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Majority Rule versus Minority Rights

The Founders believed in natural rights theory, which holds that rights come from nature or from God, and cannot justly be taken away without consent. Therefore, the majority has no legitimate power to vote away or otherwise abridge the natural rights of political, ethnic, religious, or other minorities.

The Founders had great respect for the will of the majority, but also understood that, as James Madison stated at the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829, “In republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of minority.” President Thomas Jefferson proclaimed in his first inaugural address, “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression.”

Independent judicial protection of rights by judges who are appointed and serve for life helps to ensure justice and the protection of individual rights. Citizens can also practice the civic values of consideration and respect in their daily lives in order to further ensure that the rights of the minority are respected.

An early example of legislation designed to protect minorities is the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was designed to protect the political and civil rights of women and ethnic minorities.

Landmark Supreme Court cases that illustrate this principle include Korematsu v. United States (1944), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and Loving v. Virginia (1967).