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Affirmative Action

Remedial actions-originally relating to employment but now covering college and university admissions, contracting, and other areas-designed to overcome effects of past societal and individual discrimination against minorities and women.

Bill of Rights

The statement of Americans' freedoms and rights embodied in the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. As written, the Bill of Rights limits the actions of the federal government only.

Civil Liberties

Rights or freedoms given to the people by the First Amendment to the Constitution, by common law, or legislation

Civil Rights

The rights belonging to an individual by virtue of citizenship, especially the fundamental freedoms and privileges guaranteed by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and by subsequent acts of Congress

"Clear and present danger" test

A doctrine used to test whether limitations may be placed on First Amendment free speech rights -- speech could be prohibited if there was a "clear and present danger" that it would lead to harm.

Commerce clause

The provision of the U.S. Constitution (Article I Section 8 Clause 3) that gives Congress exclusive power over trade activities among the states and with foreign countries

De facto segregation

Racial segregation that may not be imposed by law but is just the way things are

De jure segregation

Segregation that is imposed by law

Equal protection clause

The provision of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that prohibits states from denying equal protection of laws to its citizens.

Equality of opportunity

The idea that everyone should have the same chance to succeed regardless of race, gender, or religion

Equality of results

The idea that everyone should be equal in outcome -- ie. have same amount of wealth

Establishment clause

The Establishment Clause is a provision in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, extended to apply to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits the government from establishing religion.

Freedom of expression

A civil liberty guaranteed by 1st amendment -- the right to express one's ideas freely through speech, press, assembly, and petition

Freedom of religion

A civil liberty guaranteed by 1st amendment -- the right to choose your own religious practices or to abstain from religious practices any without government intervention.

Freedom of speech

A civil liberty guaranteed by 1st amendment -- the right to speak freely without censorship or limitation

Hate crime

Speech or symbols that might arouse anger, alarm, or resentment.

Incorporation clause

The doctrine through which the Supreme Court has held that the protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights limit state governments as well as the national government.

Lemon test

A standard to determine whether or not a law related to religion violates the Constitution.


A false and malicious publication printed for the purpose of defaming a living person

Miller test

The Miller test is the standard used by courts to define obscenity, based on the ruling in Miller v. California that says obscene language is not covered by the 1st Amendment.

Miranda rights

A list of rights, including the right to remain silent and to have legal counsel, read aloud by law enforcement officers to persons being arrested.


Language that is offensive to accepted standards of decency.

One person, one vote

A 1964 decision in Reynolds v. Sims affirmed the principle (based on the Equal Protection Clause) that each legislative district should have, as closely as possible, the same number of voters.

Preferential treatment

Better treatment given to one person or group than to another without reasonable cause

Prior restraint

The right of the government to censor the press before publication

Reverse discrimination

Bias against the members of a majority group, argued for by people who support affirmative action.

Separate but equal

Established in the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, stating that discrimination in schools is constitutional as long as the facilities are equal.

Separation of church and state

Political and legal doctrine from the First Amendment that states that government and religious institutions are to be kept separate and independent from each other

Strict scrutiny

Standard for clarifying the 14th amendment -- asks if the government's action is necessary to further a compelling government interest

Suspect classifications

Classification of groups meeting a series of criteria suggesting they are likely the subject of discrimination.

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