Primary tabs

The term “liberty” appears in the due process clauses of both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. As used in the Constitution, liberty means freedom from arbitrary and unreasonable restraint upon an individual. Freedom from restraint refers to more than just physical restraint, but also the freedom to act according to one's own will. On numerous occasions the Supreme Court has sought to explain what liberty means and what it encompasses. For example:

  • The Supreme Court in Meyer v. Nebraska stated “[liberty] denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”
  • In Bolling v. Sharpe, the Supreme Court stated “[liberty] is not confined to mere freedom from bodily restraint. Liberty under law extends to the full range of conduct which the individual is free to pursue, and it cannot be restricted except for a proper governmental objective.”
  • In Ingraham v. Wright, the Supreme Court stated liberty includes “freedom from bodily restraint and punishment” and “a right to be free from and to obtain judicial relief, for unjustified intrusions on personal security.”

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]