenting arguments against segregation in schools during Brown v. Board of Education case. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/99472832/>.

Citizen’s Expansion on Rights and Liberties

When the Constitution took effect in 1789, it did not "secure the blessings of liberty" to all people. The expansion of rights and liberties has been achieved over time, as people once excluded from the protections of the Constitution asserted their rights set forth in the Declaration of Independence. These Americans have fostered movements resulting in laws, Supreme Court decisions, and constitutional amendments that have narrowed the gap between the ideal and the reality of American freedom.

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