Using Primary Sources to Analyze the 2015 AP U.S. Government FRQ: Civil Rights & Liberties

Today’s post comes from Emily Worland, an intern with the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC, and an AP U.S. Government & Politics teacher at Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas.

July 6th and 7th are upon us and we finally get to see the fruits of our collective labor—how did our students do on the 2015 AP U.S. Government & Politics exam?

I can recall the concern my students had for the Free-Response Questions (FRQ) when the prompts were revealed online. Question 4 seemed like a constitutional law prompt from an L1 course! The question required a far more nuanced and in-depth analysis of the 14th Amendment then I have ever previously seen on an exam.

14th Am, RG 11, 07536_2002_001_PR

Joint Resolution Proposing the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, June 13, 1866; General Records of the U.S. Government. NAID 1408913

While many believe teachers’ summers are filled with endless pajama days, we know that we spend much time looking to the next school year and strategizing how we can better prepare our students through improved lessons and the construction of better materials. Through my summer internship at the Center for Legislative Archives, I have unparalleled access to primary source documents at the National Archives. Let me walk you through how we can use primary sources to work through 2015’s FRQ 4 —5s for everyone!

Every FRQ begins with a statement of fact that students should use to answer each part of the question. 2015’s FRQ 4 began, “The 14th Amendment protects civil rights and civil liberties.”

Part A asked students to discern between civil liberties and civil rights. This is certainly analytical because in colloquial speech we tend to use the terms interchangeably. I tell my students that civil rights is the verb and civil liberties is the noun—government action versus given freedom. Civil liberties are the freedoms guaranteed to us through natural rights, the Bill of Rights, and laws and regulations of government. They are the freedoms that belong to us; the freedoms we possess. For example, when accused of a crime, everyone is entitled to a speedy and public trial via the 6th Amendment. Civil rights are the actions that governments take to ensure our civil liberties are protected. When governments define, ensure, and protect American civil liberties, they are engaging in an act of civil rights. To say that the 1960s saw a “civil rights” movement is to say that people were seeking action from the government to define and protect civil liberties.

After defining this subtle difference, Part B asks students to identify the passage within the 14th Amendment that extends civil rights—the Equal Protection clause. By ensuring the equal protection of the law, the Constitution defined civil liberties as belonging to all. And the creation of this definition is a civil rights action. Our students have certainly earned their college credit in answering this law school-esque question!

Next, the students must take this a step further and apply this Equal Protection clause in Part C. First, how did a specific legislative act extend civil rights to women and persons with disabilities? In thinking of pieces of legislation our students would need to know for other parts of the exam or may remember from AP U.S. History, I selected the following acts in which Congress has prohibited a government action that would lead to a curtailment of civil liberties for women or persons with disabilities while ensuring that they are treated equally under the law.

  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Congress has taken an action to ensure that women can participate in all education programs to the same extent their male counterparts are able.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says, ‘It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer…to otherwise to discriminate against any individual… because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.’ Similar to Title IX, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from making both hiring and firing decisions based on gender.
  • The 19th Amendment extends suffrage—a basic civil liberty in saying, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
  • For persons with disabilities, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a prime example of a legislative extension of civil rights. It states that, “No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” While rather overarching, this particular piece on employment ensures that guaranteed freedoms are not curtailed due to physical or mental disability.

Once the students know the difference between civil rights and liberties and we have applied civil rights through the 14th Amendment and legislative action, then we must do the same with civil liberties.

Part D requires that students identify the passage within the 14th Amendment that extends civil liberties. The Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment guarantees that the protections for the accused, as outlined in the Bill of Rights (Amendments 4-8), are extended to the states. This extension of rights to the states from the Federal Government is referred to as incorporation. Our civil liberties of “life, liberty, or property” will not and cannot be “deprived” without “due process of law” at all levels of government within our federalism system.

Petition for a Writ of Certiorari from Clarence Gideon to the Supreme Court of the United States, January 5, 1962, Records of the Supreme Court of the United States. NAID 597554.

Petition for a Writ of Certiorari from Clarence Gideon to the Supreme Court of the United States, January 5, 1962, Records of the Supreme Court of the United States. NAID 597554.

Finally, in Part E students must identify the incorporation of civil liberties through the precedents of three specific Supreme Court cases:

    • Gideon v. Wainwright (1962): Gideon was denied his right to a lawyer as guaranteed by the 6th Amendment because his offense did not meet the threshold for indigent counsel appointment as established by the state of Florida. In the 1962 ruling, The U.S. Supreme Court incorporated the civil liberty guarantee of a right to counsel to the states in all levels of offense.
    • Mapp v. Ohio (1961): When illegally obtained evidence was seized from Dollree Mapp and then used against her to convict her of a crime, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1960 that evidence collected in violation of the 4th Amendment must be excluded from trial in all levels of government courts.
    • Miranda v. Arizona (1965): In the three cases that comprised Miranda v. Arizona, those accused of
      Amicus curiae submitted to the Supreme Court in Mapp v. Ohio, October 9, 1961, Records of the United States Supreme Court.

      Amicus curiae submitted to the Supreme Court in Mapp v. Ohio, October 9, 1961, Records of the United States Supreme Court.

      crimes were made to confess and sign statements without first being informed of their right to counsel as guaranteed by the 6th The U.S. Supreme Court extended the civil liberties for those accused of crimes in mandating police warnings of rights prior to interrogation—thus giving us the most widely quoted phrase on TV.

Wow! That was a tough one! I am looking forward to a new round of students eager to gain political efficacy and overcome apathy. I think this better, more analytical understanding of the 14th Amendment, civil rights, and civil liberties coupled with the primary source documents for each element will be crucial in achieving this goal.

Good luck in 2016—it will be fun to see what College Board puts out next!

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One Response to Using Primary Sources to Analyze the 2015 AP U.S. Government FRQ: Civil Rights & Liberties

  1. timy says:

    Thanks! This is useful, exactly what I’m looking for.

    Like

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