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Bill of Rights, Explained

Happy Fourth.

Cameron Marlow makes one of those funny in a "not-really-all-that-funny way" type observations over on Overstated: Ask nearly any American to name all 50 States in 15 minutes and they won't be able to do it. (I wasn't ... stupid Delaware ...) Here's another fun one to spring on your dinner companions and make them feel like cretins: how many of the amendments in the Bill of Rights can you name?

These are the four you undoubtedly know off the top of your head.

I: 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.

II: 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.

IV: 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.

V: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. This one is has been pretty well-known ever since Ashley Judd made it a household term with her runaway blockbuster smash hit Double Jeopardy, and since ever single employee of Enron opted to "plead the fifth"

Here's a primer on the rest.
III: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law. Pretty self-explanatory, actually, but most folks are surprised to hear that this issue was deemed so vital that it got spot #3 in the big Bill O' Rights Countdown.

VI: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. I got your right to a jury trial right here, buddy. Lots of other good stuff in here as well: right to an attorneys, right to tell jokes about attorneys, right to know what crime you are accused of, right to see the evidence against you and right to face your accusers. Also, note that you have the right to "enjoy" your speedy and public trial, so if you're not having a blast you should demand a Nintendo Gamecube.

VII: 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 reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law. The VI Amendment applies to criminal case; the VII is your one-stop civil (a.k.a. "common") law rights warehouse. But yo, what's up with that twenty bucks? They should adjust this thing for inflation.

VIII: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. Oh hey, there's that "cruel and unusual punishment" bit, which is why convicts aren't forced to watch "Divine Secrets of Ya-Ya Sisterhood" while in the hoosegow.

IX: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. and X: 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. So you're playing Monopoly and it's your turn, so you pick up one of the dice and roll it and then you pick up the other die and roll it. And your moron opponent says you're cheating. As proof, he pulls out the rules and shows you where is specifically says that the player "rolls the dice" -- that's dice, plural, and nowhere does it say you can roll one die after another. The authors of the Bill of Rights feared such moron opponents, who would argue that listing some rights would be the same as saying that the population has no other rights than those listed. Hence the Ninth and Tenth: just because we haven't listed a right doesn't mean you ain't got it. On the flip side, the government can only do what the constitution allows them to, and not a whit more.

If this knowledge doesn't make members of the opposite sex flock to you like idiots to a Survivor audition, I don't know what will.

Read more at the tee-riffic findlaw.com.

Posted on July 04, 2002 to