Debating the Rule of Law
We are a nation under the rule of law. But what does that mean? For one thing, rule of law means that the law itself is the highest authority in the land. No person or institution is above it. Even so, law is subject to interpretation. This means that its application does not necessarily have a guaranteed outcome. The courts are an important testing ground for the rule of law.
In this edition, Students in Action looks at the rule of law in the United States. You will learn about four court cases that have tested the rule of law. The first two, recently decided and apt to be appealed, involve the First Amendment right of access and the Fifth Amendment right of due process. Next, you will read the stories of two landmark cases that finally resolved disputes involving the right to an equal education for all Americans and the Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure.
Deportation Hearings—Should They Be Secret? is a news story that explores the first two decisions, which were arrived at in separate federal courts and which actually contradict each other, even though the facts of the cases are closely related. The U.S. government has detained aliens who, it asserts, may be involved in terrorism. In the interests of national security, the government argues that their deportation hearings must be closed. The detainees, politicians, and media who are challenging this assertion disagree, saying that the detainees' relatives and the media have the right to attend the hearings under the First and Fifth Amendments. The dispute will most likely be appealed to, and finally decided by, the Supreme Court. ( Activities related to this article.)
As times change, society and the Supreme Court also change. Sometimes this means that the Court's interpretation of the Constitution changes too, even though the rule of law is commonly thought of as "constant." Read how the Supreme Court's interpretation of equal education under the law changed dramatically in 1954 in Thurgood Marshall and the Case Called Brown . ( Activities related to this article.) Finally, in Searching the Home of Dollree Mapp, you will read about Mapp v. Ohio, a case that tested and finally strengthened the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches. ( Activities related to this article.)
Completing the Take Action! activities at the end of each article will help you begin to participate in and influence the public debate surrounding these issues—a debate that your generation is encountering today and that you will encounter in the future, when you become parents and caretakers of the next generation of Americans.
Student Central | Students in Action | Debating the Rule of Law
Deportation Hearings—Should They Be Secret?
Thurgood Marshall and the Case Called Brown
Searching the Home of Dollree Mapp