Americans today know they face threats to their rights, their democracy, their health, and their economy. These threats are interrelated and demand a transformative response. Transformations have occurred at other pivotal moments in our nation’s history—at its founding during the American Revolution, its Reconstruction after the Civil War, its recovery from the Great Depression, its rise after World War II, and its reimagining during the Civil Rights Movement. Can today become a similar moment of transformation, turning threats into opportunities? 

With the release of their nonpartisan, evidence-based report, Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, researchers at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center provide a guide for the nation wrestling with its values. This blueprint for protecting and expanding citizens’ rights proposes policy changes to strengthen democratic processes; safeguard equal protection, equal opportunity, and due process of law; and better protect freedoms of speech, media, religion and privacy.

The report offers an in-depth analysis of the state of rights in America, plus 80 recommendations to address failures to protect these rights. The Reimagining Rights team researched fifteen topics that are fundamental to protecting and expanding citizens’ rights, each of which can be explored below.


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After over a century of expanding the voting rights of previously disenfranchised groups, the American electoral system is now confronted by political and legal maneuvers to curtail the rights of these groups, ostensibly in the name of combating fraud, but in actuality changing election outcomes.


In the 2000 election, candidates and outside groups spent a combined $3 billion on the presidential and congressional races. For 2020, forecasters projected $10 billion spent on advertising alone. The reason? The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the 1st Amendment.


Voting rates average only 56 percent in presidential elections, and are as low as 40 percent in mid-terms, ranking the U.S. far below most other democracies in voting participation. In short, Americans are not well-informed about their government, and do not turn out to vote in high numbers.


Over half a century after its creation in 1964, the promises of the Civil Rights Act are threatened by sustained efforts to undermine its protections for equal rights and opportunities across racial identities.


How does identity influence women’s experiences and provide historical context on women’s rights? This report assesses the current state of women’s rights in the areas of employment, education, poverty, domestic violence, health, and civil society.


Nearly 61 million Americans have a disability, making the group the country’s largest minority. Disabilities include a range of conditions, both visible and invisible—all of which require different types of protection against different types of discrimination. 


A right of equal access to public goods and services is rooted in the right to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," yet current trends in public education, healthcare, housing, and environmental protection reflect growing disparities. 


The U.S. is a nation of immigrants. For centuries, waves of migrants and refugees arrived seeking economic opportunity or religious freedom. While many found what they desired, many others encountered persecution, resentment, and xenophobia.


The incarceration rate in the U.S. more than tripled between 1980 and its peak in 2008, from 310 to 1,000 prisoners per 100,000 adults—some 2.3 million people in all. Today, the U.S. leads the world in incarceration, with a rate more than 4 times that of comparable democracies in Western Europe.


In 2018, hundreds of thousands of young people walked out of school and marched on their local statehouses and the U.S. Capitol to advocate for stricter controls on gun sales and ownership. Collectively, the marches were one of the largest protests of any kind in American history.


As the traditional public square governed and protected by federal regulation moves online to spaces governed by private corporations, the rules for how speech is both expressed and censored are also changing.


Today, a struggle over the scope of religious freedom is taking place in politics, the courts, and across American society. Claims of religious freedom increasingly receive preferential treatment in political discourse and in the courts when religious beliefs come into conflict with other rights. 


The variation in hate crimes laws and data collection policies per state has created disparities in protection against hate crimes, which leaves people vulnerable depending on where they live. 


The right to privacy is under attack more than ever before, and privacy defenders are attempting to fight a two-front war as increasing incursions are made by private industry and government law enforcement.


A 2021 national survey of American attitudes toward rights and responsibilities in the United States finds that large majorities now favor strengthening the nation’s civil rights laws, despite continuing partisan division.