September 17, 2023
The U.S. Constitution is the bedrock of American democracy. At the time of it's writing, the idea of a people declaring the rights, and limitations, of their government and people was incredibly unique. The closest comparison would be the Twelve Tables of Roman law that set forth the duties and rights of Roman citizens and the English Magna Carta of 1215 that limited the power of the king in regards to free Englishmen and nobles.
Our founders attempted to protect future generations of Americans from the excesses of power they had suffered in the lead up to the American Revolution and to also set forth the obligations and duties owed by all Americans to their new Republic. Even more genius was the inclusion of rules for amending the Constitution in a constantly changing world, a right that was immediately employed with the addition of the Bill of Rights, or the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Today, we celebrate the founding document of our nation. In honor of Constitution Day 2023, please enjoy the following essays written by Professor John Brown and political science students. Students were asked to choose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution and write a paragraph about its significance. These are opinion pieces written by free American citizens as they continue to enjoy the rights bequeathed to them by our Founding Generation. Below are their words.
“The First Amendment is a bedrock on which our society is based. It protects five rights: freedom of religion, speech, to peacefully assemble and the press, and protects the rights of citizens to petition government. Though we Americans take these right for granted today, most people in world history—and many people today—do not enjoy these rights. It is a testament to the wisdom of the authors that the First Amendment is included in the Constitution.”—John Brown, Associate Professor
“Our Second Amendment is arguably the most hotly debated amendment in the U.S Constitution today, especially in the wake of multiple mass shooting scattered throughout the U.S. Many have called for more gun restrictions, such as a ban on ARs to name one example. The Second Amendment states, ‘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.’ This amendment basically grants the American people the right to keep and bear arms to protect themselves, their families, and their friends from threats both foreign and domestic. This Amendment is important because it is a deterrent, so to speak, from a tyrannical government, which was one of the reasons the Founders put it there in the first place. While the chances of a dictator or foreign power controlling or occupying the U.S is very unlikely in this day and age, the fact remains that the Second Amendment is there to defend ourselves and our families. To conclude, when seconds count in a violent situation, the police are minutes away.”—Clifford Vowell
“The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution states, ‘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 to things to be seized.’ In essence, law enforcement does not possess the right to search someone’s home, car, body, or other personal possessions unless they go before a judge with a viable reason and get a search warrant. Today, this amendment is important as it is another that has not changed with the times and can now be considered quite a grey area, especially when it comes to what applies as personal property. Social media, computer files, and online search history are just a few of the controversies. Do law enforcement have rights to look through someone’s social media without a warrant? Is monitoring someone’s web activity considered a violation of someone’s privacy? As the amendment was written in the 1700s, there are no definitive answers to these questions.”—Shaelyn Deal
“The 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides the people with many rights regarding civil and criminal proceedings. The most popular right promised by the Amendment is the right to remain silent. The Amendment also ensures the following: access to a grand jury in capital crimes; prohibition on being charged twice for the same offense; due process in court proceedings; and just compensation if the government seizes property from you. Concepts for what finally became the Amendment derived from British Common Law and the Magna Carta. James Madison was the founding father who suggested incorporating such features. Three-fourths of the states ratified the 5th Amendment on December 15, 1791, in the Bill of Rights.”—Eli Anderson
“The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution which states, ‘Excessive bail, shall not be required, nor excessive fines exposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.’ This amendment protects US citizens from torture or even excessive fines and bail amounts when found guilty for a crime. This amendment is used mostly in today’s court and legal system to protect criminals from getting punishments that are too harsh or unreasonable for their sentencings.
The Eighth Amendment is usually most known and used in today’s conversation with capital punishment, also known as the death penalty. In most states, the death penalty is still legal when it comes to lethal injection and the electric chair in several states, but there are several states that have not used it as punishment for their criminals despite being legal in those states. Some states have even deemed capital punishment as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and have made capital punishment illegal.
The Eighth amendment is used in today’s systems to protect those who are criminally accused and to keep a check on the legal system from giving them too much power.”—Student wishes to remain anonymous
“The 11th Amendment essentially protects states from being sued by a person or persons in another state or country. It eliminates and prohibits federal courts from hearing cases that contradict that idea. Come to be known as “sovereign immunity”, this amendment was in response to several court cases such as Chisholm v. Georgia in which Alexander Chisholm attempted to sue the state of Georgia over payments due to him during the Revolutionary War. The passing of the 11th Amendment was a step away from federalism and gave power back to the states. The U.S. is strong due to its states. State empowerment is both beneficial and necessary to the prosperity of our nation.”—Hayden Brooks
“The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in1868, and it gave citizenship to all people born in the, Untied States. This gave citizenship to the former slaves born in the Untied States. So, that means they would have all the rights a citizen would have. For example, equal protection of the law. This was a part of granting rights to former slaves.”—Bailey Richesin
“The Fifteenth Amendment was adopted into the US Constitution in 1870 and it gave black people the right to vote. It was also the last reconstruction Amendment. After the Amendment passed, discrimination was still very present towards people of color and other people had ways of preventing them from voting. Especially in the South. Despite a lot of discrimination, the Amendment was very important because it permanently ended slavery in the US.”—Rebekah Conlee
“The Twenty-sixth Amendment prohibits using age as a reason for denying the right to vote. It grants any citizen 18 or older the right to vote. I think that anyone over 18 should be able to vote, especially given that young men of that age were being drafted at the time. The Twenty-sixth Amendment was proposed to Congress on March 23, 1971, and was ratified on July 1, 1971.”—Cecelia Culbertson
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