The United States of America is a country proud of the freedoms offered to its people. The Government readily cites this when comparing the US to other nations. But, the process of creating constitutional rights has been one of compromise and gradual change. As a result, citizens enjoy many constitutional rights now due to the Bill of Rights and other Amendments.
What are constitutional rights?
Constitutional rights are the rights of the people of the United States concerning the actions and responsibilities of the government. There are certain actions that the government and law enforcement cannot take against the people of the united states because they would be deemed unconstitutional.
Typically, these relate to certain freedoms that citizens may uphold without fear of any sort of retribution from those in power.
The Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
At first, the Constitution merely laid out the roles and responsibilities of the US government, providing a blueprint on how they should act and the structure of the system. Federalists at the time believed this was more than enough as a framework. However, some Anti-federalists at the Philadelphia Convention didn’t agree. They wanted the Constitution to contain more rights to make it clear that the people of the United States had specific freedoms. They felt it wasn’t enough for these to be implied only.
In 1789, a series of Amendments went before the House of Representatives and the Senate to ensure that these fundamental rights of the people were in place. The Senate approved 12 for consideration by the states, and 10 were ratified in 1791. This series of Amendments became better known as the Bill of Rights and was housed in the Constitution to clarify those crucial constitutional rights.
The first amendment and the five basic rights.
The first amendment is perhaps the most important of them all in creating constitutional rights for the people of the US because it explains five basic freedoms. They are:
~ Freedom of assembly
~ Freedom to petition the government
Other examples of constitutional rights from the Bill of Rights.
1) The right to bear arms. While this remains one of the more controversial amendments, it is one held dear by many. It ensures that citizens can own guns, as the Militia did to secure the free state. Notions to bring in gun control are often deemed unconstitutional.
2) The freedom against double jeopardy. While the Fifth Amendment is often cited as the right not to stand trial for the same crime twice, there is more to it. It also provides the right to a fair trial by the grand jury in federal cases. The Sixth Amendment expands on that with the right to a speedy trial.
3) The freedom from any cruel and unusual punishments. The government may not impose any punishment on citizens that is excessive or cruel. This means no excessive bail or fine requirements and protection against physical harm.
4) The clarification that citizens have other rights not laid out in the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was an essential document but only want so far without this Ninth Amendment to cover any gaps and loopholes.
The amendment process also allows for additional updates for constitutional rights.
Representatives can put forward additional proposals for amendments to the constitution. These amendments typically fall into different categories. First, you have those that wish to alter the way that the government operates. Or, you have those that want to cement certain rights so far unmentioned in the Constitution, Bill of Rights, or other ratified amendments.
Amendments for the freedoms of minority groups in the United States.
Over the centuries, the government has recognized the rights of different groups and minorities as US Citizens. This process is ongoing, and there are proposals relating to the rights of those born in the US to foreign-born parents. Key amendments here include the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth. The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery and gave freedoms to those that had suffered. The Fourteenth took this further with greater civil rights for those born and naturalized in the United States.
Amendments for the freedom to vote in the United States.
The Fifteenth Amendment deals with the constitutional rights of citizens to vote in elections without discrimination based on their race or any previous condition of servitude. However, it wasn’t until the Nineteenth Amendment that the Constitution was adapted again to include women. Now, the right to vote couldn’t be denied based on biological sex. Later on, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment ensured that the right to vote couldn’t be impeded by the failure to pay a poll tax or other tax. Finally, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment changed the voting age from 18 to 21.
Constitutional Rights and the law.
It is important to remember that constitutional rights apply to situations involving those in a governmental position of power. They may discriminate against people or do them harm in a way that undermines the rights laid out in the constitution and Bill of Rights. They do not apply to situations in which other public members carry out similar acts of discrimination. For example, if a government body were to stop a religious group from practicing, that would violate that group’s constitutional rights. However, if another community group were to act out and threaten that religious group for their actions, that wouldn’t be unconstitutional. But, it might be prosecutable depending on evidence of violence or hate crimes.
Constitutional rights in the United States.
The Bill of Rights may have ensured some basic fundamental freedoms for the citizens of the United States, but the process didn’t end there. Instead, those initial constitutional rights provided a solid foundation to improve the Constitution as a document for the rights of the people and not just the responsibilities of the government. Moreover, the ability to add further amendments means that these constitutional rights can evolve with time.