Why the 9th Amendment?

When you read the ninth and tenth amendments, at first blush the ninth seems to be irrelevant because the same point appears to be repeated in the ending of the tenth.  However, upon closer examination, the ninth is as important, if not more so, than the tenth.

These two amendments read, in order:

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by 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.’

 To understand why the ninth was inserted we need to return to the debate over whether or not a bill of rights was necessary.  Alexander Hamilton argued against the wisdom of having a bill of rights in Federalist 84:

 “It has been several times truly remarked that bills of rights are, in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgements of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was MAGNA CHARTA, obtained by the barons, sword in hand, from King John. Such were the subsequent confirmations of that charter by succeeding princes. Such was the Petition of Right assented to by Charles I., in the beginning of his reign. Such, also, was the Declaration of Right presented by the Lords and Commons to the Prince of Orange in 1688, and afterwards thrown into the form of an act of parliament called the Bill of Rights. It is evident, therefore, that, according to their primitive signification, they have no application to constitutions professedly founded upon the power of the people, and executed by their immediate representatives and servants. Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing; and as they retain every thing they have no need of particular reservations.”

 As you can see, Hamilton’s argument is one of exclusion or silence.  To state that the government  cannot do something implies that without that prohibition it would be authorized or empowered to do so.  But, if there is no prohibition stated, it is understood that no authority or power in that area exists to begin with.  However, the Anti-Federalists opposed the ratification of the Constitution unless there was a guarantee that a bill of rights would be added to the newly minted constitution upon the convening of the first congress, and so in that first congress James Madison pressed the Federalists who controlled it to follow through on that guarantee and send to the states for ratification what we now know as our Bill of Rights.

This brings us to the language of the amendment in question.  The ninth amendment addresses “rights”, whereas the tenth deals with the delegation of “powers” – two very different concepts.  The purpose of the ninth amendment is to shore up what Hamilton warned of in his Federalist essay, namely that just because not every right was specifically enumerated within the Constitution, it did not mean that the people had forfeited them to the control of the central government.  It is a “catch-all” amendment prohibiting the general government from assuming control over rights which the people had never intended to delegate to it.

Since the ninth amendment addresses “rights” over which no man or entity has the leeway to usurp, it is even more critical than the tenth.  We hear much trumpeting of the tenth amendment today, and rightfully so, but it is imperative that we also understand the even greater significance of the ninth and that we, the people, reassert our claim to it in the face of a government which violates it at every turn.

-February 5, 2016

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For Whom Was the Constitution Written?

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been under fire for his statement that we should ban all Muslim immigration and visa visitors for a temporary span of time until we can better vet the background of these individuals.  I have heard several criticisms of this proposal that are both ludicrous and ignorant.  Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio has stated that such a prohibition is unconstitutional.  Others state that it violates the principle of freedom of religion as espoused in the first amendment.  A third claim made Thursday evening by former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was that “we do not have the right” to prohibit a group or class of individuals from entry into our country.

The first objection that it is unconstitutional belies a lack of understanding of our Constitution (something I would think an attorney, Senator and President-wanna-be should know).  To support this assertion we must ask “For whom was the Constitution written?”  One needs look no further than the Preamble to the Constitution to ascertain the answer to this question.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to…secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It was the citizens of the several states through either direct election (Rhode Island) or through their representatives in either their legislatures or conventions who comprised “We the People.”  This did not include everyone who resided in the territory of the states at that time.  It wasn’t until the passage of the 13th, 14 th and 15 th amendments that the securities of the Constitution were expanded to those previously enslaved (both black and white).  The Constitution was ordained and established for the citizens of “the United States”, not “we the people of the world.”  The Constitution says nothing about our obligation or requirement to admit any and all who wish to enter our borders.

Having established that the sureties given in the Constitution are for citizens, not for any and everyone who comes or wants to come to our shores, the answer to the second objection is also rendered moot.  However, I will make just a couple of brief points on it specifically.  There are only three references to religion in the Constitution.  Article VII references the date of the finalization of the Constitution as being “in the Year of our Lord,”  a common phrase that has nothing to do with the practice of a religion.  The first amendment has two clauses referencing religion, namely that

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

By prohibiting the importation of those practicing Islam the federal government is not “establishing a religion” for the United States.  Nor is the government prohibiting these individuals from “the free exercise” of their religion – they are at liberty to practice it in their home countries or some other Islamic country.  It is no different than when a couple of years ago we prohibited individuals from countries experiencing an outbreak of Ebola from migrating en mass to our shores.

Finally, the statement that we have “no right” to prohibit any group of individuals from entering our land is patently absurd.  Coming to the United States and living among us is a privilege, not a “right.”  A true “right” is of the caliber identified by Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence, i.e., one that comes from our Creator.  Migrating to one country from another falls far short of this bar.  I might add to this that citizenship is also in this category inasmuch as citizenship can be taken away or revoked by the government since it is the entity that bestows citizenship (see Article I, Section 8, Clause 4 of the Constitution).  It is the inalienable “right” of the citizens of this country to be secure in their life and liberty and it is the responsibility granted to the government by those citizens to make those rights secure, which includes keeping out those who might do harm to those rights.

One final question to be addressed, is “Why not adopt the position of Senator Rand Paul and only limit Muslims from a list of countries known to pose a threat?”  To answer this I merely point to the recent atrocities in Paris, France.  Some of those perpetrators came across the French border from other European countries.   There are millions of Muslims living in France, England, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc., and if these countries were not part of the “list” of forbidden countries, then there would be no way we could prevent Muslim radicals from entering the US from one of those nations.

It Is past time that our leaders quit being so “politically correct” and began looking out for the welfare and safety of Americans first.  If you would not throw open the doors to your home and let anyone and everyone enter and live with you without first thoroughly ensuring they posed no threat to your family, then neither should we do so to our country, “America, my home sweet home.”

-December 11, 2015

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Amending Constitutions

In Texas, our citizens are mulling over whether or not to approve seven amendments to our state constitution (which, by the way, has almost 500 amendments already).  Perhaps your state is also proposing similar initiatives or proposals for amending your state’s constitution during this current election cycle.  On a national level  there is an entire laundry list of proposed amendments that individuals want added to our US Constitution.  However, in considering all of these, may I recommend that you not just evaluate the proposed amendment as something that sounds good to you or would  personally benefit you, but rather that you step back and look at the bigger picture of how these proposals fit into the framework of what a constitution is supposed to be.

The purpose and function of a constitution, whether state or national, can be summed up in these three points:

  • To define the structure of the government and its duties;
  • To define the areas of the government’s authority; and
  • To define the scope and limitations of the government’s powers.

This is true even of tyrannical governments that generally have constitutions also (e.g., the old Soviet Union).  However, in a free society a constitution is also put in place to protect the freedom and liberties of the people from government overreach.  Such was the stated purpose by our founders for their authoring of the US Constitution (and the same as well for all of the state constitutions).

Thomas Paine rightly summed up these purposes with these words:

“…when there is a constitution which defines the power, and establishes the principles within which a legislature shall act, there is already a more effectual check provided, and more powerfully operating, than any other check can be….the check is in the constitution, which in effect says, ‘Thus far shalt thou go and no further’” – The Rights of Man, Part II, chapter 4.

So in considering whether or not to ask your US Representative or Senator to propose a particular amendment, or to vote for a resolution to amend your state constitution, remember:

  • To examine each one, not by the immediate and apparent personal benefit you would receive, but rather by whether or not it fits with the definition of the purpose and function of a constitution;


  • If a proposed amendment is legislative or regulatory in nature and therefore best handled in that fashion or through existing laws/agencies, then it should not be added to the constitution;


  • To take into consideration any special interest groups/PACs that are advocating, pushing for, financing or lobbying in behalf of a particular amendment, and if the proposed amendment would be of special benefit to them as opposed to everyone;


finally, and most importantly,

  • Amending a constitution is a really, REALLY, REALLY BIG DEAL, and should not be taken lightly or without serious thought and evaluation.

-October 30, 2015

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