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The legal importance of the Bill of Rights

Posted by attorney Robert McCarthy

The Bill of Rights, ratified on the 15th of December 1791, is collectively referred to as the first ten Amendments to the United States Constitution. The preamble of the Bill of Rights is interesting. First the Congress approving the Bill of Rights was assembled in New York, NY, not Washington, DC. Second, the reasoning behind the Bill of Rights is very telling. According to the preamble, the Bill of Rights was enacted in order to prevent the abuse of government power. The actual text of the Preamble reads: “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of [government] powers, … further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added...[to the Consitution]". The first ten Amendments, the Bill of Rights is an extremely important safeguard to the freedom and liberty of the American people.

There are some extremely important rights contained in the first ten Amendments. First Amendment: freedom of religion, a free press, the right of the people to assemble, the right of a free people to bring their grievances before the government without fear of reprisal. Second Amendment: The right to keep and bear arms. Third Amendment: Prohibits the quartering of soldiers in private homes. Fourth Amendment: The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Fifth Amendment: The right against self incrimination. Sixth Amendment: The right to a speedy trial, the right to the assistance of counsel in criminal cases, the right to confront witnesses, the right to be informed of the nature of accusations, the right to a trial by jury in criminal cases, the right to compulsory process to obtain favorable witnesses. Seventh Amendment: The right to have a trial by jury in civil cases. Eighth Amendment: The prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Ninth Amendment: Confirms that none of the rights retained by the people will be lessened by the enactment of any Amendment. Tenth Amendment: Confirms that the powers not granted to the United States are reserved to the States and the people.

Maintaining freedom is a difficult task in the best of times. Imagine trying to maintain freedom in a court or before a government agency without the safeguards contained in the Bill of Rights. In my experience would sometimes be an almost impossible task. Even with the Bill of Rights, some government agencies and courts interpret the meaning of the Bill of Rights to lessen the value of freedom. As citizens, we must remain ever vigilant insisting always that the rights and freedoms contained in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are preserved by those who are in power. Not just on the national level, but from the local level up. If we as citizens do not insist that the federal government, elected officials, local agencies and boards, courts and judges keep our rights intact, we will surely lose them.

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