Over the next few weeks and into the month of June many of you will have the opportunity to attend one, or more, perhaps many more, graduation ceremonies. And toward the end, after the speeches are done, after the names have been read or in really big universities, each college has been recognized, the degrees will be formally conferred. It happens when the president or dean or high school principal stands at the rostrum and says something like this. “By the authority vested in me by the (Board of Regents, State of XXX, or Board of Trustees), I now confer upon you the degrees to which you are entitled, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. You may now switch your tassels.” And where there was an auditorium, arena, or stadium full of excited students, it is now full of high school or college graduates. The final step has been taken. Its wonderful!
But today, I’m thinking about that boilerplate language. That language that many people don’t even notice. That language that those of us who have attended more than the usual number of graduations may have memorized without even noticing it: “with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.” One question this might raise is just what exactly might those be. But that’s not the question for today. Today’s question is what is the difference between a right and a privilege? I find many people are confused by this distinction.
Here’s one definition: “A right is something that cannot be legally denied, such as the rights to free speech, press, religion, and raising a family. A privilege is something that can be given and taken away and is considered to be a special advantage or opportunity that is available only to certain people.” https://thelicenselawyers.com/laws-regulations-connecticut-lawyer/rights-privileges/ There are privileges that come with a license to practice law, but they can be taken away. So might a degree be revoked under rare, but certainly not unheard of cases. But our rights as citizens can not be revoked. They are inalienable – “Incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred.”
Over the last twenty-four hours someone connected with the Supreme Court arguably abused a ‘privilege’ (access) they have by releasing a draft of a Supreme Court decision. They did not have the right (authority) to do this. I’m enough of a lawyer and teacher of law that this breach of protocol is distressing. It undermines the processes of and trust within the members of the Court among other issues. But the matter before the Court in this particular case has brought to the forefront an important question about a right to privacy. Is there one or isn’t there? What rights do we have as citizens to make decisions for ourselves and for our loved ones? Is our ability to make any number of important decisions a right or merely a privilege. And will that answer begin to vary based on the geographic details of our residence? (In other words might my marriage to a person of a different religion be valid in one state, but not in the one next door?)
Today in the resources section I share an article from the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law discussing the right of privacy. As the debate rages about this leak, about this specific case, and about the very real repercussions of changing laws in a number of our states, I thought it might be helpful for all of us to have a quick review of constitutional law regarding the right to privacy. Some argue there is no such right in our Constitution though we have understood, and acted upon the right to privacy, as it has been defined through a number of court cases over the last 100 years. I’m not a prognosticator, but I am an educator and I think this will be an important topic for all of us to understand in the weeks and months to come.
What is the right to privacy? Here’s a good link if you want to learn more.