Happy Friday and Welcome to Friday Constitutional! This is the re-post of my series taking a layman’s look at the Constitution of the United States. It grew from the shameful realization that I had not read the whole thing and thought about it from end to end. Since it is the foundational document of our nation, I figured it would be a good idea to share that work with others. If you are coming in at the middle of this series, you can find links to all the previous ones below:
Friday Constitutional 1 – Preamble, Article One, Sections 1 And 2
Friday Constitutional 2 – Article One, Sections 3 And 4
Friday Constitutional 3 – Article One, Sections 5 And 6
Friday Constitutional 4 – Article One, Sections 7 And 8
Friday Constitutional 5 – Article One, Sections 9 And 10
Friday Constitutional 6 – Article Two, Section 1 (Part One)
Friday Constitutional 7 – Article Two, Sections 1 (Part Two), 2, 3, And 4
Friday Constitutional 8 – Article Three, The Judicial Branch
Friday Constitutional 9 – Article Four, Relationships Between The States
Friday Constitutional 10 – Articles 5, 6 And 7
Friday Constitutional 11 – 1st And 2nd Amendments
Friday Constitutional 12 – 3rd And 4th Amendments
Friday Constitutional 13 – 5th And 6th Amendments
We are still working our way through the Bill of Rights or the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution.
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.
This amendment is where you right to a jury trail is based. Note that the Framers set a lower limit of $20 for these trials. At that time this was quite a bit of money, but it is still the standard to this day. It is also important to note that once a jury makes a finding of fact, that fact can not be arbitrarily overturned by any Court. The exception being the rules of common law, which the Framers felt was so well known that it did not need to be detailed. I do not know exactly what that is (could any of the attorneys that might be reading this answer in comments?) but there is probably something to do with false findings, like in the case of a jury that was tampered with.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Every school kid knows that the US Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment. A quick digression, if your parents are attorneys, do not try to argue that Brussels Sprouts are cruel and unusual. Not only will you lose, but you are likely to find yourself researching the nutritional values of said Sprouts, their history and the role they play in a balanced diet. Don’t ask how I know this; just trust me on it, okay?
This amendment is one of the ones that really constrain the Courts in a major way. By saying excessive it does not set up an absolute scale that might favor the rich over the poor and by saying unusual it limits individual Judges to the median standard of justice in their time. This is one of those places that the Constitutions language totally demolishes the idea of so called Strict Constructionist thought. It is clear that the Framers did not want the rules they set up to be set in stone and unable to evolve with the nation. If they had they would have made the language here much more clear as to what excessive or cruel were. Maybe someone should ask Justice Saclia if he favors people being sentenced to the Stocks? After all that was a punishment when this Amendment was written.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
This Amendment makes explicit the point I was making above, just because there are certain rights detailed in the Constitution, does not mean that you do not have other rights that have not been explicitly stated. I think that this is probably the most under rated Amendment thus far. We talk about our rights like there are a limited number of them, but that does not seem to be the Framers intent. They put in the Amendments in the Bill of Rights because they felt that they were the bare minimum that a nation needed to have to function. Most of these Rights are actually limits on what a Government or Court can do, not limits on the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
This Amendment is where conservatives get the idea of States rights. The Amendment says that any powers not granted to the Federal Government are the States to deal with as they like. The exception to this is that the Federal Government can, by statue prohibit the States from acting. Take the area of immigration; if the Federal Government passed a law saying explicitly that the States could not enforce immigration, then local sheriffs and police would not be able to arrest undocumented workers as some localities are trying to do.
Also note that rights do not just devolve to the States, but also the people. This is an important point both for us and the Framers. Here they seem to be reminding us and themselves that the justness of a government is judged only by the consent of those governed.
We will stop here for the week, as the 11th Amendment (Sovereign Immunity) is going to take a lot of explanation. Over the last three months I have really learned a lot and have begun to form some, if not new opinions, perhaps revitalized ones; the biggest of these is that the Constitution can not be treated like a buffet. It is like a net where the strands wrap around each other to form the structure, cut any of the individual strands, and the integrity of the entire net suffers. The way that it works to balance the powers needed to govern versus the need for the people to be at liberty to follow their own path is one that can’t be unwound without damaging the whole. If you any of these rights for yourself, you must be ready to defend all of them, even the ones that are inconvenient or unpleasant to you. This is the major tragedy of the fact that most of our fellow citizens were where I was before he started this project. They know some of the Amendments, a few of the Articles, but do not know the entire document, and so miss out on the interconnectedness of it.
So, what are your thoughts thus far, citizens?
The floor is yours.