An Overview of Constitutional Amendments
"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 grievances."
Proving to be one the most important and fundamental rights granted to the people by the Constitution, the First Amendment allows for some of the most basic freedoms to be respected by the law. Even though the First Amendment rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, they have also been the subject of interpretation by the Supreme Court in the actual application of the text into law. Various Supreme Court cases have revolved around the interpretation and application of the First Amendment in the United States and have provided for a more strict definition of the scope of its purpose.
"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."
Proven to be one of the most controversial among the Amendments made to the Constitution, the Second Amendment gives the right to Americans to possess, purchase, and own firearms for protection. In recent years, the interpretation of the Constitutional text by gun rights activists and gun control supporters has been one of the key issues regarding firearms in the United States.
Much debate has been directed to the clause regarding the institution of a Militia, for such an application in today's terms seems to be very vague. The issue has been met with a seemingly eternal deadlock between both factions, garnering very little advance for either side on the topic.
"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."
The Third Amendment is arguably the only one made to the Constitution that has very little to no impact in today's United States. The Founding Fathers included this provision as a reflection of the times in Colonial America, in which the Quartering Act demanded that soldiers be offered quarters in private dwellings without permission or consent of the owner. Though it was an obvious attempt to deter tyrannical actions such as the abuse of British military regarding the Quartering Act, the Third Amendment is considered to be obsolete in current times. Even though the Third Amendment was the subject of a court case in recent years, the application, as it was originally intended, has been largely disregarded.
"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 Fourth Amendment was added to the Constitution of the United States due to the abuse of British military officials of conducting illegal searches and seizures during the Revolutionary War. Though it was implemented as a direct result of occurrences during that time period, the Fourth Amendment still proves to be one of the most important rights granted to citizens that protect them from the abuse of power from officials in positions of authority.
In the Supreme Court case of Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court would rule that the Fourth Amendment is to also apply to the States in accordance with the provisions within the Fourteenth Amendment.
"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."
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution is one of the most important to be included in the Bill of Rights. The provisions contained within protect Americans from unfair abuse of power by Government officials or institutions in the case of legal procedures.
"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 where in 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 defence."
The Sixth Amendment provides for several protections and rights to any person that has been arrested or is facing criminal charges or prosecution. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court has furthered extended the provisions to also apply to the states per the Due Process clause. There are six distinct rights and protections detailed within: Speedy trial, Public trial, Impartial jury, Notice of accusation, Confrontation, and Counsel.
"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 re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
The United States allows for the right to a jury trial in a civil trial setting under certain circumstances under the Seventh Amendment. Unlike many of the Amendments found in the Bill of Rights, the Supreme Court has not yet enforced the states to adhere to these provisions as per the Fourteenth Amendment. The main purpose behind the Seventh Amendment was to protect those faced with criminal charges from judges. Even though the legislation is a reflection of judges that were often corrupt and abused their power in those times prior to the Constitution, it still remains relevant today.
"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
This Amendment to the Constitution protects the rights of criminals and allows for a certain limit to the punishment that is incurred if found guilty of a crime. Though the text itself does not provide for specific definitions regarding to what extent a fine may be deemed "excessive" or what constitutes a type of punishment as "cruel" or "unusual," these factors would be decided later in Supreme Court cases.
For the general purposes, any particular punishment that inflicts an extraordinary amount of pain and can only be viewed as a form of torture will be deemed as cruel and unusual. In terms of bail or fines, any amount that would essentially render the individual incapable of supporting him/herself or their immediate family or function in society is deemed as excessive.
"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
The Ninth Amendment was a concerted effort by the Founding Fathers to further protect the citizens of the United States from the Government. Its inclusion into law provided for rights to the people that were not necessarily or strictly addressed in the Constitution, but should nevertheless, not be infringed upon due to their exclusion. It was an attempt to make the listing of the people's rights extremely concise and accessible, rather than providing for an extensive listing of all the rights the people have under the Constitution. It also prevents the Government from abusing its power and imposing restrictions on those rights simply because that are not included in the text of the Constitution. It has also been deemed to be important in interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment regarding the limitations imposed on the states by the Federal Government.
"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 is a reaffirmation of the Framers of the Constitution to create a Federal Government for the United States. It provides for all of those powers or authority not strictly vested in the national Federal Government and not strictly restricted to the states, granted to the States or the people of the United States.
In recent applications, the Tenth Amendment has been used in relation to the Commerce Clause that has allowed for Congress to maintain authority over certain aspects of commerce in order to provide for a stronger central economy. Though the Tenth Amendment has rarely been used in terms of declaring something as unconstitutional, it has been used in the interpretation of other Amendments, as well as with respect to the extent of authority of the Federal Government.
"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."
The first of the Amendments to follow the Bill of Rights, the Eleventh Amendment establishes the concept of a State's Sovereign Immunity. It protects the states from being sued in a Federal court, and was a response to a Supreme Court Case, Chisholm v. Georgia. The Eleventh Amendment also reinforced Article 3 of the Constitution, providing for a more precise definition of the judicial branch's powers regarding cases between a state and another state's citizens. The Eleventh Amendment also protects the States from being sued and held liable for monetary damages or relief unless their consent is given.
"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 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."
"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."
The Thirteenth Amendment has proven to be one of the most important pieces of legislation to be included in the United States Constitution. As the need to abolish slavery in the United States became eminent, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which allowed for the freedom of slaves throughout the Union. However, Lincoln along with other officials, believed that the best way to enforce the abolishing of slavery was to include it as an Amendment to the Constitution.
The Thirteenth Amendment would mark the first time in which African-Americans would have their natural born rights as humans recognized in this country by law.
"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."
"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 legislation."
The Fifteenth Amendment stated that race could not be used as a factor to deny an individual the right to vote. Furthermore, it also prohibited any previous condition regarding slavery or servitude from being used as a reason to deny the right to vote to a person.
Even though the provisions of the Fifteenth Amendment extend to all races, it is deemed to have been applied to African-Americans and previous slaves in the United States. Though introduced into law, this Amendment would be met by much opposition from previous slave owners, and particularly in the Southern states.
"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."
The Sixteenth Amendment gives the expressed power of the taxation of income to the Congress of the United States. This particular income tax would not be subject or based on Census results and did not have to be apportioned among the States themselves. Many opposed the provisions in the Sixteenth Amendment, for many believed it would allow Congress too much power in taxation decisions, and furthermore, give too much power to the Federal Government.
However, the reasoning for the Sixteenth Amendment derived out of an overall consent regarding the economic power that many of the wealthy elite in the United States had garnered over the years. A taxation on income would help provide for a certain amount of control regarding the power and authority these people had in the commercial world as well as on the national economy.
"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.
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.
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."
"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."
The Eighteenth Amendment prohibits the sale or usage of any beverage that contains alcohol and can produce intoxication. The Eighteenth Amendment is the only one to ever be repealed, which was done through the Twenty First Amendment. The only type of alcohol that was permissible for use was that which was used for religious occasions or purposes.
"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."
The Nineteenth Amendment can be said to be a result of the Women's Suffrage Movement that was occurring around the 1920s. Prior to this Amendment to the United States Constitution, women had not been granted the right to vote. It would be among the first pieces of legislation passed that would claim a victory for the Women's Rights Movement. It was originally proposed in 1918, with the support of President Woodrow Wilson, but would fail to be passed in the Senate by only three votes. The Nineteenth Amendment would not be ratified until 1920.
"Section 1. The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.
Section 2. The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.
Section 3. If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.
Section 4. The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.
Section 5. Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.
Section 6. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission."
"Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.
Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress."
The Twenty First Amendment to the Constitution would be the only one to be made to repeal a previous Amendment: the Eighteenth. Even though the Eighteenth Amendment had good intentions in place, it would actually lead to an increase in crime due to the illegal manufacture and transportation of alcohol and the rise of speakeasies.
"Section 1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.
Section 2. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States by the Congress."
"Section 1. The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct:
A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article using appropriate legislation."
Even though the Twenty-Third Amendment would grant the citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote in Presidential Elections, it still would not allow for them to send representatives to Congress.
"Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
The Twenty Fourth Amendment is in response to certain actions that were being taken by some states regarding voting practices that have their legacy dating back to the time of the Fourteenth Amendment. When African-Americans and former slaves obtained the right to vote, there were many unsatisfied individuals with the new legislation. As a way to keep African-Americans from reaching the polls, they implemented certain procedures, such as a poll tax, that would make it extremely hard for them to be able to vote. This Amendment to the Constitution makes such practices illegal in the United States.
"Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
Section 2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.
Section 3. Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.
Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President. Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office."
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the Constitution was adopted to an overwhelming response that resulted out of student activism protesting the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. Many students believed that if they were old enough to fight in a war, then they certainly deserved the right to vote for Government officials in their country. Even though certain states held lower age requirements than the rest of the nation, the majority of states required that an individual be at least 21 years of age in order to vote.
"No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened."
The Twenty-Seventh Amendment implements a restriction of Congress members of increasing their wages upon them entering office. This would obviously reflect a conflict of interest, and a limit had to be made by passing legislation forbidding it. However, salary increases may still be made, but are not to be implemented until the next election term.
This Amendment actually has its roots dating back to the First Congress of the United States and was one of the original Amendments of what were to become the Bill of Rights. It remained unratified until 1992, when Alabama became the last necessary State to enact the proposed Amendment into law. It was a result of a student who wrote a paper on the subject which brought attention back to the forgotten unratified Amendment.