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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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Caroline Peterson

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