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Lesson 16: Grand Jury

In theory, a grand jury is still available as a check on the government’s power of prosecution The text of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, well known for declaring a right against self-incrimination, begins by addressing another issue. “No person,” it reads, “shall be held to answer for a […]

June 19, 2018

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Lesson 15: Right to Counsel

States created public defender departments, which routinely represent criminal defendants Does an indigent criminal defendant have a right to an appointed, government-paid lawyer? Most Americans today, inured to watching police procedural television programs, would probably say yes. But it was not always so. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution provides […]

June 12, 2018

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Lesson 14: Trial by Jury

The framers feared a government that would subject citizens to criminal prosecutions in distant locales with juries unknowledgeable and unsympathetic to defendants’ local mores The Framers of the Bill of Rights were didactically specific when it came to the right to trial by jury. They seemed determined to root this […]

June 5, 2018

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Lesson 12: Searches and Seizures

In the 1961 case of Mapp v. Ohio, by a 6-3 margin, the Supreme Court endorsed the principle that the Fourth Amendment applied to states as well as the federal government The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution provides that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, […]

May 8, 2018

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Lesson 11: Freedom of the Press (Part II)

Harm to national interests has been outweighed by the need to preserve freedom of the press “Congress shall make no law,” reads the First Amendment to the Constitution, “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” The “main purpose” of this clause, wrote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1907, […]

May 1, 2018

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Lesson 10: Can Appointees Be Removed from Office by the President?

Americans unacquainted with the Constitution may be surprised to learn that Article I, by far the longest part of the original document, is about Congress. The president is not treated until Article II. Its first words are stark: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United […]

May 1, 2018

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Lesson 9: Freedom of Religion – Government Can’t Ban Religious Schools

After U.S. entry into World War I, several states amended their compulsory school attendance laws by adding provisions aimed at inculcating patriotism. One such law, passed in referendum by Oregon voters in 1922, required all children (except for those home-schooled or incapacitated) to attend public schools after 1926. Two plaintiffs […]

April 10, 2018

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Lesson 8: Congress Has Always Set Limits on Immigration and Citizenship

“We the people of the United States,” are the first seven words, written in large letters, of the United States Constitution, composed in 1787 and formally adopted when ratified by nine states in 1788. It was assumed that “the people”—defined then as free adults—were citizens of both their states of […]

March 30, 2018

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Lesson 6: When Free Exercise of Religion Clashes with the Law

The First Amendment to the Constitution provides that Congress shall make no law restricting freedom of religion or “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. Does this mean that a citizen can refuse to obey an otherwise valid law because to do so would violate his free exercise of his religious […]

March 6, 2018

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