United States Constitution

For Full text: The most famous, or most-discussed amendments, are listed below:

The "Bill of Rights", were enacted in the years following ratification of the Constitution, after intense debate over whether individual rights should be enumerated in the Constitution: [re: "enacted in the years following"]: No - the drafting of the first ten amendments was a prerequisite to the ratification of the Constitution by many of the states, to ensure the Federal government would not be too powerful. They must be considered an integral part of the Constitution. -- RobertField

Some people opine that they failed, and so the government is far too powerful today.

I decided to summarize all of the bill of rights, being a short thing, since there are some that even fairly learned people don't know -- ChuckAdams

Incidentally, have the dollar amounts mentioned in Amendment VII (as well as the original articles) been interpreted by higher courts to be adjusted for inflation, or can I still demand a jury trial if I'm being sued for over twenty bucks?

According to my history teacher its $2,000 bucks now.

Later amendments:

I never understood how people got away with [the Prohibition Amendment]. From my understanding, there was no reason that a normal old law wouldn't have worked here. Why muck with the constitution.

At the time, women were tired of
  1. not having the right to vote, and
  2. having their husbands spend all their pay getting drunk, staggering home, and beating them up.
As usual in USA politics a Good Law (women's suffrage) was impossible, so they settled for a Bad Law (prohibition) as a patch.

Of course we'd never make that kind of mistake nowadays.

A normal old law wouldn't have worked for prohibition because the Federal Government didn't have the authority to do it. The Federal Government can regulate interstate commerce, but it doesn't have any authority over commerce between citizens of the same state. As such, a Federal law couldn't have been passed that would prohibit me from making alcohol and selling it to anyone else in my state. State laws could, but a Federal law couldn't. In order to give the Federal Government that power, the Constitution had to be amended.

So then how can the Federal Government regulate marijuana within California without a constitutional amendment?

Quite easily. Drugs is a RootPasswordToTheConstitution?.

So, if they wanted to make a new prohibition, the FederalGovernmentUsa? would just threaten to pull all federal funds to all state programs unless each state prohibited alcohol. But if they tried that, that would probably result in people exercising their right to bear arms all the way to DC.

At the time the Prohibition amendment was passed, how much Federal money was being used to subsidize state programs? Not much, I'd bet. My impression is that Congress began leaning heavily on the Commerce Clause in New Deal legislation (i.e., 1930s-40s, i.e., decades after Prohibition was passed), and Federal subsidies of state programs became substantial once the Interstate Highway system was built (i.e., 1950s). -- SethGordon

How can the Federal Government regulate marijuana within California without [an] amendment?

Isn't it done with taxation? One story that goes around is that within the US possession of marijuana is quite legal as long as one has the stamps to prove that the federal dope tax has been paid, said stamps being available only from the federal government who decline to issue them.

I believe it's done through an extension of the powers of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce. It dates back to the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act (pushed by TheodoreRoosevelt?) which effectively banned the interstate commerce of "impure and/or adulterated" foods and drugs. I think what you may be referring to is the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act which was based on the ability of the federal government to tax. That law was the first federal regulation of opiates, which limited the sale of opiates to only what was prescribed by a licensed physician. That law was never challenged and has been the basis of most anti-drug legislation since then.

A large number of federal programs (perhaps most) are pushed on the states through the threat of funding deprivation. NoChildLeftBehind? and other federal education directives are good examples. The Constitution gives exactly zero authority to the federal gov't over public schools, but Congress learned a long time ago that the way around this is to get states hooked on federal subsidies (i.e., highway funds) and then threaten to remove the subsidies for any state that refuses to comply with whatever they want. Once in a while a state won't play along, but this is rare. For example Louisiana gave up it's highway funding in order to keep their drinking age at 18, while the rest of the country went to 21. Later they changed their mind and now it is 21 in Louisiana, too. Incidentally, the federal government didn't have enough money to pull this off until the income tax was created, which may be why the consitution explicitly banned any income tax until amendment XVI was passed. It is interesting to note that school vouchers would create a similar situation between the federal government and private schools. Wait a few years, then congress will start saying "if you want to keep your vouchers, you had better do <foo>"... Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is open to debate, although you don't hear that debate very often, since both Republicans and Democrats have a vested political interest in a powerful central government. --JosephStyons

There were several cases about this, where it was ruled that Congress had authority to regulate intrastate commerce which substantially affected interstate commerce (the economy). In Raich v. Gonzales, at least, it was ruled that the sale of marijuana was an activity that so affected the economy.

A good summary of how constitutional amendments are approved can be found at http://www.usconstitution.net/constam.html.
Q: Incidentally, have the dollar amounts mentioned in Amendment VII (as well as the original articles) been interpreted by higher courts to be adjusted for inflation, or can I still demand a jury trial if I'm being sued for over twenty bucks?

Depends on the venue. One thing which is very important to note is the effect of the 14th Amendment on the first 10. The 14th Amendment (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment14/) consists of 5 different parts. Section 5 is boilerplate; sections 3-4 are no longer relevant (having to do with repudiating Confederate debt and punishing rebel politicans). Section 2 mostly undoes the infamous three-fifths clause.

Section 1 is the interesting part; containing several sub-clauses. It reads:

 Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and 
 subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States 
 and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any 
 law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the 
 United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, 
 or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within 
 its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. 

The first sentence asserts that all persons born within the US are US citizens. This granted citizenship to all newly-freed slaves (today, it has the unintended effect of granting citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants--another topic of debate). The second sentence has two important parts. The "equal protection clause"--a generic statement that government should not engage in discrimination against any particular group of citizens, but not defining what groups are worthy of protection, and to what extent--is the justification for much civil rights legislation enacted since; some say the equal protection clause is a RootPasswordToTheConstitution?. The "privileges and immunities" clause is of particular interest to this question. The SupremeCourt? has intepreted this clause to extend some (but not all) of the Bill of Rights onto the states. Prior to the 14th Amendment, the Bill of Rights were only constraints on Congress. It was perfectly legal for the states to enact, for instance, sedition laws (and many Southern states did just that in the period before the Civil War, making it a crime to advocate abolition of slavery). Since then, the SupremeCourt? has ruled that states may not abridge the freedom of speech, either.

Not all parts of the Bill of Rights, however, have been extended to the states. The RightToBearArms?, for instance, still remains a restraint on the Federal Government only--local jurisdictions remain free to outlaw firearms if they like. And--the $20 jury threshold also remains a Federal-only restriction. As most lawsuits filed between persons are filed in state courts (being matters of state law), states can have their own rules. Likewise for the "trial by jury" clause for criminal cases; states can (and do) use judge-only trials for petty offenses like speeding tickets. (Though in most cases, such petty offenses don't result in "loss of life or limb").

XVI. Authority to levy income tax.

Some claim that this was never actually ratified, and that there was much chicanery, smoke, and mirrors. Others say it was ratified just fine and give references: Doesn't much matter anyway. The primary legal effect of the 16th amendment was to declare that income taxes "from whatever sources derived" (including income derived from ownership of property) is an "indirect tax", and thus not subject to the apportionment requirement. (A "direct tax", in the legal-speak of the time, refers to taxes on ownership of property.) Congress passed the income tax 'round the time of the civil war long before the 16th Amendment was considered. Some time after, the SCOTUS ruled that taxes on income derived from property was a "direct tax", and repealed the income tax law in force at the time. Subsequent court decisions backed away from that position; the 16th amendment simply solidified the doctrine that income taxes are not subject to apportionment among the states.

For those wondering about the "chicanery, smoke, mirrors" part--there were, apparently, a few technical issues with the ratification of the 16th amendment. Many anti-tax advocates like to argue, almost 100 years later, that these technical issues (which are disputed anyway) ought to nullify the amendment (and thus outlaw the current tax structure in the US).

The people who doubt the 16th Amendment was ratified often also believe a host of even loonier things, like the idea that the American government is controlled by a Jewish cabal and that shadowy government operatives are hiding extraterrestial life and/or technology in secret military bases in America's desert southwest. Needless to say, nobody takes those people seriously.

Couldn't be true, they were all too busy faking Apollo 11.

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