To get a full protection of the laws of any country, a person must be a citizen of that country or a legally accepted permanent resident alien.

         There are two principal sources of protection against any violation of basic individual rights of American citizens. One is the constitution and laws of the state they reside in. The other is the Constitution and laws of the United States. Because of the importance of the U.S. Constitution, it is sometimes falsely assumed that it contains all our rights. The U.S. Constitution provides a so-called constitutional floor. No government - federal, state or local - can take away the basic rights protected by the federal constitution. However, governments can grant citizens greater rights than those in the U.S. Constitution.

         Before agreeing to ratify the U.S. Constitution, some states insisted on adoption of ten amendments, collectively called the Bill of Rights (1791). Although the Bill of Rights guaranteed American citizens basic freedoms that the federal government could not infringe upon, it did not originally apply to the states. To assure that the states did not deny the basic rights set forth in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. Along with the Fourteenth Amendment, the Bill of Rights has played a major role in establishing the effective system of protection of individual rights from violation by state and federal governments.

         Certain basic rights not specifically spelled out in any document derive directly from old English common law on which American legal system is based.

The Constitution

The Bill of Rights

Summary of Constitutional Rights, Powers and Duties

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