The Rights Revolution: The Conditions that Caused It

Essay by NorthieUniversity, Bachelor'sA, October 2006

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The civil rights movement in the United States coincided with rights revolutions in other democratic countries all over the world, specifically Canada, India, and the United Kingdom. According to Charles R. Epp, the factors leading up to these revolutions are numerous. No one single factor solely brought about the rights movements, as some others have claimed. Epp theorizes that the reason for these movements is what he calls a support-structure explanation. This is in contrast with other popular theories like the constitution-centered, judicial centered, or culture-centered. He explains the proper conditions that were needed for a rights revolution and illustrates why the democratization of access to the courts was important. He also rejects claims that the whole process was undemocratic. This paper will outline his arguments and provide a contemporary example in support of his

"By the late 60s, almost 70 percent of its decisions involved individual rights, and the Courts had, essentially, proclaimed itself the guardian of the individual rights of the ordinary citizen.

In the process, the Court created or expanded a host of new constitutional rights, among them virtually all of the rights now regarded as essential to the Constitution: freedom of speech, and the press, rights against discrimination on the basis of race or sex, and the right to due process in criminal and administrative procedures." (Epp, 2)

The conditions needed for a rights revolution were, as stated, numerous. Constitutional guarantees, judicial leadership, and rights consciousness all contributed. In the constitution-centered theory, an entrenched Bill of Rights grants the courts the power to decide independently on issues of individual rights. A bill of rights also leads to more "competing interest groups" (Epp, 13). This leads to judicial independence, where the courts make more laws than the legislative bodies. But the cost of entertaining a courtroom battle...