Elected public servants, police officers, the military and other public sector employees take an oath of alliance to the Constitution and not a person when they are hired or start their jobs. Why is this important?
•Articles of Confederation (Ratified 1781)
During the Revolutionary War, the American states started considering the form of government they wish to attain following the War. On June 11, 1776 the Second Continental Congress appointed three committees in response to the Lee Resolution. One committee, created to determine the form of confederation of the colonies, was composed on one representative from each colony with John Dickinson, a delegate from Delaware, as the principal writer.
The Dickerson Draft named the Confederation “the United States of America”, provided for a Congress with representation based on population, and gave to the national government all powers not designated to the states.
The Articles of Confederation were adopted by Congress on November 1777. The Articles were finally ratified by last of the 13 American states, Maryland, in 1781 and became the ruling document of the nation.
The state governments retained most of the power under the Articles, with little power give to the central government. Congress, for example, had to rely upon the states for its funds and for the executed of its decrees. The central government received little respect and was not able to accomplish much because it had little authority over the states of individuals in America.
Procedure for amending the CONSTITUTION
The current procedure for amending the Constitution is to have the proposed amendment resolution pass both the United States Senate and House by two-thirds vote and have 75% of the states ratify the amendment within a set time period. The other method for starting a constitutional amendment is to have two-thirds of the states to call for a Constitutional Convention to pass an amendment resolution and then have 75% of the state legislatures ratify the amendment.
The first ten amendments to the CONSTITUION “Bill of Rights”
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 to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
•The government cannot help or hurt any religion. They cannot make any person believe or practice any religion, nor can they stop any person from believing or practicing any religion. Non-belief in religion is also permissible.
•The government cannot make someone, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or Christian, nor can they stop someone from being one. The government can stop a person from a religious practice if hurts someone. The ancient Aztec belief of human sacrifice to the sun god would not be permitted by the Constitution.
Freedom of Speech/Press
•Freedom of Speech does not mean that a person can say whatever they want to say. Freedom of Speech means that someone’s right to say something is protected within certain limits. A person may have to suffer consequences for saying some things. For example is against the law to yell “Fire” in a crowded place because it could harm others. A person cannot say things or put comments in print that they know are not true. The issue of slander and libel has been used in these cases. What about Blogs, are they protected speech?
•There are also cases for conflicts concerning viewpoints expressed in books, magazines and newspapers. The author of such publications are protected under the first amendment, just because some people may not like what you have to say does not mean you do not the right to say it. Can the public ban books from libraries or limit the use of the internet?
Freedom of Assembly
•The right to peacefully assemble means that someone can gather together with others without fear from the government that they are a mob. Has the events of September 11th changed the right to assemble? Why did the founders of the Constitution put the right to assemble in the 1st amendment?
•People can get together with whomever they want as longs as they are peaceful and not causing trouble. This applies to all groups, even if people do not like these groups. The government can request to have a “march permit” if there are large crowds and or public access is a concern.
•Citizens also have a right to complain to the government about issues they do not support. The government even provides a way to change those issues, by way of petition. If there is a law or policy that citizens do not like they can gather signature on petitions. These petitions are then used in some states to place initiatives on a ballot and the people can vote about whether to change the law.
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 Right to Bear Arms
•At the time of the Revolution, there was a strong mistrust of the government of Great Britain. Colonists knew that the only way to protect them for the same type of tyranny in the future was for citizens to be able to form a militia to protect their freedom.
•When the Bill of Rights was written, this protection was included. Since that time there has been a disagreement among constitutional scholars about where this right was for the individual citizens to protect themselves or for states to maintain a military presence. Does this amendment allow for the formation of a posse to assist law enforcement agencies?
•Some people believe that the government is the enemy, and citizens must continue to protect themselves. What do you think about the Ruby Ridge and Waco incidents between law enforcement officials and private citizens?
•Some believe that the level of violence is so high in the US because the number of guns available is too high, and too many people have guns.
•The government can and does regulate guns. There are laws about gun ownership, registration, permits, transportation of guns, and the sale of guns.
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owners, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
•During the Colonial Period, colonists were forced to let British soldiers sleep in their homes and eat their meals. Colonists were outraged and the more they protested the more harsh were the British in upholding this law. After the War the citizens never wanted to have this practice happen again. Is there any chance that in today’s world that that our government would force soldiers to live in our homes?
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.
•The police cannot search one’s person (body), house, papers, or effect (other things) without having a good reason. They cannot take anything from someone without good reason. What is a good reason?
•Unreasonable searches and seizures are those that are without cause, actually without probable cause. Probable cause means that the police have good reason to believe that someone has broken the law.
•The police cannot do anything until they convince a judge that they have problem cause, and then they can get a warrant which gives them permission to search. Does the “Patriot Act” eliminate the need for a warrant?
•After the police convince a judge that a crime has been committed, a warrant is issued. The search warrant must say what is to be searched (house, car, person), when it is to be searched, what they expect to find and the warrant must be signed by a judge.
•The 4th amendment is the reason for police asking permission to come into your home or to search your car. Should you allow police to search your car?
•The police can arrest someone without a warrant when there are special circumstances. For example, if they are chasing someone from the scene of a crime, or they catch someone in the act of a crime, they do not have do have to have a warrant. After they arrest someone they must convince the judge that they had “probable cause” to arrest them.
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, not be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
•Nobody can be put on trail for a very serious crime, unless a group of people called a grand jury first decide that there is enough evidence to make a trail necessary. Why do you think the writers of the Constitution felt this part of the 5th Amendment was necessary?
Civilian and Military Justice
•When there is enough evidence for a crime an indictment is issued which means that the person charged with the crime will be put on trial for that crime. However, people in the military can be put on trial without an indictment or a grand jury, if they commit a crime during war or a national emergency. Do you think United States military courts are the same as civilian courts?
•If someone is put on trial for a crime and the trial ends without a guilty verdict or a mistrial, they cannot be tried for the same crime. Double jeopardy would occur If the accused party is convicted and they serve their time, or if they are acquitted; they may not be put on trial again for the same offense. Why do you think double jeopardy concept is important for citizen’s rights?
Compelled to Testify against one self
•The government cannot make someone testify against themselves. The accused party may testify if they choose but the government cannot force them to testify against themselves. What could happen in a courtroom if the government were allowed to force a person to testify against themselves?
•The government cannot take away someone’s life, freedom, or property without following a series of steps that allow for a fair chance to counter the government’s claim.
•Due Process is the procedure which makes sure that everyone gets treated the same. No matter who someone is they should be treated fairly by the police, the courts, and the government.
The Government’s acquisition of private property
•The government cannot take away someone’s property without paying them for it in some way. If the state wanted to build a new road through a property they must pay a “fair” price for the land.
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.
Speedy and Public Trial
•The accused has the right to a quick trial. This does not mean that their trail must be over in one week. This means that the state cannot make them sit in jail for five years while they wait to have their trial. If the accused if found guilty of the crime the time already served in jail waiting trail may be taken off the length of the sentence.
•The accused also has the right to a public trail. The state cannot put them in a warehouse and question them about the crime. The trial must be available to the public so that others can see the proceedings and ensure a proper and fair trial. Does a public trail really make that much of a difference in our society today?
Impartial Jury and trial held where crime committed
•The trial must be held by an impartial jury. The jurors cannot be prejudiced against the accused or the crime that they have been accused of; biased jury could lead to a mistrial.
The trial must be held in the area where the crime was committed to protect the accused. The trial could be moved, change of venue, if pre-trial publicity is overwhelming that holding a fair trial would be difficult in the same location. Can you think of a recent public trial that had a change of venue?
Informed of the charges and right to face accusers
•The accused has the right to know what they are being charged with and why they are being held in jail.
•The accused also has the right to know who is saying that they have committed the crime and the right to ask them questions.
Compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor and to have the assistance of an attorney
•The accused has the right to force anyone to come to their trail that they believe can help their case the court can force someone to come to court by issuing a summons or subpoena. The person under summons or subpoena must attend the trial and testify under the law.
•The accused also has the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney then the court will appoint one to serve as your attorney. This element of the 6th amendment is often referred to as the “Miranda rights”
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 Unites States, than according to the rules of the common law.
•In the 1700s twenty dollars was a lot of more money than it is today; inflation. Now, for any dispute involving less than $1,500 small claims court will hand the case without a jury.
•United States law forbids anyone from setting up their own court system. If someone goes to court, they will always go to a recognized court of the government, be it a national, state, county, or city court. What about Judge Judy’s TV courtroom?
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed
•The courts cannot assign the accused an excessive amount for bail. If they could, then a judge might look at someone and decide if they look guilty and the make the bail 10 million dollars.
oBail is a sum of money or property give to the court as a promise that the accused will return for their trial. If the accused fails to show up for their trail, they could lose their bail.
oBail is assigned on the type of crime committed and the likelihood that the accused will return for their trial. The greater the seriousness of the crime will increase the amount of bail.
oBail allows time for the accused to prepare for their defense, which is hard to do while in jail.
•Many people accused of a crime do not have the money for bail so they get a bail bondsman. The bondsman provides the money for bail (for a fee), and may send a bounty hunter to find the bailee if “skip” town and do not show up for their trial, which causes the bail bondsman to lose money. Do think a reality TV show having bounty hunters go after people would be interesting?
Nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted
•No cruel or unusual punishments are allowed according to this amendment. The problem is what exactly are cruel and unusual punishments? When the Constitution was written people were sometimes quartered by horses, strangle, burned, branded, disemboweled or had their hands cut off. Some people actually had to sit in stocks so others could make fun of them.
•Today states use the gas chamber, lethal injection, firing squad or other means for death penalty cases. Capital punishment or execution is still argued about today. Each state decides whether or not to have executions and the methods. The United States Supreme Court in 1976 that the death penalty was constitutional.
The enumeration in the CONSTITUTION, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
It is still a mystery about which rights James Madison had in mind when he wrote the 9th amendment.
•It assures people that there are rights that members of a free society are entitle to, although neither Madison nor any of the found gathers ever stated what they thought these rights would be.
•Some people believe that they include the so-called natural rights including life, liberty, and property, or the right to pursue happiness.
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 powers of the states
•Items not covered by the Constitution nor denied to the states can be regulated by the states.
•Examples: rules for marriages, divorces, driving licenses, voting, state taxes, job and school requirements, rules for police and fire departments and many others.