Quick Summary of the Bill of Rights
In our last article, we discussed the first five amendments of the Bill of Rights. Here, we will discuss the last five Amendments.
If you are short on time, here is a quick overview of Amendments 6-10:
- The Sixth Amendment lists out several rights of the criminally accused including the right to a speedy trial, the right to counsel for their defense, the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him, and more.
- The Seventh Amendment shares that certain cases tried by a jury shall not be tried by another court unless prescribed by law.
- The Eighth Amendment protects against excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.
- The Ninth Amendment states the Constitution does not list all the rights and may protect other rights not listed.
- Finally, the Tenth Amendment gives State and local government power if that power is not delegated to the federal government.
The Sixth Amendment has led to many legal cases concerning the rights of the criminally accused. Below is a list of every protection provided to the criminally accused.
- A speedy trial
- A public trial
- An impartial jury
- Tried in the district where the crime was committed (the district is drawn by law)
- Information is provided concerning the charges
- Witnesses must testify in front of the accused
- The compulsion of obtaining witnesses in favor of the accused is allowed
- Counsel for the defense is provided
Each point has led to several constitutional questions. For instance, a public trial implies that the press can be present at the trial. But what if a trial becomes so public it becomes difficult for the defense to present a case? Are there ways to minimize press distractions without infringing on the right to a public trial?
These questions and others will be addressed in other articles.
In suits at common law (if the controversy is more than 20 dollars), there is still a right to trial by jury. Any matter resolved by the jury may not be reexamined by another court unless common law says it can.
The biggest key to understanding this Amendment is to understand the difference between common law and statutory law.
Statutory law is codified (written down). Statutory law is a list of compiled legislation that has been passed by local, state, or federal governments.
Common law, on the other hand, is not codified (written) and can be traced back to England. Instead of relying on rules and statutes from legislation, common law relies on precedent (previous court decisions).
Thus, a right to a jury, and the reexamination of their decisions depends on the precedent established by common law.
The Eighth Amendment protects the convicted from excessive bail, fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.
For the most part, this Amendment is pretty straightforward. Discussions about bail and fines typically lack controversy. However, many cases have sought to understand cruel and unusual punishment in association with capital punishment (the death penalty). The topic can often become very heated. We will address the debate in another article.
The text of the Ninth Amendment states, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
To understand the Amendment the terms “enumeration” and “disparage” needs to be defined.
Enumeration is the act of listing out things one by one.
Disparage is to regard something as having little worth.
This Amendment warns people from saying, “if a right is not listed in the Constitution, the right is not protected.” In other words, the rights listed in the constitution cannot be used to deny or lessen the value of other rights to the people.
Historically, the courts have used this Amendment to protect the right to privacy, a right not listed in any place within the Constitution (although alluded to in the Fourth Amendment).
Finally, the Tenth Amendment states that if power is not given to the federal government by the Constitution, those powers are given to state and local governments. This is true unless the Constitution prohibits States from having certain powers.
I want to reemphasize the importance of the Bill of Rights for the continued success of the Constitution. Because these Amendments were ratified, the people have been protected from government overreach several times throughout history. If these Amendments had not been passed, our country would look very different today. These Amendments are a part of the Constitution, not a separate document. They must be preserved to continue preserving the other parts of the Constitution.
A Quick Note
Read our previous article about the first five amendments of the Bill of Rights by clicking here.
We have another debate coming next week. To prepare, review our debate format by reading our previous debate here.
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