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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A constitutional right is a freedom granted by a government's constitution (on the national or sub-national level), and may not be legally denied by that government.


United States

In the United States, constitutional rights are derived from the people themselves and are protected primarily by the enumerated amendments to the US Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. Persons may also have constitutional rights protected by the constitution of a state.

The provisions providing for rights under the Bill of Rights were originally binding upon only the federal government. In time, most of these provisions became binding upon the states through selective incorporation into the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. When a provision is made binding on a state, a state can no longer restrict the rights guaranteed in that provision.

Examples of provisions made binding upon the states are the 6th Amendment's guarantee of a right to confrontation of witnesses, known as the Confrontation Clause, and the various provisions of the 1st Amendment, guaranteeing the freedoms of speech, the press, religion, and assembly.

For example, the Fifth Amendment protects the right to grand jury proceedings in federal criminal cases. However, because this right was not selectively incorporated into the due process clause of the 14th amendment, it is not binding upon the states. Therefore, persons involved in state criminal proceedings as a defendant have no federal constitutional right to grand jury proceedings. Whether an individual has a right to a grand jury becomes a question of state law.


State constitutions

Each of the United States has its own governing constitution. State constitutions cannot reduce legal protections afforded by the federal charter, but they can provide additional protections. Even where the text of a state constitution matches verbatim that of the federal constitution, the state document may be held to provide more to the citizen. State constitutional rights can also include those entirely unaddressed in the federal constitution, such as the right to adequate education or the right to affordable housing.

Other legal rights in the United States

Not all legal rights of citizens of the United States derive from the United States Constitution. Legal rights of U.S. citizens and U.S. entities also derive from state constitutions, statute, common law, and contracts.

Other nations

Many other democratic nations have followed the US model in enshrining certain rights in their constitutions. Countries whose written constitutions include a bill of rights include Germany, India and Japan.

The United Kingdom, as it has an uncodified constitution, does not have a constitutional bill of rights, although the Human Rights Act 1998 fulfills a similar role.

The European Convention of Human Rights applies in those nations which are members of the Council of Europe. Citizens of these nations can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights where their rights under the convention have been infringed.

In authoritarian nations there are generally few or no guaranteed constitutional rights; alternatively, such rights may exist but be unobserved in practice (as was generally the case in the former Soviet Union).

See also


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