Government and Politics

Bill of Rights

What rights are protected in the Bill of Rights?

The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are collectively called the Bill of Rights, which became law on December 15, 1791, and are meant to guarantee individual liberties.

The First Amendment, which is perhaps most often cited by Americans, guarantees freedom of religion, speech, and the press, as well as the right to assemble peaceably and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear arms (stating that “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State”). The Third Amendment forbids peacetime quartering of soldiers in private dwellings without consent of the owner. The Fourth Amendment forbids unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Fifth through the Seventh amendments establish basic standards of jurisprudence. The Fifth (which long ago fell into common usage with the phrase, “s/he’s pleading the Fifth”) guarantees that a person will not be compelled to testify against himself. The amendment also ensures that a criminal indictment can only be handed down by a grand jury (12 to 23 people who determine if a trial is necessary) and prohibits double jeopardy (being prosecuted twice for the same criminal offense). The Sixth Amendment protects the rights of accused persons in criminal cases by guaranteeing a speedy and fair trial, an impartial jury, and the right to counsel. The Seventh Amendment guarantees trial by jury. The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.

The Ninth Amendment, which is one that many Americans are probably unable to cite, is an important one nevertheless: It states that simply because a right is not enumerated in the Constitution, it does not mean that the people do not retain that right.

The Tenth Amendment relinquishes to the state governments those powers the Constitution did not expressly grant the federal government or deny the states. In other words, it limits the power of the federal government to that which is granted in the Constitution.


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