Use Chapter 4 and 5 in “American Government and Politics Today by Barbara A. Bardes” and Chapter 10 in “Texas Politics by Charldean Newell” as sources.

1.  The American Civil Liberties Union is the nation’s leading civil liberties organization. Visit the ACLU’s website at
a.  Look around a bit, then scroll down to the bottom of the page to look at their general subject areas (“Capital Punishment”, “Free Speech”, Voting Rights”, etc.). Click on a specific topic of interest (“Marijuana Law Reform”, “Internet Censorship”, etc.) and look around. Make sure to investigate at least two of the links on that page (“Additional Resources”, “Most Popular”, “Related Issues”, etc. ). In a paragraph, summarize what you find. What, exactly, is the issue? What is the position of the ACLU? What does (or would) the other side say? Describe at least two relevant court cases or specific examples mentioned. What did you learn that was interesting or surprising?
Note: If you are having a hard time coming up with the other side, try Conservapedia (, Judicial Watch, or The Future of Freedom Foundation ( None are explicitly “anti-civil liberties”, but they do provide info and links to the point of view opposite the ACLU.
b. Choose one additional “Issue” and repeat.
c. Lastly, write a paragraph summarizing your reaction to this assignment.
Notes: Please identify the topic at the top of each paragraph. Make sure to put into your own words–don’t just cut and paste from the website. Remember, this is not about your position on the issue and why you feel that way, but rather the position of the ACLU and the other side, and what their rationale is.
2.  Due process means that laws must be applied fairly and equally to all people, especially to a citizen accused of a crime. The Constitution uses the phrase in the 5th and 14th Amendments, declaring that the government shall not deprive anyone of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” The 5th Amendment protects people from actions of the federal government, and the 14th protects them from actions by state and local governments.
The due process amendments (amendments 4, 5,6 and 8) have been fairly controversial among the American public – simply because they protect those citizens who have been accused of a crime.
Why are these due process protections so controversial?   These amendments are so controversial because we KNOW that citizens who are guilty of a crime do “get off” on technicalities. (For example,  evidence of a crime is found but thrown out of court because there were problems with the warrant.)  For this reason, most of us – who are law abiding citizens – do not see the protections as necessary.  After all, if we are not accused of a crime then we will not need the protection afforded by the due process amendments.  When criminals we believe to be guilty have been released due to a technicality, citizens tend to ignore the protections from government provided to ALL citizens (even if you are never accused of a crime) through the due process amendments.  In short – despite their unpopularity, the due process amendments DO protect ALL of us from the potential of an abusive government.
The role of due process amendments is evident in the following video (1:24).
After being interrogated relentlessly for many hours, four US Navy sailors separately confessed to committing a violent rape and murder despite the lack of any evidence linking them to the crim.  Based on their confessions, and despite there being no DNA match at the crime scene, each of the men was sent to prison for the crimes.
Watch the video clip.  Think about why an innocent person might confess to a crime.  Also think about — are all types of evidence equally valid when used to build criminal cases?   Finally, think about  what role do our due process protections have in the case you are watching?
Using evidence from the film AND information from your textbook.  Answer the following questions:
a.     When interrogating suspected criminals, police are allowed to make accusations, lie about or make up evidence, yell at suspects or get in their faces.  In the case shown in the video, the police told one of the men that he had failed a polygraph (lie detector) test, even though he had passed it.  Why do you think it is legal for police to lie when questioning a potential criminal?  Do you think that it is right?  What do you think police should and should not be allowed to do during an interrogation?
b.    Before being questioned by police, suspects must be told their Miranda rights, which give them the right to remain silent and to speak to an attorney.  Why might these men have waived their rights?  In what ways might their innocence have affected their perception of the importance of remaining silent or having a lawyer present?  How might their story have been different if they had insisted on exercising these rights?
c.    In this case, DNA tests of hair and bodily fluids did not indicated that any of the four men were at the crime scene.  Why didn’t the DNA test results help clear these men of the crime?  What type of evidence was used to convict them of the crime?  Should the strength of the various types of evidence be considered in a court?  Should we make changes to our due process rights that account for new types of scientific inquiry and our ability to use forensic evidence?
d.    Eventually these men were found or pleaded guilty of the crime in court, even though there was no evidence linking them to the crime, and a positive DNA match identified another man who had confessed to the crime.  How could this happen in the American justice system?  In what ways were the following parties responsible for the outcome:
•    The four men themselves
•    The police
•    The lawyers
•    The jury (in the case of a court trial)
•    The judge
3.  THE PATRIOT ACT:  As the U.S. government tries to fight terror through increasing the means of surveillance, critics raise issues of individual liberty, including the right to privacy and the right to avoid unwarranted searches and seizures. Of particular interest and heated debate has been the provision in the Act that would allow the government to access patron records at public and private libraries without warrants.  Or, the government’s access to our private phone calls, internet searches, etc…  Think about whether the Patriot Act is necessary to the nation’s security, or an invasion of civil liberties.
a.  First, investigate the history and elements of the USA Patriot Act.  You may use a combination of your textbook and the websites below to help you find the answers.
•    What does the acronym “U.S.A. Patriot Act” stand for?
•    Explain the purpose of the Patriot Act.
•    Identify the major provisions of the Patriot Act.
•    Discuss some of the controversial uses of the Act.
•    What Section of the Act has been severely criticized by the American Library Association and other interested parties? On what basis have they criticized it?
b.  Now, read the article,   “The Patriot Act: What is the Proper Balance between National Security and Individual Rights”  at the following website.
•    How does the Patriot Act define “domestic terrorism”? Do you think participants in public protests could ever be accused of “domestic terrorism” under this definition? Why or why not?
•    The Justice Department has proposed that the government should be able to ask a court to revoke the citizenship of any American who provides “material support” to terrorists. Do you support the proposal? Why or why not?
•    Below are two famous quotations. What do they mean? Which, if any, do you agree with? Explain.
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.—Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)
There is danger that, if the [Supreme Court] does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.—Justice Robert H. Jackson dissenting in Terminiello v. City of Chicago (1949)
c.    Finally, look through the websites listed below.
•    Discuss three “pro” and three “con” views of the Patriot Act.  Be sure to include in your discussion some reference to national security and individual liberty (as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights).
•     Do you believe that the Patriot Act goes too far on the side of “security” and, in fact, serves to threaten “individual liberty”?  Why, or why not?

Supportive Views (Pro)
•    The Patriot Act and Related Provisions: The Heritage Foundation’s Research
•    In Defense of the Patriot Act by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
•    Patriot Act 101 by Jon Thibault, FrontPage Magazine
•    The Patriot Act, Reauthorized, JURIST

Critical Views (Con)
•    PATRIOT Games: Terrorism Law and Executive Power, JURIST
•    American Library Association’s Resolution on the PATRIOT Act
•    Jennifer Van Bergen, Repeal the Patriot ActA six-part series analysing the Act.

4. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) bans racial discrimination in voting practices by the federal government as well as by state and local governments.
Passed in 1965 after a century of deliberate and violent denial of the vote to African-Americans in the South and Latinos in the Southwest – as well as many years of entrenched electoral systems that shut out citizens with limited fluency in English – the VRA is often held up as the most effective civil rights law ever enacted. It is widely regarded as enabling the enfranchisement of millions of minority voters and diversifying the electorate and legislative bodies at all levels of American government.
Congress has reauthorized the VRA five times, most recently in 2006, when both the House and the Senate approved the measure overwhelmingly in a bipartisan manner. Congress conducted over 20 hearings, heard from over 50 expert witnesses, and collected over 17,000 pages of testimony documenting the continued need for and constitutionality of the statute.
The 2006 reauthorization renewed several key protections, providing for language assistance, Election Day monitors, and Justice Department pre-approval of voting changes. The protections are currently set to expire in 2031.
Using your textbook and/or the websites below, answer the following questions.
About the Voting Rights Act
•    Text of the Voting Rights Act –
•    History of the Voting Rights Act
•    Frequently Asked Questions
•    Myths & Facts about Section 5 of the VRA
•    Myths & Facts about Section 203 of the VRA
•    Map of States Subject to Sections 5 and 203
Effects of the Voting Rights Act
•    Real Stories of the Impact of the VRA
•    Video Testimonials
•    Reports on Voting Rights in the States
•    Why You Should Care About the VRA

a.    Explain how the Voting Rights Act relates to the 15th Amendment.
e.    Discuss why the Voting Rights Act was needed? For example, how were blacks disenfranchised?
f.    How did the Supreme Court and Congress attempt to lessen disenfranchisement before the Voting Rights Act of 1965?
g.    Discuss key provisions contained in the Voting Rights Act. Explain using Section 2, section 5 and other provisions.
Just this year, a case reached the Supreme Court regarding whether the provisions in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act should still be applied to sta

Read the following articles.

h. Discuss three reasons section 5 should still be applied to state AND three reasons why section 5 is no longer needed.  After reviewing your textbook and the information above, explain whether or not you believe Section 5 protections should be continued.
5. The American Civil Rights Movement produced tremendous change in American society and politics.  At the crux of the movement, was the battle to end segregation in public schools. In this question, you will need  to explore the legal, political, and social implications of racial segregation and desegregation through the study of two Supreme Court decisions:  Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education.  You may use your textbook and/or any of the links below to help you answer the following questions.

a.    Define racial segregation.
b.    Define the two types of segregation.  Give examples.
c.    Discuss Jim Crow laws.  Give examples.
d.    Explain which form of segregation you think was hardest to overcome and why.
h.    Discuss the background to Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Discuss the majority and minority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson.
i.    Explain three implications of the Plessy v. Ferguson decision.
j.    Analyze the “separate but equal” doctrine.  How does the court justify legal separation?
k.    Discuss the background to Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
l.    Discuss the majority and minority opinion in Brown v. Board of Education
m.    Explain three implications of the Brown v. Board of Education decision
n.    Interpret the quote below.  Explain how it differs from the Court’s opinion in Plessy.Justice Henry Brown, writing in the majority opinion in the Plessydecision asserted:
“We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”
o.    Interpret the quote below. Chief Justice Warren, writing the majority opinion in Brown v. Board, stated:
“Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does…We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
6.  As your textbook indicates, civil liberties and civil rights have a particularly important role in the Texas judicial system.  Because Texas uses the death penalty so frequently, the stakes are quite high in Texas court rooms.
Look at the following factsheet. (
a.    Using your textbook and the factsheet, discuss the use of the death penalty in Texas.
b.    Compare the use of the death penalty in Texas to other states.
PBS Frontline covered the trial, conviction and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.  Given the length of this assignment, you probably do not have time to watch the entire 60 minute documentary (
Try watching these two brief clips covering the case.

c.    Given what you have read in your textbook, write a response in which  you argue whether or not you believe the conviction (and execution) were sound.  Explain why you feel that way.

7. Please freely discuss whatever is in the news this week. What caught your attention?  Why?