State Action Doctrine


With one exception, the provisions of the United States Constitution, including its amendments, apply to branches, departments, agencies, and officials of government and not to private individuals, groups, or organizations. (The exception is the Thirteenth Amendment, which simply outlaws slavery in the United States and its territories.) The primary, if not sole, purpose of any constitution is to create, organize, empower, and limit a government, and to the extent that private persons/groups/organizations need to be aided or controlled, a government, once formed by a constitution, can do that through statutes and other kinds of civil laws. If, moreover, the provisions in the U.S. Constitution that restrict the government were interpreted as applying to private entities, that would give the courts in the United States a significant amount of power over private individuals, groups, and organizations, because the courts are responsible for enforcing the Constitution. To limit its own power, among other reasons, the Supreme Court has enunciated the State Action Doctrine, which says that the Constitution, except for the Thirteenth Amendment, applies only to government and not to private entities.

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Copyright © 2006 from the Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties edited by Paul Finkelman. Reproduced by permission of Taylor and Francis Group, LLC, a division of Informa plc.