Justifying the Bill of Rights
Professor Maria Toy, J.D.
The amendments to the United States Constitution play an important role in the history, politics and law of our country. When the Bill of Rights was originally proposed to the First Federal Congress in 1789 by James Madison, the intent was for the amendments to be integrated into the original text of the Constitution. As we now know, Madison’s idea did not prevail and Congress decided the first ten amendments and the subsequent seventeen be appended (BYU Journal of Public Law [Volume 25], January 1, 2011).
The amendments are an integral part of the Constitution, the framework of the incomparable American justice system that has great impact on the legal system and political climate of the United States. Each of the amendments was written either to overrule a Supreme Court decision, to force societal change, or to revise details of the existing Constitution. The Constitution is an evolving document that some believe is “a living constitution that was written so it could adapt to a changing nation” (Huey-Burns, 2010). Additionally, many of the modern day issues we face such as same-sex marriage, healthcare and insurance policy, and immigration reform, have deep constitutional roots.
Amendments are crucial because they give us a mechanism to update and reflect changes in time and public opinion. The process of amending the Constitution fulfills a crucial part of the checks and balance system of our government. In essence, if something is deemed unconstitutional, the legislative branch or the public has a way of making it constitutional. This helps to prevent any other branch of our government from “running away” with authority.
Our founding fathers had the goal of creating a strong, fair, and lasting government for the new America. This country was born from a desire to escape the monarchy of England, with its arbitrary rules, concentration of power in a few, and ability to pass laws and actions that were not necessarily agreed to by the people that they were affecting. It is this desire that made the checks and balances system so important. The Continental Congress did not want another King or Queen. They wanted a fair, representative system in which the American people had the ultimate say in electing leaders and voting on laws. The amendment process is not easy and obviously has not happened often in history. The constitutional framers must have been confident in the rules that they created to ensure that a potential amendment would not be taken lightly. Temporary political trends or popular whims are not enough to create a change to our constitution; a major, lasting change must be needed and agreed upon by all. This way, our governing document can keep up with the times while still remaining strong.
Several amendments in the Bill of Rights provide protection to defendants, and in my opinion the Sixth Amendment provides the most. “The Sixth Amendment is the repository of some of the oldest rights protected by the Constitution which guarantees no less than eight rights to criminal defendants which are: the right to a speedy trial; the right to a public trial; the right to an impartial jury; the right to a trial in the judicial district in which the crime was committed; the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; the right to confront witnesses; and the right to have assistance of counsel for one’s defense” (George Mason Law Review, 2011).
If not for the Sixth Amendment, persons accused of crimes could be treated inhumanely in a number of ways. For example, without having the right to a speedy trial, defendants could spend an indefinite period of time imprisoned before receiving a trial. Unqualified or inept representation in court, as well as a biased or unfair jury could also be undesirable results if not for this amendment. Having laws in place protecting defendants allows our nation to maintain a fair...
References: Huey-Burns, C. (2010, December). Reintroduce Yourself to the Constitution. U.S. News and World Report. 147(11), 60.
Patrick, J. (2001). Amendments to the Constitution. Oxford University Press
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