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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Ninth Amendment

From The Founders, Religion and Government:

The U.S. Constitution
Part 27 of 44
Amendment 9 – Other Rights Included

One of the arguments during the ratification debates was over adding a written guarantee of the rights. The Antifederalists wanted one. Many Federalists, including James Madison, did not. They reasoned that such a list was not needed since the federal government had only been granted limited authority. There was no need to protect the people from a power the government did not possess. Today we see the flaw in that argument, so it was fortunate that the Antifederalists convinced the holdouts that such a list was needed.

But there was another concern. What if the rights listed were at some point in the future taken as complete? Anything not listed would not be considered a right as James Madison pointed out,

“It has been objected also against a Bill of Rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the fourth resolution.”

The 9th Amendment was their solution. It simply states that the list of rights is not complete.

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

This amendment begins with the Enumeration Clause which states that certain rights have been listed in the Constitution. It then goes on to the Rights Retained Clause which explains that the natural rights that belong to all people are still their rights even if they are not listed anywhere in the Constitution. Therefore, just because a right is not listed does not mean it is not protected.

This brings us to another point, what is a right? This we must understand as there are people who will claim things as rights which are not. The Founders, besides being students of history and theology, were great readers of philosophy. They understood natural rights, those things we have simply because we are alive or, as the Declaration of Independence states, because God gave them to us.

To fully understand the nature of rights we would need to include here so much more philosophy than this short essay can share. So instead let us reduce rights to a simple rule – rights are things we are entitled to do but which place no burden on another nor interfere with their actions. Something that requires money or service from another is not a right. It may be a need. It may be a privilege. It may even be required by law, as in education. But it is not a natural right. If the action taken affects another person adversely, if it interferes with their own free exercise of their rights, then that action is not a right.

Today many claim things as rights which are in reality the privileges of living in a society or which violate long standing societal conventions. Those things are not rights. We need to stand up for our rights, but we also need to understand we are not entitled to have others provide them nor to undermine society to get them.

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