Probe: July 4, 2001

July 04, 2001

QUESTION: Can you name the rights in the Bill of Rights? I watched "Washington Journal" on C-Span this morning. Although there are 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights, the moderator and the callers never got past the First Amendment. — Patriot, Seeley

Most people don't — if they get through the first. That's a very heavy amendment. In just 45 words, it packs in the freedom of speech, religion, peaceable assembly and the right to petition the government to resolve grievances.

Once those rights are secured, you don't need much more to be a free citizen. But there are nine other amendments in the Bill of Rights.

There are only 27 words in the Second Amendment, the so-called "right to bear arms."

It says, "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."


There are 32 words in the Third Amendment, which says the government can't take over your house to house soldiers in peacetime. Nobody argues much about that one so let's go on.

The Fourth Amendment is a biggie with 54 words. It defines illegal search and seizures. That's the one the TV cops are always trying to get around. When a TV cop mentions "probable cause," it's a phrase plucked from the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

"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 or things to be seized."

If you watch a lot of television, you may be familiar with the Fifth Amendment.

When a TV crook suggests, "Take the Fifth," he doesn't mean a fifth of Kentucky whiskey.

Among the several rights spelled out in the 111 words of the Fifth Amendment is the right to refuse to testify against yourself.

There are other important provisions in this amendment. For instance, you cannot be tried a second time for the same offense.

Nor can you be deprived of property without due process (court hearings), or have the government take your private property for public use without paying you for it.

The Sixth Amendment spells out the rights of people accused of crimes. It gives you the right to a speedy jury trial and the right to confront witnesses against you and to subpoena witnesses in your favor.

The Seventh Amendment provides the right to a jury trial in civil cases.

Both the seventh and eighth amendments are short. Opponents of the death penalty often invoke the Eighth Amendment with its ban on "cruel and unusual punishment. It also forbids excessive bail and fines. The Ninth Amendment says that just because some rights are named in the Constitution does not mean unnamed rights are not retained by people.

The Tenth Amendment, the last in the "Bill of Rights," sums it up. "The powers not delegated to the (federal government) by the Constitution, nor prohibited by the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Before invoking your constitutional rights again, get your hands on a copy of the U.S. Constitution. We found ours in our Websters New World College Dictionary.

Read it. It's not hard. The Bill of Rights is so short and concise, it would not be hard to memorize, at least no harder than learning the words of a hip-hop song or two.

Do it. It will change your life! Happy birthday America!

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles