The Bill of Rights: The Constitution's First 10 Amendments
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The Bill of Rights was pivotal in getting the U.S. Constitution ratified. More importantly, the Bill of Rights guarantees the rights of every citizen of the United States in a way that is nearly unequaled.
The Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights is very important. Every American, whether able to recite them or not, enjoys the protections laid out by the founders, and the Constitution would never have been signed without the first ten Amendments. There were originally 12 amendments, but it was the right-assuring list of ten that made it into the Constitution. There is no need to memorize each one, but I suggest you familiarize yourself with each. The following is simply a list of a summary of the first ten amendments. Knowing what each guarantees is important!
This guarantees the freedom of religion, speech, press, and peaceable assembly.
This guarantees the right to bear arms. This doesn't mean tickets to the gun show. Well, not that gun show, anyway. The meaning of the second amendment today is one of the most debated issues in the country. Some say that it only gives the right to bear arms to maintain a militia. Today, that would be handled by the military and police forces. Others say it means that, for hunting and defense, all Americans are given the right to own whatever guns they want. It is best if you read the exact text and make an informed decision for yourself:
Amendment II: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
This guarantees no quartering of soldiers, without the consent of the home owner. The third amendment is hard for us to understand today because of the rights we all enjoy. No one has ever made an American in the 21st century put up a soldier for the night, but housing the military was something colonials had to do before and during the revolution. This amendment guarantees you will not have to feed and house soldiers against your will. Imagine if we didn't have the third amendment. A group of soldiers could just show up at midnight and demand to get your kids' beds for the night!
This amendment guarantees the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure. The fourth amendment is pretty direct. If the police or another government agency wants to search you, your possessions, or your property, or take your stuff, they need a warrant. Now, if an officer has obvious reason, they can search an individual. But if they want to go through your home or stuff, generally speaking, the fourth amendment means authorities will have to go to a judge and convince them they have good reason and that the search is reasonable.
The right to due process of law, freedom from self-incrimination, double Jeopardy. This means you can't be tried twice for the same crime. The fifth amendment is sometimes misinterpreted by people. Double jeopardy is simple, and due process makes sense. But sometimes you'll hear someone say, 'I plead the fifth' when they don't want to answer a question. This only applies if the answer implicates you in a crime. If you saw your friend steal a candy bar, by law you have to answer a question about that. Otherwise you could get in trouble for obstruction of justice or conspiracy or something. If you stole the candy bar with your friend, you can refuse to answer the question because it could incriminate you.
The rights of those accused of a crime, such as the right to a speedy and public trial and the right to have an attorney. If you like cop shows, or have some experience with being arrested, you are familiar with some of these rights. The sixth amendment says they can't make you sit in jail for ten years awaiting trial. As you should know from those cop shows, you can and should always ask for an attorney. Under the sixth amendment you aren't guaranteed a good lawyer, but at least they should know the law better than most.
This is the right of trial by jury in civil cases. Realize that civil cases aren't the same as criminal cases. Civil cases are when people sue each other. If a civil case is over a lot of money, the seventh amendment says it is to be tried by a jury. For example, O.J. Simpson was found not guilty for the murder of his wife in the criminal case, but he was found guilty in the wrongful death suit filed by his wife's family. Civil court can't send you to jail, but they can make you pay. It only takes a majority decision to be found in the wrong for civil cases. In Simpson's case, he had to pay his wife's family millions of dollars.
The freedom from excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishments. The eighth amendment is simple. If you stole that candy bar, they can't say you have a 50,000,000-dollar bail or else you stay in jail until you are found not guilty. Also, if you are found guilty, they cannot torture you.
Rights not listed may exist, and just because they are not listed doesn't mean they can be violated. The ninth amendment says that any right that a person obviously has cannot be denied just because it isn't in this list. As an example, the bill of rights does not explicitly state you have the right to eat a candy bar, but the ninth amendment basically guarantees you that right.
The powers not given to the federal government by the Constitution are retained by the states. Remember, the states were very nervous about giving away their power to the federal government. The tenth amendment states that everything that isn't expressly stated as controlled by the federal government is still handled by the states. Today, this works very well when politicians in the national government want to wash their hands of a political issue. Because of the tenth amendment, several hot-button issues are decided by the states.
To recap the Bill of Rights: the Constitution is one of the most important documents in history, and this Bill of Rights is important because the Constitution never would have been signed without it. Not only did the Bill of Rights get the Constitution ratified, it guaranteed the rights of U.S. citizens in a way that had never been done before! The rights of U.S. citizens are still protected as much or more than anywhere else on Earth.