Protecting Rights in State Courts

May 27, 1988

Report Outline
Special Focus


A quiet legal revolution now under way has lawyers and judges reading the fine print in their state constitutions. As a result, there's been a dramatic increase in the number of cases decided on state rather than federal constitutional grounds. This new “judicial federalism” began as a reaction to an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court, but it has since won plaudits from some conservatives who favor handing decisions over to the states.

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Most of us would be surprised to learn that we enjoy constitutional rights far beyond those penned by the nation's Founding Fathers. That's because every state also has its own constitution, and many of them provide rights and freedoms that are nowhere to be found in the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

The citizens of Tennessee, for example, enjoy the constitutional right to sail on the Mississippi River, Pennsylvanians, under their state charter, are entitled to “clean air, pure water and to the preservation…of the environment.” Those who live in California and Rhode Island have a constitutional right to fish (the state of Vermont tosses in hunting). New Hampshire's Constitution doesn't go quite that far, but it does contain a provision entitling its citizens to state-run lottery games. Louisiana uses its lengthy constitution to enshrine the memory of Huey P. Long, the folk-hero governor and senator who was assassinated in 1935; one section of the Louisiana charter declares Long's birthday to be a state holiday.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Challenges of the Courts
Nov. 04, 2022  Conservatorships
Jan. 14, 2011  Cameras in the Courtroom
Oct. 22, 1993  Science in the Courtroom
May 27, 1988  Protecting Rights in State Courts
Oct. 07, 1983  Court Backlog
Jan. 16, 1981  Television in the Courtroom
Jun. 03, 1970  Reform of the Courts
Nov. 16, 1960  Congestion in the Courts
Mar. 07, 1956  Cameras in Court
Jul. 18, 1939  Reform of Lower Federal Courts
Feb. 04, 1936  Restriction of Powers of Federal Courts
Apr. 14, 1931  Reform of Magistrates' Courts
Criminal Law Procedure and Due Process
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations