The Bill of Rights (Part One)

The first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. It has been into effect since December 15, 1791, when it was ratified by three-fourths of the states. Here’s the first two amendments’ language accompanied by their meaning:

First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment is famous for protecting the American people from anybody’s (including the government’s) intervention in the individual’s choices of religion, of opinion on anything, and of creating whatever kinds of entities with other individual(s), if the nature of these entities doesn’t involve hurting other people in a way (violating their piece, for example). It is also known as the one that provides the individual with their freedom of religion and of speech. It also provides the individual with the right to sue the government, if the latter acted in an unjust way to the former.

Freedom of speech is a broad term, and oftentimes it is a question of an individual’s perception to determine how far that freedom could go. In one case, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), sponsored by Senator John McCain (R – Arizona) and Senator Russell Feingold (D – Wisconsin) whose purpose was to reform federal the campaign finance system in a way that would limit the political campaign contributors’ influence in the future politicians’ decision making,  was questioned as to whether or not it was constitutional regading the First Amendment. In McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “forbidding national party committees and their agents to solicit, receive, direct, or spend any funds that are not subject to limitations, prohibitions and reporting requirements of the Federal Election Commission Act (FECA) does not violate the First Amendment” because it is more important to prevent the actual or apparent corruption of federal candidates and officeholders, and anything that could lead to actual or apparent corruption.

In this case, such funds are so called “soft money” (which were not regulated by FECA) which were used in “issue ads” which did not mention “magic phrases” such as “vote against [John McCain]” or “vote for [Barack Obama]”. Under the law, this “soft money” may not come from the national level of a political party or from an agent, officer of such level within the party or from an entity that is (in)directly controlled by that party’s structure (2 U.S.C. §441i).

 Second Amendment: 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.

Better known as the right to bear arms, the language of this amendment is so unusual that it is still questioned. Some people are still not clear about whom the word ‘militia’ is referred to, a concern that is addressed on the first ruling on the Second Amendment by the U.S. Supreme Court ever as you will see. 

Strict constructionists (conservatives) interpret the amendment as one that provides the American people (except for “mentally retarded people, criminals, murderers and other groups of that kind”, as I explained before) with the right to bear arms at most places, while judicial activists (liberals) claim that the U.S. Constitution is a living document, and – unlike more than 200 years ago when the Bill of Rights was written, and when Great Britain was still a threat to the existence of the American nation – nowadays, the conservative interpretation is not as functional as before, meaning that there is no such a desperate need to have the right to bear arms. 

In D.C. v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a 32-year old D.C. ban on handguns unconstitutional. The then majority of the highest court in the country was right in their ruling for the following reasons the ban included keeping firearms nonfunctional even at home, even when necessary for self-defense which technically makes the firearm completely useless.

In regards to the word ‘Militia’ the court interpreted it as “all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense”. It means that the Second Amendment provides the physically capable males, regardless of whether or not they are from the military (that’s what ‘common defense’ means here), with the right to bear arms for the purpose of defending the United States from an attack by an enemy. That enemy could be an individual, a foreign country, a militant group, and so on.

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1 Comment

Filed under Civil Rights and Liberties, The Law

One response to “The Bill of Rights (Part One)

  1. Pingback: The Bill of Rights (Part Two) « Evolution is the key!

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