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The Ninth Amendment

This amendment protects rights not enumerated in the Constitution.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Americans like their rights. It’s no secret that one of the foundational concepts of this country is the protection of certain inalienable rights held against the government. Such rights were initially enumerated in the first ten constitutional amendments, known as the Bill of Rights.

The Ninth Amendment is conceptually interesting. It arose from concerns that clearly spelling out what each of our individual rights were would limit them and allow the government to violate other possible rights we may hold that were not included in the Constitution. By specifying what exact claims the people have against the state, other claims could be denied because they are not included in the exclusive list. While the Bill of Rights gives us clear protections, such clarity can limit what tactful vagueness could otherwise encompass.

The Ninth Amendment does not give us any specific rights; rather, it provides guidance in how to interpret our rights. Our specific rights need to be federally recognized to protect us from specific state abuses. However, the Ninth Amendment allows for interpretive “wiggle room” so that other possible rights we may hold (existing perhaps as a result of basic, conventional moral thinking) are not disregarded because they are not on paper.

In the famous Roe v. Wade case of 1973 that gave women the right to have abortions, the District Court ruled that the right to have an abortion was protected by the Ninth Amendment, which presumed that there were specific rights that this amendment entailed. While it is conceptually problematic to call it a “Ninth Amendment right,” (since the Ninth Amendment is an interpretive rule, not a signifier of a concrete protection), it still provided some interpretive freedom. While the Bill of Rights did not specifically give women the right to terminate their pregnancies, it did protect personal liberty, and the right to an abortion can be considered an important part of one’s personal liberty. The Ninth Amendment allowed for this broader interpretation of personal liberty and protection against intrusive state action.
It is crucial to understand that the Constitution must be open to interpretation. It is a living document that grows, changes, and develops with American society, and the Ninth Amendment allows for such flexibility. The Constitution is a human creation, the best attempt at solidifying the protection of specific liberties; but it is not infallible, and as we grow as a nation, new issues will arise, are constantly arising, that require us to utilize the broad possible interpretations that the Ninth Amendment allows for.

 

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Happy Birthday, Mr. President

child-sea_1106771iThe 44th President of the United States turns 54 today!

President Barack Obama was born on August 4 in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961 (that explains the picture to the left) and will celebrate his birthday at the White House in Washington with his family.

He has many reasons to celebrate, this has certainly been his year and things don’t seem to be slowing down at all. His speech stating that America was now truly the “Land of the Free” after same-sex marriage legalization throughout the United States will always be remembered. Recently announcing that he would be commuting the prison sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders is something that will definitely change the criminal justice system. He was even interviewed by YouTube stars to let the people of the Internet hear everything they wanted to know. He’s definitely everywhere!

What else can we say? Well, in case you haven’t sent him a card yet, there’s nothing to worry about because you can wish him a Happy Birthday online. You can visit this link to let him know he is in your thoughts.

And we hope the President has a day full of fun doing some of his favorite activities. Do you know his favorite hobbies? Here’s a little gallery that might answer your question (you can click on the images to enlarge.)

If you think the President has fun drinking a good cold beer, practicing sports, and fist bumping, then you were right. Well, these might not be exactly his favorite ones but we are sure he enjoys them. Happy Birthday Mr. President!

 
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The Seventh Amendment

This amendment provides for the right to trial by jury in certain civil cases, according to common law.

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.

It’s common to hear people grumbling about being called upon for jury duty. While it can certainly interfere with your plans, a trial by jury is an important right that we all have as American citizens, to be judged by our peers for our crimes and to have their findings be protected from any overturning by a court of law.

With a minimum requirement of six jury members for a trial, It’s relatively clear what the advantage is when multiple people view evidence and come to a verdict; having multiple opinions counted for the same set of evidence surely increases the probability that the verdict will be accurate. Likewise, there is less room for bias when multiple points of view are counted. One’s case will not be subjected solely to the discretion of one judge, with all the prejudices and faults in judgement that all human beings have, regardless of officiality or professional status. The trial by jury is a practical application of the concept of government of the people and for the people, since ordinary citizens comprise the decision-making apparatus, what would otherwise be a state-affiliated entity, for the sake of other ordinary citizens.

The findings of the jury are protected from being overturned by the court; that is, the court cannot circumvent the jury’s discretion and impose its own verdict. The judgement of ordinary American citizens is given authority over the court, giving power to the people and preventing the state from having too much disciplinary and discretionary power.

However, the concept of the trial by jury is not a perfect idea. It’s quite obvious that, even when multiple points of view are incorporated into a decision-making process, widespread societal and cultural biases can taint the judgement of the jury and lead to false convictions (need I reference To Kill a Mockingbird again?). Courts of law can be bound by these same biases, as they are not immune to cultural influence, but theoretically, they are supposed to come from a position of neutrality and rule according to the facts of the case. It’s a laughable idea to imagine a completely unbiased entity comprised of human beings (who are always experts at being needlessly prejudiced), but surely one can consider professionalism and adherence to formal procedure and protocol principles that are, to some degree, held by state and court officials and judges.
Regardless of its fallibility, however, I hold the right to a trial by jury in high regard. It is a system of justice in which members of society make decisions instead of powerful legal entities, an important part of the free state.

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