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The Amendments to the Constitution of the United States are the Bill of
Rights (the first ten amendments) and the other seventeen (17) that
followed. The Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) were proposed by
Congress during its first session to fulfill James Madison’s promise to the
Antifederalists that a Bill of Rights would be added to the Constitution.
The Congress adopted the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) in 1791.
Originally, the rights that were protected and the prohibitions limiting the
Federal government’s power only applied to the federal government and
not the states. But many of the guarantees contained in the Bill of Rights
have been extended against state action by the “due process” clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment. There are two types of due process:
(1.) Procedural due process is when there are steps that must be followed
in the listed sequence or order. If the steps are not followed there is a
violation of a person’s rights. (2.) Substantive due process is when the intent
of a right is held to exist for its own sake and to constitute part of the normal
legal order of society to create equity or fairness.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of
the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of
The First Amendment protects five basic civil liberties or civil rights.
The five civil liberties that the First Amendment protects are1. freedom of religion, 2. freedom of speech, 3. freedom of the press,
4. freedom to the right to assemble peacefully, and 5. freedom to
petition the government for redress of grievances.
Like all civil rights, the liberties found in Amendment One are NOT
absolute; they must be exercised in a manner relative to the rights of
Under the guarantee of religious freedom, the government cannot
establish an official religion for the country (a state religion) nor
can the government place restrictions on religious beliefs. (This
limitation on the government’s power is known as the establishment
clause.) The First Amendment does create a separation of church
and state. The separation of church and state does not prohibit the
government from expressing a friendly attitude toward religion. And
the government may not support any one religion, nor any one
denomination of a religion, nor any religious activity officially.
The Freedom of speech guarantees all individuals the right to express
themselves in oral dialogue that is free and unrestricted discussion of public
affairs. However, one can still be held accountable under the law for
false and malicious use of words; this is known as slander.
The Freedom of the press guarantees all individuals the right to express
themselves in written dialogue that is free and unrestricted discussion of public
affairs. However, one can still be held accountable under the law for
false and malicious use of words; this is known as libel.
The Freedom of the right to assemble is a guarantee that allows us the
means to protest, including the right to demonstrate. When assembling
at public meetings or picketing to protest the assembly must be peaceful!
When a public meeting results in violence, the authorities may lawfully
break up the meeting and quell the violence.
The Freedom of the right to petition the government for redress of
grievances allows citizens to protest a governmental decision. The
petition for redress of grievances is a formal written request for the
government to redress or correct an error or abuse.
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.
The Second Amendment allows citizens to keep and bear (carry)
firearms. The right to keep and bear (carry) firearms is NOT
free from government restriction. The federal government and the
state governments are empowered and do regulate the possession of
and the use of firearms. Examples of regulating the use of firearms
include requiring licensing of handguns and the licensing of a
person to carry a concealed weapon.
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the
owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
This Amendment was designed to prevent what had been a common
British practice where the British Government would force its
citizens to house soldiers and feed them at each citizen’s own cost.
(Remember the British did this to economically recover from the
French and Indian Wars.) The Quartering Act of 1765
required the American colonials to provide British soldiers with
firewood, food, candles, and a Bible. The 1765 Quartering Act
DID NOT place British soldiers in colonial homes as the act called
for abandoned buildings to be turned into barracks or living
quarters. A second act known as the Quartering Act of 1774
(one of the Intolerable or Coercive Acts) required the American
colonials to provide British soldiers with firewood, food, candles,
two quarts of beer/ale and a Bible. The 1774 Quartering Act
DID place British soldiers in colonial homes.
Today, the government houses our military. Though the Congress
could authorize the boarding of troops during wartime. When not at
war, the Congress must get a homeowner’s permission to house military
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but
upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the
place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment Four sets the procedures to be followed by the authorities
to search and seize property. This Amendment prohibits unreasonable
searches and seizures. This Amendment is designed to prevent the
actions of the government that would be similar to the British colonial
practices where the British authorities could carry a Writ of Assistance
which was a blank or open search warrant. When the British began using the
Writs of Assistance, the American lawyer, James Otis, argued to stop the use of
the Writs in 1761. The "Writs of Assistance" were general warrants allowing
officials to search for smuggled material within any suspected premises. James
Otis was Advocate-General when the legality of these warrants was attacked, but
promptly resigned his office when called upon to defend that legality. The Boston
merchants then retained him as their counsel to oppose the writs before the
Superior Court of Massachusetts. Otis refused the fee they offered, saying that in
such a cause he despised all fees. In a five-hour speech, which was witnessed by a
young John Adams, Otis argued that the writs were unconstitutional. He based his
case on the rights guaranteed in English common law. Otis lost the argument.
In 1767, the Townshend Act legalized the writs of assistance. The ultimate
response to this abuse was the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution for the
United States.
Searches and seizures authorized by court warrants are permissible. Also,
The police do not need a warrant for a search and seizure if they are a witness to
a crime or are in hot pursuit of a criminal. The police do not need a warrant
to search a movable object, such as a car, since it could vanish while a
warrant is being issued.
To be proper a search warrant must 1.) be issued by a judge, 2.) there must be a
good reason for its use (this is known as probable cause), 3.) it must describe
in specific terms the place to be searched, 4.) it must describe in specific terms
the person to be searched, 5.) and/or it must describe in specific terms the
thing to be seized.
Any evidence that is secured by an improper search and seizure is inadmissible
(not allowed) in any court.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a
presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval
forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall
any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor
shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived
of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be
taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment Five sets the procedures to be followed by the authorities
to protect the legal rights of people in criminal proceedings. No person
may be brought to trial for a felony without first being charged with a
specific crime by either a presentment or an indictment of a grand jury.
Note that a grand jury (a jury of 12 to 23 people specially or periodically
impaneled to examine in private sessions accusations against persons
charged with a crime, or on just cause (probable cause) that a person
should be charged with a crime find the accused person indictable).
issues two types of decisions, the first is a presentment which is a formal
accusation brought by a grand jury acting on its own knowledge against
a person who is believed to have committed a crime; the second is an
indictment which is a formal accusation by a grand jury against a person
whom the district attorney has brought to the grand jury’s attention and
whom the grand jury thinks probably committed the crime. A grand jury’s
decision does not have to be unanimous.
The Fifth Amendment also protects people from being tried for the same
crime twice, known as double jeopardy. But there are exceptions to the
double jeopardy rule. For example, if a person commits an act which
violates both federal and state law, that person can be tried for that
crime in both federal and state courts.
The Fifth Amendment has another protection for us. When a person
is being questioned, they may not be forced to give testimony against
themselves. (Persons who are being questioned may claim they are
pleading the Fifth Amendment so they do not have to give testimony
that may incriminate them.) However, a person may voluntarily
testify against one’s self. This self-incrimination protection applies to
any proceedings where testimony is legally required, including
congressional hearings. In a related issue, the Supreme Court has held
that evidence obtained by electronic eavesdropping (wiretaps) is NOT
admissible in court since it violates the principle of self-incrimination.
The last Fifth Amendment protection states that the government cannot
take private property for public use (known as eminent domain) without
payment for the property at a fair market price.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial,
by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed,
which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the
nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to
have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance
of counsel for his defense.
The Sixth Amendment also protect the procedural rights of people in
criminal proceedings.
The protections found in Amendment Six include the right to a speedy
and a public trial to prevent a person from languishing in jail or being
tried by a secret tribunal. Amendment Six also protects us from having
a trial that is too speedy as to prevent time for preparing an adequate
defense nor so public that the trial is not fair.
The next protection found in Amendment Six is the right to confront
witnesses which guarantees an accused person the right to cross-examination.
Included in the right of cross-examination is the right to subpoena witnesses.
The right to subpoena witnesses means that a witness can be compelled to testify
if the witness is subpoenaed. A subpoena is a writ ordering a person to appear
in court. Failure to comply with a subpoena will result in being held in contempt
of court which imposes fines and/or incarceration.
The last protection found in Amendment Six is the right to legal counsel. Though
a person can act as his or her own legal counsel, this Amendment guarantees all
persons accused of a crime are entitled to legal counsel (a lawyer). If a person
cannot afford counsel (a lawyer), the government must provide a lawyer (known
as a public defender). The right to legal counsel includes questioning by the
police as well as during trial.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the
right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise
reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common
Amendment Seven deals with the procedures found in civil law that are
guaranteed to be followed in federal court. Civil suits or cases involve
disputes between individuals or groups. The government may or may not
be a party (being sued) in a civil case. If the value of the controversy exceeds
$20.00 in a civil case, the right of trial by jury is guaranteed. Most states
also guarantee jury trials in civil cases in which the controversy exceeds $200.00.
Amendment Seven also protects us by establishing that the rules of common law
Are used to guide the procedures of civil cases. And the right to re-examine any
civil case except through the rules of common law is also established so a person
or group has the right of appeal to a higher court and also the double jeopardy
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual
punishments inflicted.
Again, Amendment Eight establishes the procedures for bail and punishments.
Bail is security (money) put up to obtain the release of an accused person from
jail until the time of the trial. Bail is set by the court at the time of the
arraignment. If an accused person who posts bail fails to appear at his or her
trial, the court will declare the accused has forfeited their bail to the government.
Bail can be ,and often is, denied to those whom the court believes may flee the
Area as well as for those accused of capital offenses such as murder.
For a punishment to be unconstitutional, the punishment must be both cruel and
unusual. Like bails and fines, punishments must not be unreasonably severe in
relation to the crime. Rarely have bails, fines, and punishments been contested
as violating the Eighth Amendment, since most are imposed in accordance with
what is prescribed by law. The Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty
has to be specified for specific crimes, that the death penalty cannot be left to the
discretion of a judge and jury in determining the sentence.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or
disparage others retained by the people.
In 1787 the Federalists had argued that there were an infinite number of natural
or unalienable rights and that to try to write all of the natural rights down would
risk omitting some of the unalienable rights. The Federalist feared that the
unintentional omission of a natural or unalienable rights could be interpreted to
mean that the people do not have those rights. Therefore, Amendment Nine
protects us by stating that the Constitution does not specifically list all the rights
of the people. Amendment Nine guarantees us that our unalienable rights that
are not written in the Constitution (unenumerated rights) are still protected.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to
the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
The Tenth Amendment safeguards the reserved powers of the states.
but with the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, a state’s reserved
powers, particularly its police powers, are subject to closer scrutiny.
The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law
or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of
another state, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state.
Adopted in1798, the Eleventh Amendment changed a provision in Article Three,
Section Two. The change was the result of strong opposition to the Supreme
Court’s ruling in the Chisholm vs. Georgia case, where the Court held that if a
state could bring suit against citizens of another state, then certainly citizens of
another state could bring suit against a state. The ruling was seen as weakening
state sovereignty.
Under the Eleventh Amendment, foreign citizens or citizens of another state must
sue a state in that state’s courts in accordance with its laws.
The electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and
Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with
themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in
distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists
of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and
of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit
sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the
Senate;--The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of
Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;--the person
having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number
be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; and if no person have such
majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the
list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose
immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be
taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this
purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a
majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives
shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of
March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other
constitutional disability of the President. The person having the greatest number of votes as
Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole
number of electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest
numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose
shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole
number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the
office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
Adopted in 1804, the Twelfth Amendment changed the procedure for
Electing the President and Vice President as outlined in Article Two,
Section One, Clause or Paragraph Three.
To prevent the recurrence of the problem of the election of 1800, where
a candidate running for Vice President (Aaron Burr) could tie a candidate
running for President (Thomas Jefferson) and thus force the election to be
decided by the House of Representatives, the Twelfth Amendment specifies
that the electors are to cast separate ballots for each office.
Other changes include: (1.) a candidate must receive a majority of the electoral
votes cast rather than votes from a majority of the electors, (2.) a reduction
from five to the three highest candidates receiving votes among whom the
House of Representatives is to choose if no candidate receives a majority of
the electoral votes, and (3.) a provision for the House of Senate to choose the
Vice President from the two highest candidates if neither has received a majority
of the electoral votes.
The electoral system has been subject to criticism for many years. For example,
In any presidential election, it is possible for a candidate to capture fewer
popular votes than an opponent and still win a majority of the electoral votes.
There are four examples of this happening. The first happened in 1824 when
John Quincy Adams won the electoral votes to become President when the
House of Representatives had to decide who would be President when no
Candidate had a majority. The second case was in1876 when Rutherford B.
Hayes became President after an electoral commission gave Hayes the
majority of the electoral votes. The third case was in 1888, when Benjamin
Harrison had lost the popular election but won the electoral votes. The last
example occurred in 2000, when George W. Bush was elected President even
though he lost the popular vote.
Another issue is that electors in the Electoral College are not legally bound
to vote for the choice of the people in two-thirds of the states. (By precedent,
the electors cast their vote for the candidate who wins their state.)
The Twelfth Amendment does place one restriction on the electors of the Electoral
College. Though the restriction has never been tested, the Twelfth Amendment
prohibits electors from voting for two candidates (President and Vice President)
from their home state.
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime
whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or
any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Adopted in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in the United
States. It also prohibits the binding of a person to perform a personal service
due to a debt. Not all involuntary servitude (forced labor) is prohibited.
Examples of legal involuntary servitude include imprisonment for a crime, and
the military draft (selective service).
The Thirteenth Amendment is the first amendment adopted to be divided into
sections. It is also the first amendment to contain specifically a provision
granting Congress power to enforce it by appropriate legislation.
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the
jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities
of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or
property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the
equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to
their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding
Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for
President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the
executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is
denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens
of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other
crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the
number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one
years of age in such state.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of
President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United
States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of
Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or
as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United
States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or
comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House,
remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law,
including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing
insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any
state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or
rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave;
but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the
provisions of this article.
Adopted in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment is one of the most important
Amendments as it establishes the substantive due processes. It is the basis
for numerous Supreme Court decisions, particularly relating to civil rights.
Until the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Constitution contained
no definition of citizen, despite the fact that “citizens” are mentioned in
numerous provisions of the Constitution.
Section One, in addition to defining citizenship and extending it to blacks
(reversing the Dred Scott decision), Section One prohibits states from denying
privileges and immunities of citizenship to any citizen (substantive due process).
The guarantee of due process was intended to prevent states from denying blacks
their civil rights. The guarantee of equal protection of the laws (substantive due
process) prohibits states from making unreasonable distinctions between different
groups of people in laws or executive actions.
Section Two abolishes the three-fifths compromise as worded in Article One,
Section 2, Clause or Paragraph 3. In addition to an attempt to guarantee blacks
The right to vote, it also provides the government with the power to reduce a
state’s representation in the House of Representatives in proportion to that state’s
improper disfranchisement of qualified voters (a state would lose representatives
in the House of Representatives if a state denied citizens the right to vote).
Section Three was aimed at punishing the leaders of the Confederacy. By 1872,
most Confederate officials were permitted to return to political life, and in1898,
amnesty (forgiveness) was granted to all Confederate leaders still living.
Section Four dealt with the matters directly related to the Civil War. It validated
the debt of the United States, prohibited the assumption (taking over) of any of
the Confederate war debt, and it prohibited payment for any loss resulting from
freeing the slaves.
Section Five contains specifically a provision granting Congress power to enforce
it by appropriate legislation.
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or
abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous
condition of servitude.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate
Adopted in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment replaced Amendment Fourteen,
Section Two in guaranteeing blacks the right to vote. Yet despite its prohibition
against both the Federal government and the states’ governments, blacks were
disfranchised (denied the right to vote) by many states following Reconstruction
(1865-1877). The means to deny blacks the right to vote (suffrage) were poll
taxes (a tax to vote), literacy tests, “grandfather clauses” (clauses in state
constitutions of some southern states in the late 1800’s that allowed persons
to vote only if their ancestors had been eligible to vote on January I, 1867),
and white primaries. Not until the 1960’s did Congress take firm action to
enforce the guarantee of the Fifteenth Amendment and end voter discrimination.
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever
source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to
any census or enumeration.
Adopted in 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment provided an exception to the
restrictions placed on direct taxation by Article One, Section Two, Clause or
Paragraph Three, and Section Nine, Clause or Paragraph Four. The Sixteenth
Amendment was, like the Eleventh Amendment, adopted to reverse a Supreme
Court ruling. Although there had been a temporary income tax during the Civil
War, the tax’s constitutionality was not tested until it was reinstated by the
Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act of 1894. The Supreme Court held that the income tax
was unconstitutional since it was a direct tax imposed without apportionment or
regard to enumeration in Pollack vs. Farmer Loan and Trust Company.
Section One: The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from
each state, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one
vote. The electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the
most numerous branch of the state legislatures.
Section Two:
When vacancies happen in the representation of any state in the Senate, the executive
authority of such state shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, that
the legislature of any state may empower the executive thereof to make temporary
appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
Section Three:
This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator
chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.
Adopted in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment provided for the direct, popular
election of Senators by the people and replaced the method of selecting Senators
as outlined by Article One, Section Three, Clauses or Paragraphs Two and Three.
The governor of a state can fill a vacancy by calling a special election or, if
authorized by the state legislature, make a temporary appointment until the next
general election.
Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or
transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the
exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction
thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
Section 2. The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce
this article by appropriate legislation.
Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an
amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states, as provided in the
Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by
the Congress.
Adopted in 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment established national prohibition
By barring the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages
throughout the United States.
Note that the Eighteenth Amendment was the first to specify the method of
ratification and to set a time limit on ratification. It also was the first to provide
for enforcement by both Congress and the States.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the
United States or by any state on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Adopted in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment established women’s suffrage
(suffrage means the right to vote) on a nationwide basis. The Nineteenth
Amendment indirectly established the right of women to hold public office.
Prior to its adoption, some western states did allow women to vote. Wyoming
Was the first in 1890.