Constitutional FAQ Answer #44 – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Constitutional FAQ Answer #44

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Q44. “I am writing a paper in English about
whether I think American citizens have the right to break the law. Does it
doesn’t it say in the Constitution that a citizen must abide by the state and
federal laws?

A. I think to take the position that we have the right to ignore laws is
tenuous at best. This is a nation of laws, starting with the Constitution. It
is true that the Constitution itself is much more a restriction of governments
than people, but I cannot see anywhere within that it even back handedly
endorses the notion that laws may be disobeyed, without consequence. There is a
presumed lawfulness of the citizenry – see the Constitutional Rights and Responsibilities

This having been said, I think it is also reasonable to argue that if a law
is invalid, it is also the responsibility of a citizen to change the law and,
if necessary, disobey the law. Of course, since the constitutionality of a law
is personal opinion at best (barring a court decision to the contrary), any
citizen who breaks the law must be willing to accept the consequences of doing
so. When marchers took to the streets in 1965 to protest for voting rights,
Alabama law enforcement physically attacked the marchers under the pretense
that the marching restricted the public’s right to free mobility on the
streets. The marchers were arrested, beaten, and subjected to attack dogs, tear
gas, and water cannon. In the end, the courts ruled that the right to petition
the government, even in large groups, was constitutionally protected. Such
civil disobedience is often said to be an obligation of citizenship.

Last Modified: 16 Aug 2010

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