Quick Civics Lesson on Constitutional Rights (4th thru 26th)

paulsen-poster-lgIf like me, you get frustrated when candidates talk about the Constitution yet seem to support positions which deny people their Constitutional rights, maybe you’re appreciate a simple brush-up on our Constitutional rights. I’m a Social Studies teacher and I’m here to help. Whether you consider yourself on the left, right or squarely in the center, I hope you’ll get something out of this review of the Constitutional Amendments.

If you’re interested, I’ve already reviewed the Constitution proper, the First Amendment, and the Second Amendment earlier on this blog. As I offered on both of those previous posts, you don’t have to take my word for it- look it up yourself, here’s a link to the Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendments. And remember, when you amend the Constitution, you’ve added to it and changed it. All the of the amendments therefore ARE part of the Constitution. These ARE the supreme law of the land, they’re not just things a bunch of civil rights activists campaigned for.

  • FOURTH Amendment- The right to privacy (“to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”) without search warrants and probable cause. This is something that takes on whole new meaning now that “papers and effects” are no longer paper. Who owns your data? Your phone carrier? You Internet Service Provider? The Patriot Act after 9/11 basically gave the government free reign to hold on to all our texts, emails and cell phone calls onto computer servers.  I like to think of this as the “lost amendment.” Teens and Millennials tend to take for granted that they’ve forfeited their rights to privacy through Facebook and SnapChat anyway, so whatchyagonnado if the government violates it too?
  • FIFTH- This is the famous “right to remain silent” because people tend to take things out of context and use what you say against you. “On advice of counsel, I plead the Fifth,” is good advice for those accused of crimes as well as those called to testify before Congressional committees.
  • SIXTH- This is the amendment that essentially says that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It’s also the one that contains most of the “Miranda Rights” read to you when you’re arrested. Bottom line, when it comes to criminal justice, this amendment lays out the “due process” mentioned in the 14th Amendment. One question is though, what about immigrants or suspected terrorists, are they entitled to the same due process that U.S. citizens are? Another HUGE question is, what happens when people are denied due process? Is it due to corruption, inadequate funding, an over loaded system, or is there a problem with systematized and institutionalized racism? What about poverty? Is the system stacked against the working poor?
  • EIGHTH- No cruel and unusual punishment or unreasonable bail. This not only makes scrutiny of mass incarceration and for-profit corrections institutions and the abuse of solitary confinement and the death penalty all important- but it REALLY makes clear that torture is illegal. But since 9/11, many Americans have decided that torture (AKA “extreme rendition”) is okay if it either punishes or prevents terrorism. So what on the surface seems like a straight forward right- to not be tortured, is a very controversial amendment.
  • NINTH- “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This was James Madison’s way of repeating what Jefferson had implied in the Declaration of Independence when he said “AMONG THESE are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In other words- just because some rights have been spelled out in the Constitution doesn’t mean that there aren’t MORE human rights. See also the Iowa Bill of Rights and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights- both of these documents include similar statements.
  • TENTH- Libertarians, Confederates and Tea Party members LOVE this one, bottom line, it says that whatever
  • 13th- Abolished slavery (outlawed it) and yet  according to www.freetheslaves.net “Researchers estimate that 21 to 36 million are enslaved worldwide, generating $150 billion each year in illicit profits for traffickers.” In fact, as recently as 2003 the Washington Post reported that there are nearly 60,000 slaves being held in the United States itself. Often, refugees and immigrants desperate to come to the U.S. for a better life are indebted to human smugglers either as modern day indentured servants or sex workers.
  • 14th- Some Constitutional scholars think that this one is the most important, or at least tied with the First Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees ALL citizens equal treatment, thereby protecting minorities. First it extended citizenship to the former slaves freed by the 13th Amendment after the Civil War. It did that by stating that anyone born in the U.S. is automatically a citizen. Some staunch conservatives hate that because they fear that illegal immigrants take advantage of it to have their “anchor babies” here, in hopes of being more likely to be granted citizenship themselves as the parents of citizens.

    Then, it “nationalized” the Bill of Rights, which means that those amendments not only protected citizens from potential abuse by the Federal government, but the same limits were also applied to state and local governments. This means that if/when a state or local law violates your rights, you can appeal to the Federal government to intervene. (See the 15th Amendment below). Libertarians and Tea Party loyalists fear that the national government is something you need protection from, but some progressives and civil rights activists see the 14th Amendment as a way to ask the Federal government to help protect us from abused by state and local governments.

    The “Equal Protection” clause means that everyone should be treated equally legally, regardless of their race, creed or nation of origin. The “Due Process” clause means that everyone is entitled to have any legal procedures be applied fully and completely before the government can strip them of their life, liberty or property.

    Last Summer, the lawyers successfully argued before the Supreme Court that irregardless of what anyone’s religion teaches about homosexuality, states can not deny gay couples the equal legal protections enjoyed by straight couples.

  • 15th- This is the Amendment which should’ve extended civil rights to African Americans, but thanks to “Jim Crow” laws implemented by state and local governments, we still needed the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Civil Rights Act. Of course, in 2013 the Roberts Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and the Republican led Congress refuses to update it, allowing several Southern states to purge voter registration rolls and begin restricting voting rights again.
  • 16th- Yes, the Federal government CAN tax your income (Passed by Congress July 2, 1909. Ratified February 3, 1913.) Sorry Anarchists & Libertarians, taxes ARE legal.
  • 19th- Finally gave women the right to vote in 1920, so the “men” in  “All men are created equal” finally stands for “mankind,” or human beings, regardless of gender.
  • 26th- Lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. If you’re old enough to die for your country, you’re old enough to vote for the public officials who send soldiers off to war.
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