We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution, Level 3
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Lesson 1


A plan of government that sets forth the structures and powers of government. In democracies, a constitution is an authoritative law through which the sovereign people authorize a government to be established and grant it certain powers.    [ audio ]

constitutional government

Limited government; the rule of law. A form of government in which a written, unwritten, or partly written constitution serves as a higher or fundamental law that everyone, including those in power, must obey. The rule of law is an essential feature of constitutional government.    [ audio ]


Literally defined as "rule of the people," democracy is a form of government in which all citizens exercise political power, either directly or through their elected representatives. See also representative democracy    [ audio ]

forms of government

(1) Aristotle's idea of three forms of government based on the number of people exercising power. Each has a "right" form and a "corrupt" form. The right form of government by a single person is a "monarchy." The right form of government by a few people is an "aristocracy." And the right form of government by many people is called "polity." (2) Types of democratic governments. For example, parliamentary systems, such as those of Britain and India; separation of powers systems, such as that of the United States; and presidential systems, such as that of France. (3) General forms of government, such as monarchies, republics, and autocracies.    [ audio ]

limited government

In natural rights philosophy, a system restricted to protecting natural rights that does not interfere with other aspects of life. More generally, limited government is constitutional government governed by the rule of law. Written or unwritten constitutions are used to empower and limit government.    [ audio ]


The British legislature, which consists of two houses: the House of Lords, which once represented the nobility, and the House of Commons, which formally represents the common people. Most members of the House of Lords are appointed for life by the government of the day and are not members of the hereditary aristocracy, who once dominated it.    [ audio ]


According to James Madison, a form of government that derives its powers directly or indirectly from the people, is administered by officials holding power for a limited time, and incorporates representative institutions.    [ audio ]

unwritten constitution

The body of political practices developed through custom and tradition. Only three of the world's major democracies have constitutions that are not single, written documents: Britain, Israel, and New Zealand. In each of these nations, the constitution is a combination of written laws and precedents.    [ audio ]

written constitution

A written plan of government that sets forth the structures and powers of government. See constitution    [ audio ]
Lesson 2

civic virtue

The dedication of citizens to the common welfare of their community or country, even at the cost of their individual interests. Traditionally considered most relevant to republics, since republican citizens are responsible for the well-being of their country.    [ audio ]

classical republicanism

The ideals and practices of ancient Greek or Roman city-states that emphasized civic participation and the responsibility of citizens for the well-being of their polity, or country. Acts by citizens that placed the public good, or common welfare, above private interest were especially prized.    [ audio ]

common good

The good of the community as a whole, as contrasted with private interests that may conflict with public interest. Also known as the public good.    [ audio ]

consent of the governed

Agreement by citizens to obey the laws and the government they create. Consent is the foundation of government's legitimacy.    [ audio ]

divine right

The idea prevalent in early modern Europe that monarchs derive their authority directly from God. Adherents to this doctrine claimed that to disobey such monarchs, to attempt to replace them, or to limit their powers is contrary to the will of God. Also known as the divine right of kings.    [ audio ]

inalienable rights

Fundamental rights inherent to being human that every person therefore possesses that cannot be taken away by government or another entity. This phrase was used in the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Inalienable is sometimes spelled unalienable.    [ audio ]

natural rights

The doctrine that people have basic rights, such as those to life, liberty, and property in a state of nature. Some writers, especially those influencing the American Founders, argued that certain of these rights are inalienable-inherent in being human-and that people create governments to protect those rights.    [ audio ]

political legitimacy

Acceptance by the governed that the claim to authority by those who govern is justified. In democratic societies, legitimacy is achieved only when those who govern gain power through the free consent of the governed in free and fair elections.    [ audio ]

popular sovereignty

The natural rights concept that ultimate political authority rests with the people.    [ audio ]

pursuit of happiness

An "unalienable" right stated in the Declaration of Independence. It is the right of Americans to pursue personal fulfillment in their own way, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.Within certain limits, this right denies the legitimacy of government to decide what kind of happiness one ought to seek.    [ audio ]

right to revolution

The right of the sovereign people of any democratic state or regime to depose a government after it has attacked citizens' basic rights for a significant period of time. This right, espoused by English philosopher John Locke, was asserted in the Declaration of Independence to justify separation from Britain and the overturning of the authority of King George III.    [ audio ]

social contract theory

Presumption of an imaginary or actual agreement among people to set up a government and obey its laws. The theory was developed by the English natural rights philosopher John Locke, among others, to explain the origin of legitimate government.    [ audio ]

state of nature

The condition of people living in a situation without government; anarchy. Natural rights philosophy inquired about what rights, moral rules, or laws applied in such circumstances and what rights, if any, people retained after agreeing to leave the state of nature to form a politically organized society or state.    [ audio ]
Lesson 3


An economic system in which the means of producing and distributing goods are privately owned and operated for profit in competitive markets.    [ audio ]


A politically independent community consisting of a city and its surrounding territory.    [ audio ]


A system of social, economic, and political organization in Europe from the ninth to about the fifteenth century in which a politically weak monarch shared power with the nobility. The nobility required work and services from the common people, known as serfs, in return for allowing them to live on and make use of the noble's land and benefit from the noble's protection.    [ audio ]


Ideas, beliefs, and practices that have their historical roots in Judaism and Christianity.    [ audio ]


As currently used, a country; the standard unit of political organization in the world. The nation-state received its name from the idea of a people, or "nation," organizing itself politically for self-rule. Many countries today, however, are composed of two or more distinct peoples.    [ audio ]

private morality

An individual's ideas about right and wrong to be practiced in one's personal life. These are derived from religious, philosophical, familial, and other sources, including individual conscience.    [ audio ]

public morality

The values and principles of right and wrong pertaining to public policies and actions.    [ audio ]
Lesson 4

stare decisis

Latin: "Let the precedent (decision) stand." The doctrine that a court should follow the previous decisions of other courts on cases in which the facts are substantially the same. This principle plays a key role in common law systems such as those of Britain and the United States.    [ audio ]

common law

The body of unwritten law developed in England from judicial decisions based on custom and earlier judicial decisions. Constitutes the basis of the English legal system and became part of American law, except in Louisiana, which inherited its civil law system from France.    [ audio ]

Magna Carta

Also known as the Great Charter, King John of England agreed to this document in 1215 at the demand of his barons. The Magna Carta granted certain civil rights and liberties to English nobles and to all "freemen," such as the right to a jury of one's peers and the guarantee against loss of life, liberty, or property except in accordance with law. Some rights were guaranteed for all the king's subjects, free or not free. In doing so, the Magna Carta limited the power of the king, who agreed that his will could be bounded by law, and became a landmark in the history of constitutional government.    [ audio ]


Previous court decisions upon which legal issues are decided.    [ audio ]

redress of grievances

The correction of complaints. The First Amendment protects the right of the people to petition government to obtain remedies for claimed wrongs.    [ audio ]

rights of Englishmen

Term prevalent in seventeenth-century England and America referring to certain historically established rights, beginning with the rights of the Magna Carta, that all English subjects were understood to have. These included the right not to be kept in prison without a trial, the right to trial by jury, security in one's home from unlawful entry, and no taxation without consent, among others.    [ audio ]

rule of law

The principle that both those who govern and those who are governed must obey the law and are subject to the same laws. This principle is contrasted to the "rule of men," in which those in power make up the rules as they please. The rule of law requires an independent judiciary that is immune from political or other manipulation.    [ audio ]

writ of habeas corpus

Latin: "You shall/should have the body." A court order directing that a prisoner be brought to court before a judge to determine whether that prisoner's detention is lawful.    [ audio ]
Lesson 5


A written document from a government or ruler that grants certain rights to an individual, group, organization, or to people in general. In colonial times, a charter granted land to a person or company along with the right to found a colony on that land.    [ audio ]


A person represented by an elected official.    [ audio ]


A binding agreement made by two or more persons or parties. In Protestant churches during the Reformation, a covenant was an agreement made in the sight of God. The Mayflower Compact was such a covenant.    [ audio ]

indentured servant

A person who voluntarily sold his or her labor for a set period of time in return for the cost of passage to the American colonies. Indentured servants provided the most important source of labor in the colonies in the seventeenth century and for a large part of the eighteenth century.    [ audio ]


A lower-level judicial officer, usually elected in urban areas, who handles traffic violations, minor criminal offenses, and civil suits involving small amounts of money. More generally, magistrate means public official.    [ audio ]

Mayflower Compact

An agreement to form a political body signed on November 21, 1620, by all adult males aboard the Mayflower before the ship landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The signers agreed to submit to "just and equal Laws" put into effect under the compact "for the general good of the Colony."    [ audio ]


The right to vote. See franchise    [ audio ]
Lesson 6


A formal contract or agreement between or among two or more parties or states. The Mayflower Compact of 1620 was such a formal agreement.    [ audio ]

law of nature

In natural rights philosophy, moral rules found out by correctly applied reason or right reason, telling persons what they may and may not do in various circumstances. In philosophy, laws of nature have often referred to the rules that would prevail in the absence of man–made law. Natural law is conceived to contain standards of justice that apply to all people.    [ audio ]


The ultimate, supreme power in a state. Democratic theory states that the people as a whole are sovereign (See popular sovereignty); the citizens of the United States constitute the sovereign people.    [ audio ]

writ of assistance

A document giving a governmental authority the power to search and seize property without restrictions. Abolished in American law, the use of such writs by the British government was a major issue during some phases of the American Revolution.    [ audio ]
Lesson 7

checks and balances

In American constitutional thought, distributing and balancing the powers of government among different branches so that no one branch or individual can completely dominate the others. See also balance of power    [ audio ]

legislative supremacy

A system of government in which the legislative branch has ultimate power. Parliamentary government is such a system.    [ audio ]


The right of a branch of government to reject a proposed law that has been passed by another branch in an effort to delay or prevent its enactment. Under the U.S. Constitution, it is the power of the president to refuse to sign a bill passed by Congress, thereby preventing it from becoming a law. The president's veto may be overridden by a two–thirds vote of both the Senate and House of Representatives.    [ audio ]
Lesson 8

Articles of Confederation

(1781-1789) The first constitution of the United States, created to form a perpetual union and a firm league of friendship among the thirteen original states. It was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, and sent to the states for ratification.    [ audio ]


A form of political organization in which the sovereign states combine for certain specified purposes, such as mutual defense. Member states can leave a confederation at any time. The United States was a confederation from 1776 to 1789.    [ audio ]

Shays' Rebellion

An armed revolt by Massachusetts farmers seeking relief from debt and mortgage foreclosures. The rebellion fueled support for amending the Articles of Confederation.    [ audio ]
Lesson 9

civil discourse

Reasoned discussion as opposed to emotional display. See civility    [ audio ]

Constitutional Convention

See Philadelphia Convention    [ audio ]


(1) (noun) A person chosen to act for or represent others. (2) (verb) To entrust someone to represent your interests.    [ audio ]

federal system

See federalism    [ audio ]

national government

The organization having central political authority in a nation; the representative unit of political organization.    [ audio ]

proportional representation

In the context of American government, the electoral system in which the number of representatives for a state is based on the number of people living in the state. Proportional representation is used to determine the number of each state's representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives.    [ audio ]
Lesson 10

Great Compromise

A plan accepted at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 that called for a Congress of two houses: in the upper house, or Senate, representation of the states would be equal, with each state having two senators; in the lower house, or House of Representatives, representation would be apportioned according to the population of each state, so that states with more people would have more representatives. Also called the Connecticut Compromise.    [ audio ]

Three-Fifths Compromise

Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, later eliminated by the Fourteenth Amendment. The clause provided that each slave should be counted as three–fifths of a person in determining the number of representatives a state might send to the House of Representatives. It also determined the amount of direct taxes Congress might levy on a state.    [ audio ]
Lesson 11

deliberative body

A legislative assembly that meets to debate issues.    [ audio ]

Electoral College

The group of presidential electors who cast the official votes for president and vice president after a presidential election. Each state has a number of electors equal to the total of its members in the Senate and House of Representatives. The functioning of the Electoral College is provided for in Article II of the U.S. Constitution and amended by the Twelfth and Twenty-third Amendments.    [ audio ]

necessary and proper clause

Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to make all laws that are "necessary and proper" to carry out the powers specifically delegated to it by the Constitution. It is also known as the "elastic clause" because of the vagueness of the phrase "necessary and proper."    [ audio ]

separated powers

The division of the powers of government among the different branches. Separating powers is a primary strategy of promoting constitutional or limited government by ensuring that no one individual or branch has excessive power that can be abused. See checks and balances    [ audio ]

shared powers

Legislative powers not completely separated between the branches of government.    [ audio ]
Lesson 12

ex post facto law

A law that criminalizes an act that was not a crime when committed, that increases the penalty for a crime after it was committed, or that changes the rules of evidence to make conviction easier. Ex post facto laws are forbidden by Article I of the Constitution.    [ audio ]

bill of attainder

An act of the legislature that inflicts punishment on an individual or group without a judicial trial.    [ audio ]


Formal withdrawal by a constituent member from an alliance, federation, or association.    [ audio ]

supremacy clause

Article VI, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that the U.S. Constitution, laws passed by Congress, and treaties of the United States "shall be the supreme Law of the Land" and binding on the states.    [ audio ]


A tax on imported or exported goods. Also known as a duty.    [ audio ]
Lesson 13


Opponents to ratification of the U.S. Constitution who believed that it gave excessive power to the federal government and failed to protect the rights and liberties of the people.    [ audio ]

Bill of Rights

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights lists many basic rights that the federal government may not interfere with and must protect. Nearly all these rights are now also protected from violation by state governments.    [ audio ]


(1) Formal approval of some formal legal instrument such as a constitution or treaty. (2) In U.S. constitutional history, the approval of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 by the ratifying conventions held in each state, except for Rhode Island, which initially voted the Constitution down by popular referendum.    [ audio ]
Lesson 14

"new science of politics"

James Madison's term in The Federalist for a study of politics utilizing reason, observation, and history that would help the Founders construct a new government on a rational and informed basis.    [ audio ]


(1) A small group within a larger group. (2) In its political sense, according to James Madison in Federalist 10, a faction is a "number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united...by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."    [ audio ]


Advocates for a strong central government who urged ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787?88. They flourished as a political party in the 1790s under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton. The party disappeared from national politics in 1816.    [ audio ]

majority tyranny

A situation in which a majority uses the principle of majority rule but fails to respect the rights and interests of the minority. See also majority rule    [ audio ]

The Federalist

See Federalist, The    [ audio ]
Lesson 15


A change in or addition to a legal document.    [ audio ]

judicial review

The power of the courts to declare laws and actions of the local and state governments or the national government invalid if they are found to contradict the U.S. Constitution.    [ audio ]
Lesson 16

delegated powers

According to the natural rights philosophy, people always retain their basic rights, but provisionally entrust or assign certain powers to their government for certain, limited purposes. The powers of government are therefore "delegated powers" in that they are granted by the people, and the people can take them back if government fails to fulfill its purposes.    [ audio ]

party system

A concept in political science that political parties control government.    [ audio ]


List of the policies and priorities of a political party; also known as a manifesto.    [ audio ]

political party

An organization seeking to achieve political power by electing members to public office so that its political philosophy is reflected in public policy.    [ audio ]


Incitement to rebellion.    [ audio ]


The choice of candidates of a political party for president and vice president.    [ audio ]
Lesson 17


Opponents of slavery who wished to put an end to the institution.    [ audio ]

grandfather clause

Provisions of laws passed in the South after the Civil War stating that citizens could vote only if their grandfathers had been allowed to vote. The law made it impossible for African Americans to vote because their grandfathers had been excluded from voting.    [ audio ]

literacy test

A test to prove a person's abilities to read and write. Until 1964, such tests were used in various states to prevent minorities from voting.    [ audio ]

poll tax

A tax that voters in many states were required to pay in order to exercise their right to vote. These barriers were used until 1964 to prevent African Americans from voting.    [ audio ]


In U.S. history, the act of states leaving the Union in 1861 following the election of President Abraham Lincoln; precipitated the Civil War.    [ audio ]
Lesson 18

adversary system

A system of justice in which court trials are essentially contests between accuser and accused that take place before an impartial judge or jury.    [ audio ]

due process of law

A requirement stated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments that treatment by state and federal governments in matters of life, liberty, or property of individuals be reasonable, fair, and follow known rules and procedures. See procedural due process and substantive due process    [ audio ]

fundamental rights

See basic rights    [ audio ]


The process through which the U.S. Supreme Court has applied the due process clause of the fourteenth Amendment to extend the reach of the Bill of Rights to include protection from interference by states.    [ audio ]

inquisitorial system

A trial system in which a judicial official or set of officials acts as both prosecutor and judge, questioning witnesses, examining evidence, and reaching a verdict.    [ audio ]

procedural due process

The principle that government must respect all, not some, of a person's legal rights. Government must not subject individuals to unreasonable, unfair, or arbitrary treatment.    [ audio ]

substantive due process

Judicial interpretations of the due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution requiring the content of law to be fair and reasonable.    [ audio ]
Lesson 19

equality of condition

Equality in all aspects of life, such as wealth, standards of living, medical care, and working conditions.    [ audio ]

equality of opportunity

A right guaranteed by both federal and many state laws against discrimination in employment, education, housing, or credit rights due to a person's race, color, sex and sometimes sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, or handicap.    [ audio ]

intermediate scrutiny

In U.S. constitutional law, the middle level of scrutiny applied by courts deciding constitutional issues through judicial review.    [ audio ]

rational basis

In U.S. constitutional law, the lowest level of scrutiny applied by courts deciding constitutional issues through judicial review.    [ audio ]

separate but equal

The argument, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) but later reversed, that racially segregated public facilities are constitutional if those facilities are of equal quality.    [ audio ]

strict scrutiny

Under U.S. constitutional law, the second highest level of scrutiny used by courts reviewing federal law for constitutional legitimacy. "Super strict scrutiny" is the highest level.    [ audio ]
Lesson 20


Giving the right to vote to a person or category of persons.    [ audio ]


A right or privilege. In the context of American politics, it means the right to vote.    [ audio ]
Lesson 21

delegate theory

The idea that a legislative representative should exactly mirror his or her constituents' views in deciding on public policy. See also trustee theory of representation    [ audio ]

enforcement powers

The power of Congress to enforce laws.    [ audio ]

enumerated powers

Those rights and responsibilities of the U.S. government specifically provided for and listed in the Constitution.    [ audio ]


A form of government in which power is divided and shared between a central government and state and local governments.    [ audio ]


Drawing the boundaries of an electoral district to favor a political party.    [ audio ]

implied powers

Those powers authorized by a legal document that are not expressly stated but can be inferred from expressly stated powers. The power of Congress to do all things "necessary and proper" to carry out the powers delegated to it by Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the U.S. Constitution. The "necessary and proper" clause is also known as the "elastic clause," because it greatly expands the Constitution's enumeration of the powers of Congress. Implied powers can be distinguished from "inherent powers," those that are expressly provided for in the Constitution.    [ audio ]

inherent powers

Those powers ingrained so deeply in an institution that they need not be stated. For example, what the "inherent powers of the presidency" might be is a hotly contested subject in American national politics.    [ audio ]

trustee theory of representation

The idea that a legislative representative should use his or her best judgment in making decisions on public policy, regardless of constituent opinion. See also delegate theory of representation    [ audio ]
Lesson 22


A proposed law placed before a legislature for approval.    [ audio ]


A rule of the U.S. Senate stipulating that debate on a legislative proposal be cut off and the proposal voted upon by the full Senate if sixty members agree.    [ audio ]


The practice of refusing to surrender the floor during a debate to prevent the Senate from voting on a proposal.    [ audio ]


Charging a public official with a crime while in office and bringing him or her to trial. Convicted officials are removed from office.    [ audio ]


The practice of attempting to affect legislation by influencing legislators.    [ audio ]

pocket veto

A presidential practice that allows a bill to die if not signed within ten days and Congress is adjourned. The president is conceived as keeping the bill in his pocket rather than taking it out and signing it.    [ audio ]

power to investigate

The power of Congress to undertake formal inquiries into matters of public business and public policy.    [ audio ]


A formal statement of a decision or expression of opinion put before or adopted by an assembly such as the U.S. Congress.    [ audio ]


Length of service. In the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate, certain powers and responsibilities of congressional members, such as committee chairmanships, are granted on the basis of their time in office.    [ audio ]
Lesson 23

commander in chief

Highest ranked person of the military forces. According to the U.S. Constitution, the president is commander in chief of the nation's armed forces.    [ audio ]

executive orders

Directives issued by the president, including Presidential Directives, National Security Directives, and Homeland Security Presidential Directives. Presidents have issued such orders since 1789. Such orders are open to the public, except for National Security Directives.    [ audio ]

executive power

The authority to carry out and enforce the law.    [ audio ]
Lesson 24


Governmental departments and agencies and their staffs, principally civil service members and political appointees.    [ audio ]


The group of advisors to the president composed of the heads of the departments of the executive branch and certain other officials. Cabinet advice to U.S. presidents is not binding, as opposed to parliamentary systems, where the consensus of cabinets is said to bind prime ministers.    [ audio ]

civil service

Employment in federal, state or provincial, and local governmental agencies. The civil service was formed in an effort to reduce political patronage and promote professionalism in government.    [ audio ]

independent agencies

Administrative organizations located outside the structure of executive departments.    [ audio ]


Support, often financial, given by a person or institution to a person, group, or institution in need.    [ audio ]

quasi–judicial powers

Actions of an agency, board, or other government entity in which there are hearings, orders, judgments, or other activities similar to those of courts.    [ audio ]

quasi–legislative powers

Having a partly legislative character by possession of the right to make rules and regulations having the force of law.    [ audio ]
Lesson 25

advisory opinion

In some judicial systems, a formal opinion on a point of law given by a judge or court when requested by a legislature or government official.    [ audio ]


The bringing of a court case from a lower court to a higher court in an attempt to have the lower court's decision reversed. Grounds for appeal include errors of law, fact, or procedure.    [ audio ]

appellate jurisdiction

The legal authority of a court to hear appeals from a lower court.    [ audio ]


The power or authority to hear cases and make decisions.    [ audio ]

landmark decision

A legal decision that constitutes a turning point or stage. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) is an example of a landmark decision.    [ audio ]


A party involved in a lawsuit.    [ audio ]

methods of constitutional interpretation

Interpretive methods employed by U.S. Supreme Court justices when considering constitutional issues of some cases. See strict construction, original intent, fundamental principles, and instrumentalism    [ audio ]

original jurisdiction

In some cases, such as those in which a state is a party, the Supreme Court has the right to consider the facts and the law in a case without it having first been passed on by a lower court.    [ audio ]

writ of certiorari

A type of writ seeking judicial review of a legal decision.    [ audio ]
Lesson 26


A proposed law placed on the ballots of some states for voter decision. Initiatives that pass immediately become law.    [ audio ]

local government

Government of a specific local area, such as state subdivisions authorized by states or governments of cities, counties, and towns. Also includes special government units, such as water districts.    [ audio ]

police powers

The inherent authority of a government to impose restrictions on private rights for the sake of public welfare, order, and security within the boundaries of constitutional law.    [ audio ]


A process of using special or general elections for removing elected officials from office.    [ audio ]


Placing a measure approved by a legislature on a ballot for popular approval.    [ audio ]

reserved powers

Those powers referred to in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments that are reserved to the states or to the people.    [ audio ]
Lesson 27


Independence, freedom, or the right to self-governance.    [ audio ]

economic rights

Those rights essential to citizens that allow them to earn a living, to acquire and transfer property, and to produce, buy, and sell goods and services in free markets.    [ audio ]

negative rights

Those rights that prohibit government from acting in certain ways; rights that are not to be interfered with.    [ audio ]

personal rights

Those rights of individuals in their private capacity, such as the rights to life and liberty, as distinguished from the political rights of citizens, such as the rights to vote and to hold public office.    [ audio ]

political rights

All rights of a citizen in a free society that are clearly expressed and guaranteed by the Constitution and implied by natural laws.    [ audio ]

positive rights

Those rights that require overt government action, as opposed to negative rights that require government not to act in specified ways. Examples of positive rights are those to public education and, in some cases, to medical care, old age pensions, food, or housing.    [ audio ]


Moral or legal claims justified in ways that are generally accepted within a society or the international community.    [ audio ]
Lesson 28

compelling state interest

A public or common good claimed to take precedence over individual interests or, in some cases, rights.    [ audio ]

established church

An official, state-sponsored religion, such as those in dozens of countries that have official state religions, including Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Eastern Orthodox, Islam, Buddhism, and others. States with established churches include Argentina, Denmark, Indonesia, and Pakistan.    [ audio ]

establishment clause

The part of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from declaring an official religion.    [ audio ]

free exercise clause

The part of the First Amendment stating that Congress shall make no laws that prevent people from holding whatever religious beliefs they choose or that unfairly or unreasonably limit the right to practice religious beliefs.    [ audio ]

separation of church and state

A basic principle of American government that no single religion should be favored by government over other religions, nor should government interfere with the right to practice or not practice religious beliefs. This term was used in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson to explain his understanding of the protection of religious freedom afforded by the Constitution.    [ audio ]
Lesson 29


Published words or pictures that falsely and maliciously defame a person.    [ audio ]

seditious libel

Written language that seeks to convince others to engage in the overthrow of a government.    [ audio ]

time, place, and manner restrictions

Government regulations that place restrictions on free speech. These regulations, specifying when, where, and in what way speech is allowed, are applied when unrestricted free speech will conflict with the rights of others.    [ audio ]
Lesson 30

gag rule

Any rule restricting open discussion or debate on a particular issue.    [ audio ]

public forum

Geographical places in a community, such as streets, parks, or virtual reality sites, where people can express and exchange their views.    [ audio ]

right to assemble

The right or legal claim provided for in the First Amendment that allows people to meet to discuss and express their beliefs, ideas, or feelings, especially in a political context.    [ audio ]

right to associate

The freedom to meet with others for political or any other lawful purposes.    [ audio ]

right to petition

The legal claim that allows citizens to urge their government to correct wrongs and injustices or to take some other action.    [ audio ]
Lesson 31


A formally sworn statement.    [ audio ]

exclusionary rule

The rule established by the U.S. Supreme Court that evidence unconstitutionally gathered by law enforcement officers may not be used against a defendant in a trial.    [ audio ]

probable cause

Reasonable grounds for presuming that a crime has been or is in the process of being committed. Provided for in the Fourth Amendment.    [ audio ]


Quality of what a rational and fair-minded person might say.    [ audio ]

right against self-incrimination

A guarantee found in the Fifth Amendment against being compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against oneself.    [ audio ]


In the context of American constitutional law, intrusion into someone's privacy.    [ audio ]


In the context of U.S. constitutional law, interference with a person's property or freedom of movement.    [ audio ]


See right against self-incrimination    [ audio ]

use immunity

A guarantee government prosecutors give to a witness to not use the witness's self-incriminating compelled testimony as evidence against the witness in a subsequent criminal prosecution. A witness who receives use immunity may still be prosecuted, but based only on evidence not gathered from the protected testimony.    [ audio ]


An order by a judge authorizing a police officer to make an arrest or search or perform some other designated act.    [ audio ]
Lesson 32


Money or other security given to obtain an arrested person's release from legal custody, which is forfeited if the individual subsequently fails to appear before the court for trial.    [ audio ]

capital punishment

The use of the death penalty by a judicial system.    [ audio ]

cruel and unusual punishment

A criminal sanction or penalty that is not in accord with the moral standards of a humane and compassionate society. The Eighth Amendment prohibits such punishments.    [ audio ]

double jeopardy

The provision in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that a person may not be tried twice for the same crime.    [ audio ]

grand jury

A panel of jurors designated to inquire into alleged violations of the law in order to ascertain whether the evidence is sufficient to warrant trial. Contrasted with the "petite jury," usually composed of twelve people, of an ordinary trial.    [ audio ]


A formal charge by a grand jury accusing a person of having committed a crime.    [ audio ]

plea agreement

Pleading guilty to a lesser crime than that charged by a prosecutor.    [ audio ]

right to counsel

Part of the right to a fair trial, allowing for the defendant to be assisted by an attorney, and if the defendant cannot afford counsel, requiring that the state appoint an attorney or pay the defendant's legal fees.    [ audio ]
Lesson 33

E pluribus unum

Latin: Out of Many, One.    [ audio ]

jus sanguinis

A right by which nationality or citizenship can be recognized to any individual born to a parent who is a national or citizen of that state.    [ audio ]

jus soli

The right by which nationality or citizenship can be recognized to any individual born in the territory of the related state.    [ audio ]


A foreign–born resident.    [ audio ]


A person who is a legal member of a nation, country, or other organized, self–governing political community, such as any of the fifty U.S. states.    [ audio ]


In the United States, a legal process by which native–born citizens may voluntarily divest themselves of citizenship or by which naturalized citizens found to have made fraudulent claims in applying for citizenship may be deprived of citizenship.    [ audio ]

dual national citizenship

The status of a person who is a legal citizen of two or more nations.    [ audio ]

enlightened self-interest

A philosophy in ethics that states that persons who act to further the interests of others ultimately serve their own self–interest.    [ audio ]


The legal process by which a foreign citizen becomes a citizen of the United States, concluding with an oath of allegiance.    [ audio ]

resident alien

A noncitizen legally residing in a country other than his or her birth country.    [ audio ]
Lesson 34

nongovernmental organization (NGO)

An autonomous organization independent of direct governmental control that exists to perform any of a large variety of purposes, including those dealing with humanitarian, educational, or public policy problems and issues.    [ audio ]

voluntary associations

Autonomous organizations founded and administered by private citizens, not elected officials, devoted to any number of purposes. Voluntary associations form an essential element of the social basis of democracy, especially American democracy.    [ audio ]

voter registration

The requirement in some democracies for citizens to enroll in voting rolls before being allowed to participate in elections.    [ audio ]
Lesson 35

de facto segregation

Racial separation not mandated by law.    [ audio ]

de jure segregation

Racial separation mandated by law.    [ audio ]

civil disobedience

The nonviolent refusal to obey laws that citizens regard as unjust or in protest of specific public policy.    [ audio ]

civil rights

The rights belonging to an individual by virtue of citizenship. In the United States, the term refers especially to the fundamental freedoms and privileges guaranteed by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and by subsequent acts of Congress. These include civil liberties, due process, equal protection of the laws, and freedom from discrimination. See civil rights movement    [ audio ]
Lesson 36

human rights

Basic rights and freedoms said to belong to all people everywhere. See Universal Declaration of Human Rights    [ audio ]

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

An advisory declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, consisting of thirty articles outlining the views of the General Assembly on those rights conceived as guaranteed to all people.    [ audio ]
Lesson 37

eminent domain

The inherent power of the state to seize a citizen's private property or to expropriate property or rights in property without the owner's consent. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides for "just compensation" for private property taken for public use, known as the "takings clause".    [ audio ]


The movement of people into one place from another.    [ audio ]
Lesson 38

collective security

A system formed to maintain peace among nations in which participant members agree that a military attack on one is an attack on all and will result in a united response by all members.    [ audio ]


The process of increasing interconnectedness and closer integration of the world's markets and businesses as a result of advances in transportation, communications, and information technologies. Such advances promote the flow of goods and services, ideas, capital, and people across borders.    [ audio ]

international law

Rules, usually the result of treaties but also from custom, that regulate how countries are to behave toward one another. International law differs from municipal, or domestic law, in that, in many cases, there is no enforcement mechanism and no universal authoritative interpretation. The rulings of international tribunals are binding on states that have agreed to adhere to tribunal findings, but such rulings are not binding on others.    [ audio ]


The foreign policy of a nation that wishes to be inward–looking rather than involved with other countries. Historically, some cases of isolationism have combined a noninterventionist military policy with a protectionist economic policy.    [ audio ]

letter of marque and reprisal

A grant of authority from Congress to private citizens, not the president, to expressly authorize seizure and forfeiture of goods by such citizens in the context of undeclared hostilities with another country or countries.Without such authorization, citizens seizing such goods would be pirates in the eyes of international law.    [ audio ]

multinational corporation

An enterprise that operates in at least two countries.    [ audio ]


An agreement under international law between states or international organizations.    [ audio ]

United Nations

An international organization created in 1945 to maintain peace through the collective security of its members.    [ audio ]
Lesson 39
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