This article is written by Kishita Gupta, a graduate of the Unitedworld School of Law, Karnavati University, Gandhinagar. It gives an exhaustive overview of the various contents, such as the Preamble, Articles, and the 27 Amendments that compose the US Constitution.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Did you know the Constitution of the United States of America is the oldest written constitution? It specifies the main governing bodies, their spheres of jurisdiction, and the fundamental rights of citizens. The American Constitution serves as the cornerstone of the federal government. No law may be passed that conflicts with its tenets; it is frequently referred to as the supreme law of the land. In addition, it is adaptable and permits changes in the government. Despite the fact that there have only been 27 changes to the Constitution in more than 200 years, it is referred to as a “living” instrument because it is amendable.
There are three parts that make up the Constitution. The Preamble, which is the document’s first part, explains what it is for and what the Federal Government does. The government’s structure and the process for amending the Constitution are outlined in the second part, which further consists of seven Articles. Lastly, the Bill of Rights, which consists of the first 10 amendments, is listed in the Constitution’s third part, “the Amendments.”
In this article, we shall be giving an exhaustive overview of all the three parts mentioned above, along with a brief historical development.
History – Constitutional Conventions
The Articles of Confederation, which the states were operating under after the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), offered minimal direction to the states. Since trade between states was not regulated by the Articles of Confederation, a new form of governance was required. Therefore, representatives from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Pennsylvania gathered at Annapolis, Maryland, in September 1786 to discuss possible solutions to the trade barriers erected between the states. Even though these delegates had come together to make amendments to the Articles of Confederation, by mid-June they had agreed to entirely overhaul the system. Then a committee of details and a committee of style and arrangement were formed, which were assigned the task of writing the Constitution.
The Articles of Confederation, which attempted to preserve as much independence and sovereignty for the states as possible and to delegate to the central government only those nationally significant functions that the states could not handle separately, had a significant impact on the writers of the Constitution.
On September 17, 1787, 39 delegates, including the proxy for John Dickinson, signed the Constitution. The Constitution had to be ratified in order to become effective. 42 of the original 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were present when it was ratified. Of these 42, just three declined to ratify the Constitution. They said that nine states, or two-thirds of the states, had to ratify it, so ratification conventions were convened in each state. The new Constitution was ratified by the state convention delegates, who were chosen by citizens in each state. Thus, the people, rather than the states, would be the source of the new government’s power. However, a Bill of Rights was not established, which frightened certain states, but it was pledged to them that the first Congress would provide this protection by amendment.
As mentioned in the introduction, the United States Constitution is now the oldest written constitution in existence that has continued to be in force without interruption. In order to prevent any one branch of government from gaining excessive power, it also established the first federal form of government and the first system of checks and balances. As a result, the conference was able to realise its constitutional vision thanks to the numerous compromises made by the delegates and various states to find common ground for the welfare of the entire nation. Thus, the citizens of the United States approved the Constitution in July 1789, making it the supreme law of the land.
The Preamble of the US Constitution
In general, a preamble is basically a document that gives an introductory statement and explains its philosophy and objectives. The US Constitution’s Preamble lays out its foundation, the intent of its makers, its values, and the core principles of the nation. It further expresses the document’s intent and goal. The Preamble is not actually the law of the land, but it is an introduction to it. Individual rights or governmental authority are not defined in the preamble. The Supreme Court has frequently used the Preamble as evidence of the origin, scope, and purpose of the Constitution, despite the fact that it is not a source of authority for any agency of the Federal Government. The initial three words of the Constitution, “We the People,” have been read to suggest that the people, not particular states, are the source of the Constitution (and, by extension, all U.S. law). This establishes the tone for the entire document, and thus, for American law.
The Preamble conveys three key ideas to the reader:
- The people of the United States are the source of the authority to pass the Constitution;
- The wide purposes for which the Constitution is founded;
- The architects intended the Constitution to be an enduring legal document.
Articles of the US Constitution
Article I – the Legislative Branch
The legislative branch is established by Article I of the Constitution. It provides details on how Congress must be organised and operated. The first part creates a bicameral Congress. Congress is said to be bicameral as it has both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Due to a compromise, the Founding Fathers reached during the Constitutional Convention, the USA now has two houses of Congress.
The authority entrusted to Congress in Article I includes, among other things, the ability to define and punish “piracies and felonies committed on the high seas,” adopt laws, construct post offices and post roads, and regulate commerce. Additionally, Article I specifies the qualifications for running for Congress; identifies the Vice President as President of the Senate; and places restrictions on some of their powers.
Article II – the Executive Branch
Having a president with a set term in office was a completely novel concept when the Constitution was being established because most of Europe still maintained monarchies. However, the short term was implemented in part in response to the European monarchs, in which a single individual maintained absolute authority for an unlimited period of time. The convention’s delegates feared giving one individual an excessive amount of power. In the end, they established the executive branch and our current system of one President while incorporating a system of checks and balances into the Constitution.
A variety of powers are granted to the President by Article II of the Constitution. He or she is the Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces, creates treaties (although Congress must approve them), and has the authority to pardon US citizens for crimes against the country, with the exception of impeachment. Ambassadors and Supreme Court justices are also appointed by the President. All of the President’s duties are outlined in Article II as well. For instance, among other duties, the President must notify Congress of the status of the Union on a regular basis and ensure that laws are faithfully carried out.
The Vice President, members of the Cabinet who are department heads, and the heads of executive agencies assist the President in governing the nation. The Vice President replaces the President in the event of death or incapacity. However, their duties are not explicitly outlined in the Constitution, unlike the President’s powers.
Article III – the Judicial Branch
The authority of the federal court system is outlined in Article III. According to the Article, the U.S. Supreme Court serves as the final appeals court, and the U.S. Congress has the authority to set the number and jurisdiction of the courts that fall below it. Unless they are accused of misconduct or resign, all judges are appointed for life. A jury of their peers will hear the case and render a verdict for those accused.
The Supreme Court of the United States and other federal courts created by Congress as a result of legislation make up the judicial branch of the federal government. Federal District Courts, US Circuit Courts of Appeal, US Bankruptcy Courts, and US Tax Courts are just a few of these lesser courts.
When the Supreme Court renders a decision in a case, it frequently resolves disputes about the constitutionality of laws, their application, and their meaning. Judicial review is the process by which a law’s constitutionality is determined. The judiciary employs this procedure to act as a check and balance on the legislative and executive branches. Although it is an implicit power, judicial review is not a power explicitly granted to the courts. In a case known as Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court issued a decision in 1803 that unambiguously defined the Court’s judicial review authority.
Article IV – the States
Part of Article IV‘s discussion centres on interstate relations and state citizens’ rights. The full faith and credit clause mandate that states recognise the official acts and judicial decisions of other states, the requirement that each state grant citizens of other states all the privileges and immunities available to its own citizens, and the assurance of a republican form of government for each state are some examples of these clauses.
The functions of the states within the federal government are covered in Article IV. Each state frequently acted autonomously and made choices without taking into account the other states under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution’s Article IV gave the government the authority to accept additional states. Additionally, it stipulates that no state may have a monarchical form of government and that every state must have a republican one. Additionally, it specifies that laws passed by other states must be respected by all states. Additionally, it guarantees that the federal government will shield and defend the states from invasion or attack from abroad.
The primary application of Article IV, Section 1, has been with respect to judgments. It involved the decision of judgement in personam and judgment in rem. Mills v. Duryee (1813) was the first instance. The defendant attempted to reopen the entire issue of the original case’s merits by pleading “nil debt” in an action launched in the circuit court of the District of Columbia, which is similar to a state court for this purpose. In response, it was stated in the first implementing statute of 1790 that such records and proceedings had the same faith and credit in every state as in the State of origin and that, since they were court records in the State of origin and thus conclusive of the case’s merits there, they had the same standing in the State of the forum. According to the Court, the Constitution’s objective with regard to the acceptance of foreign decisions was to strengthen and magnify these principles rather than simply reenacting common law or private international law.
Article V — Amendment
Under Article V, there are two procedures for recommending amendments to the Constitution and two mechanisms for the states to ratify those recommendations. To pass an amendment, two-thirds of either house of Congress must vote on it, or two-thirds of the state legislatures must ask Congress to call a national convention before it can be passed. To be adopted, an amendment must receive the support of three-fourths of the state legislatures or three-fourths of the state ratifying conventions.
The Constitution has only ever been amended via the first procedure. Any adjustment that has been proposed via one of the procedures must still be ratified or approved. The amendment must be approved by three-fourths of state legislatures, or three-fourths of the states must convene a constitutional convention and ratify it. The Constitution has only undergone 27 amendments so far, which will be discussed further in the article.
Article VI – Debts, Supremacy, Oaths
According to Article VI, the United States Constitution and any laws derived from it are the “supreme Law of the Land.” All public servants, including those in the state legislatures, Congress, the judiciary, and the executive branch, are required to take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution.
Article VII – Ratification
According to Article VII, the Constitution wouldn’t take effect until it had been ratified by nine states. The fast ratification of the Constitution was settled upon by Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut. While Massachusetts and other states fought for months about the Constitution’s omission of fundamental liberties and freedoms of speech, religion, and the press. Massachusetts and other states wouldn’t sign the Constitution until they agreed to add a “bill of rights,” or a list of safeguarded liberties and rights. By June 21st, 1788, New Hampshire had become the ninth state to ratify, or adopt, the Constitution. The necessary three-fourths majority vote was obtained, and the U.S. government no longer operated under the Articles of Confederation. Soon after, the decision was made that the U.S. Constitution’s new government would take effect on March 4, 1789.
The first ten amendments, which together make up the promised Bill of Rights, were introduced in 1791. The Constitution was eventually ratified by each of the original thirteen states over the following years.
The Bill of Rights
The First Congress of the United States put forth 12 amendments to the Constitution on September 25, 1789. In the National Archives Museum, there is a display of the 1789 Joint Resolution of Congress proposing the amendments. On December 15, 1791, three-fourths of the state legislatures ratified ten of the twelve proposed amendments. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, also known as the “U.S. Bill of Rights,” are the ratified Articles (3–12). The 27th Amendment to the Constitution, or Article 2 of the Bill of Rights, was ratified in 1992, 203 years after it was first suggested. It turned out that Article 1 was never ratified.
Amendments to the US Constitution
The First Amendment
The freedoms of speech, the press, assembly and the right to petition the government are among the five freedoms the First Amendment safeguards. The citizens of the United States of America are liberated given these five fundamental freedoms. The Founders of the democratic republic insisted that the First Amendment be added as a safeguard to the original Constitution before they agreed to adopt it.
A person does not have to be of a certain ‘legal age’ in order to use their First Amendment rights. On the day of their birth, these rights are assured to them. A condition for First Amendment protection is not citizenship. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, press, assembly, religion, and petition if they are in the United States.
For instance, in the case of Engel v. Vitale (1962), the Supreme Court held that school-sponsored prayers in public schools are unconstitutional and violate the First Amendment. Texas v. Johnson (1989) is another landmark decision, which stated that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the burning of the American flag as a form of speech.
Further, in US v. Alvarez (2012), Xavier Alvarez broke the Stolen Valor Act when he stated in a public gathering that he had received the Congressional Medal of Honor. For this content-based restriction, which demands “most stringent scrutiny,” the Court used the Turner standard. By a vote of 6-3, the Supreme Court declared the Stolen Valor Act, 2005 to be unconstitutional and a First Amendment violation.
The Second Amendment
The Second Amendment passed through the Bill of Rights, acted as a constitutional check on the federal militia’s organisation, arming, and control under Article I, Section 8. In the first hearing, Presser v. Illinois (1886), by the US Supreme Court on the topic of the right to bear arms, the Court held that the second amendment forbade the states from “prohibit[ing] the people from owning and bearing arms, so as to deprive the United States of their due resource for maintaining the public security.”
In contrast, the Supreme Court avoided discussing the legal constraints of the Second Amendment in United States v. Miller (1939), in a case involving a prosecution under the National Firearms Act (1934), by merely concluding that “possession or use of a shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length” was not “any part of the ordinary military equipment” protected by the Second Amendment.
However, in 2008, through the judgment of District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court explained what the right to bear arms protects. According to the Supreme Court, the amendment’s “central component” was the right to self-defence. The Court also upheld earlier decisions that the Second Amendment guaranteed people’s freedom to participate in the defence of their liberty by joining a formal militia. Further, it was made very clear that the Second Amendment’s guarantee does not really protect “the sole institutional beneficiary” of an individual’s right to an ‘organised militia.’
The Third Amendment
The Third Amendment prohibits the government from involuntary quartering soldiers in private homes, which was a major issue during the American Revolution. Although the third amendment has never been a direct issue to be discussed by the Supreme Court, its importance lies in the core principle due to which it was brought about by the framers.
Under King George III, the British had what amounted to standing armies in the colonies before and during the American Revolution (1775–83), with soldiers being quartered in private homes. It led to the constant abuse of individuals and properties at that time.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment restricts the US government from unreasonable search and seizure of an individual or their private property. The Fourth Amendment establishes both the obligations of law enforcement agents and the rights of individuals, and it serves as the cornerstone of criminal law jurisprudence in U.S. constitutional law. There has been extensive political, judicial, and popular discussion about how these two forces should be balanced.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Weeks v. the United States (1914), known as the exclusionary rule, that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment could not be used in court had one of the Fourth Amendment’s most significant effects.
Recently, in the case of Arizona v. Gant (2009), the Supreme Court held that only where there is a good basis to think that the suspect might be in the car at the time of the search or when the car has evidence of the crime for which the suspect was arrested, police may check a suspect’s car after an arrest.
The Fifth Amendment
The Fifth Amendment grants people accused of crimes a number of rights and protections, such as the right to a grand jury indictment for felonies in federal court, the prohibition against double jeopardy (being tried again for the same crime after being found not guilty), protection from being forced to testify against one’s self, the assurance of due process, and the prohibition against the government taking private property without just compensation for public use.
In Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Supreme Court made the decision that police must offer criminal suspects a set of warnings before they can be interrogated, which is the most significant Fifth Amendment ruling outside of criminal trials. Their Miranda Rights refer to this. These rights have a clear connection to the Fifth Amendment’s restriction on self-incrimination.
The Sixth Amendment
The Sixth Amendment ensures that criminal defendants receive fair and accurate legal representation, as well as the following rights: the right to a speedy, public trial by jury from the area where the crime was committed; the right to confront and question witnesses against the defendant; the right to subpoena witnesses and have them testify at trial.
The first clause of the Sixth Amendment’s provisions for a jury trial and a public trial are crucial components of due process. Unbiasedness is essential to the clause and the rights it aims to defend. By letting the jury decide, as well as by screening out prospectively biased jurors, bias is anticipated to be minimized. To this end, the jury selection process offers participation to both the prosecution and the defence.
The final provision of the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel for those who have been charged with a crime and is equally applicable to custodial interrogations and court proceedings.
The Sixth Amendment sets a standard for justice and criminal proceedings, particularly in defining the rights of those who are accused of crimes. This is true even though criminal institutions in America have changed since 1791 and something like a “speedy trial” could actually mean years in today’s court system.
The Seventh Amendment
The right to a jury trial is guaranteed under the Seventh Amendment in civil proceedings involving property valued at more than $20. Although jurors are almost always present in criminal trials, they are uncommon in civil trials.
The goal of the amendment was to maintain a boundary between the duties of jurors and judges, such as making legal decisions.
The right to a jury trial in civil disputes as it “existed under English common law at the time the amendment was ratified” has historically been viewed by the Supreme Court as being preserved by the Seventh Amendment, as noted in the case of Baltimore and Carolina Line v. Redman (1913).
The main goal of the Amendment was to maintain the traditional boundary dividing the jurisdiction of the jury from that of the judge, while at the same time allowing for procedural advancements that did not cross this boundary.
The Eighth Amendment
The Eighth Amendment forbids the federal government from setting high bail amounts and punishing criminal defendants in a cruel or unusual manner.
The U.S. Constitution is silent on the precise definition of “excessive,” although it has generally been accepted that fines that do not impair due process by causing property loss are acceptable. In general, appeals of fines are not overturned unless there was a clear abuse of discretion in imposing them. Individual rights are limited with regard to bail by the needs of the justice system and society at large. As a result, while deciding sums, the gravity of the crime, the evidence against the accused, and the accused’s flight risk may all be taken into account. Bail amounts for criminal offences are typically determined by considering reasonableness and proportionality.
The Constitution is also silent regarding what constitutes “cruel” and “unusual” punishment; therefore, it is up to the courts to decide precisely what is and is not legal. The fundamental tenet is that the punishment must be appropriate for the offence.
In Furman v. Georgia (1972), the Supreme Court consolidated three cases, Jackson v. Georgia (1971) and Branch v. Texas (1969), in which the death penalty for rape was contested, and Furman, in which a gun unintentionally went off when the defendant was breaking into a home. The Supreme Court ruled that the death sentences given in these three cases violated the Constitution because they gave judges too much latitude in deciding who would receive the death penalty. The Court also stated that the death penalty had been imposed in general in an ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious’ manner, rendering it unconstitutional until states could make amends.
The Ninth Amendment
The Ninth Amendment simply clarifies that although if the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights name certain rights, it doesn’t follow that people don’t have additional rights that aren’t included in those documents.
The protection of individual rights was a hot topic before, during, and after the Constitution’s approval. The Anti-Federalists eventually pushed for the insertion of a Bill of Rights into the Constitution because they believed that without one, the federal government would be given excessive power. Federalists argued that listing protected rights would potentially harm individual liberty and make other liberties presumptively unworthy of constitutional protection, despite the fact that they felt the Constitution had established a limited central authority. In order to uphold the idea that the rights listed in the Constitution are not all-inclusive and final and that the existence of other rights is not in any way diminished or negated by those listed, the Ninth Amendment was created. It wasn’t obvious what rights the amendment guaranteed.
The Tenth Amendment
The Tenth Amendment, the last of the 10 amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, was largely inserted into the Constitution to ease tension and allay the concerns of advocates for state’s rights who thought the newly adopted Constitution would allow the federal government to trample on the states and their citizens. Although the ratification of the Constitution gave the Federalists, who favoured a strong central government, the upper hand in that regard, it was crucial for the Constitution’s integrity and the stability of the young nation to recognise the interests of the Anti-Federalists, like Patrick Henry, who had unsuccessfully opposed the strong central government the Constitution created.
The Tenth Amendment expressly reserves to the states those powers that the Constitution neither delegated to the federal government nor prohibited to the states. This contrasts with the Ninth Amendment, which states that the enumeration of certain rights in the Constitution does not deny or disparage other unenumerated rights retained by the people. Although there had been an attempt to do so, Congress rejected a proposal to modify the word “delegated with expressly” in the amendment. As a result, the Tenth Amendment does not put any particular restrictions on the authority of the federal government. As a result, it does not give states new authority or change the way the federal government and the states interact.
In a landmark judgment in Printz v. the United States (1997), the Supreme Court reaffirmed the rights of the state and the anti-commandeering provisions of the US Constitution. Justice Antonin Scalia authored the majority opinion in the 5–4 decision that overturned a portion of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, 1993 (the Brady Act) as being in violation of the 10th Amendment. The Brady Act’s mandate that local sheriffs conduct background checks on gun owners ran afoul of the idea of “anti-commandeering,” which had been outlined as a crucial aspect of federalism in an earlier decision, New York v. United States (1992).
The Eleventh Amendment
The United States Constitution’s Eleventh Amendment, adopted in 1795, introduced the concept of state sovereign immunity. The United States’ judicial authority cannot be interpreted to include any legal action brought by citizens of another state or by subjects of another country against one of the United States.
The 11th Amendment modifies a portion of Article III, Section 2 of the US Constitution by prohibiting federal courts from considering claims against states. Congress approved it on March 4, 1794, and it was ratified on February 7, 1795.
One day after the Supreme Court’s decision in the Chisholm v. Georgia (1793) case, which allowed individuals to challenge states in federal court, the request for this amendment was introduced. These lawsuits are now being heard in state courts. The only alteration pertaining to the judicial department of the government is this one. The rulings of the Supreme Court grant state immunity against lawsuits that seem to go beyond the provisions of the 11th amendment, as was noted in Alden v. Maine (1999).
According to the National Constitution Center, there are three different approaches to the 11th Amendment. These are as follows:
- First, some contend that even if a claim is founded on federal law, the Eleventh Amendment should be invoked to preclude litigation against states by out-of-state residents, foreign nationals, or subjects (but only by these parties).
- Others contend that the Eleventh Amendment should not be interpreted to bar federal courts from hearing lawsuits brought by residents of another state against a state if the claim arises under federal law because the language of the amendment matches a “party-based” head of jurisdiction.
- In a different interpretation, the Eleventh Amendment is seen as being targeted at the judiciary, forbidding them from interpreting the jurisdictional grant of Article III to revoke a state’s common law immunity but permitting Congress to do so if it indicates its intention to hold states liable.
The Twelfth Amendment
The presidential election procedure outlined in Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution was changed by the 12th Amendment, which was approved by Congress on December 9, 1803, and ratified on June 15, 1804. It also addressed a number of issues that arose as a result of the growth of political parties and how that affected the electoral college.
The Twelfth Amendment had the consequence of making presidential and vice presidential candidates subject to separate voting. In the event of a tie, the top three candidates with the most electoral votes would be chosen by the House of Representatives to receive one vote from each state.
The Thirteenth Amendment
The US Constitution’s Article 4, Section 2, which mandated that fugitive slaves be returned to their owners, was replaced by the 13th Amendment, which was voted by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which only freed slaves in the Confederate states that had seceded. All slaves and indentured servants in the nation were able to be set free thanks to the 13th Amendment. However, it did not give African Americans the right to vote. The Thirteenth Amendment nullified those parts of the Constitution that had implicitly established the “peculiar institution,” despite the fact that the words “slavery” and “slave” are never used in the Constitution.
The Fourteenth Amendment
The Fourteenth Amendment, enacted in 1868, added the words “all persons born or naturalised in the United States” to the Constitution of the United States, granting citizenship and equal civil and legal rights to African Americans and slaves who had been freed following the American Civil War. The Amendment is made up of five Sections in total, four of which were originally independent proposals that were abandoned during the legislative process and then combined with a fifth enforcement provision to form a single amendment.
One of the most crucial provisions of this amendment is Section 1, which provides citizenship to former slaves and ensures their equal protection and due process rights.
In one of the most well-known instances involving this amendment, Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court determined that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. In important decisions like Roe v. Wade (1973), which dealt with abortion, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which dealt with same-sex marriage, it was also applied.
In another landmark judgment, Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), a very serious matter under the 14th amendment was dealt with. Have you noticed when there are lights in front as well as behind you as you go down the street at night and you get that incredibly dark shadow? In the world of science, that shadow is referred to as an “umbra.” Two or more half-shadows that aren’t quite as black but nonetheless darker than the well-lit sidewalk around you flank that dark shadow on the ground. The most contentious topic of possibly the most contentious Supreme Court decision of the 20th century was explained using these “penumbras,” as they are known. When Estelle Griswold was detained for breaking a state law that forbade advising and prescribing birth control to married couples, she was the director of a Planned Parenthood facility in Connecticut. The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the Constitution safeguarded married couples’ right to receive confidential contraceptive use and acquisition counselling. According to Justice Douglas, even though it was implicit, the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause guaranteed individuals’ basic “right to privacy” under the Bill of Rights’ penumbras. Griswold’s “right to privacy” has been used to justify a number of other contentious rulings, including Roe v. Wade (1973). It is still at the centre of the current substantive due process issue.
With the caveat that this prohibition may be lifted for specific persons by a two-thirds vote in both Houses of Congress, the amendment prohibited previous civil and military office holders who had backed the Confederacy from holding any state or federal office once again. The amendment also protected the national debt while absolving the federal and state governments of any liability for the debts committed by the rebellious Confederate States of America. The final clause, which followed the Thirteenth Amendment’s methodology, provided for enforcement.
The Fifteenth Amendment
The right to vote is protected by the 15th Amendment, which was adopted by Congress on February 26, 1869, and approved on February 3, 1870. It further states that this right cannot be restricted according to race. The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave African Americans citizenship rights, respectively, were preceded and followed by the amendment. The Fifteenth Amendment was passed and ratified on February 3, 1870, essentially granting voting rights to African American men but denying them to women of all races. That privilege would not be granted to women until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920.
Until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, discriminatory methods such as literacy tests and poll taxes were used in voting booths to keep black Americans from exercising their right to vote. Voter suppression is still a problem in today’s America.
In United States v. Reese (1876), two election officials in Tennessee disallowed a black man from voting in the first case involving voting rights since the 15th Amendment’s passage. The Enforcement Act of 1870, federal legislation that, among other measures, set forth penalties for tampering with the right to vote guaranteed by the 15th Amendment, was violated by the elections authorities. Due to their inadequate tailoring to uphold the 15th Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled that the relevant parts of the Enforcement Act were unconstitutional.
In the most recent case of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (2021), several Democratic organisations argued that two voting regulations in Arizona (one that made it illegal to collect votes and another that mandated that ballots cast in the incorrect precinct be invalidated) violated Section 2 of the VRA 1965. Both restrictions were invalidated after the whole 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiffs. The two measures did not contravene Section 2, according to the Supreme Court, which reversed the ruling.
The Sixteenth Amendment
Congress approved the 16th Amendment on July 2, 1909, and it was ratified on February 3, 1913. It modifies a portion of Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution by granting Congress the authority to levy income taxes. The Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company Supreme Court ruling from 1895, which rendered a federal income tax all but impossible, was overturned by this amendment.
Therefore, the ability to collect income taxes was rendered useless unless the U.S. Congress intended all income taxes to be distributed among the states in accordance with their populations. To address this issue, the Sixteenth Amendment was proposed in 1909. The ‘direct tax conundrum’ associated with Article I, Section 8 is eliminated by adding the phrase ‘from whatever source derived,’ and Congress is now free to levy and collect income tax without taking into account the census and enumeration requirements of Article I, Section 9. Finally, its ratification took place in 1913.
The Seventeenth Amendment
The 17th Amendment, which was approved by Congress on May 13, 1912, and ratified on April 8, 1913, changed the US Constitution’s provision that senators be chosen directly by the people rather than by state legislatures. Since Congress was established according to the original US Constitution, this is one of the few significant adjustments that have been made.
Two senators from each state, chosen for six years by their constituents, will make up the US Senate. Each senator will have one vote. The electors in each state must meet the requirements for members of the state legislatures’ most numerous branches.
The executive authority of any State shall issue writs of election to fill any vacancies in the Senate representation of such State; provided, however, that the legislature of any State may authorise the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
The Constitution’s Article I, Section 3‘s electoral system, which called for the state legislatures to appoint senators, was modified by this amendment. Any senator elected before this amendment becomes a part of the Constitution will not have their election or term affected by it.
The Eighteenth Amendment
One year after the 18th Amendment was ratified, the prohibition against producing and selling alcoholic beverages went into effect. On December 18, 1917, Congress approved it, and on January 16, 1919, it was confirmed. Before the 21st Amendment, which was passed in 1933, ended prohibition, it remained in effect for 13 years.
The amendment was approved by the two chambers of the United States Congress in December 1917, and the necessary three-fourths of the states ratified it in January 1919. The National Prohibition Act (commonly referred to as the Volstead Act) text called for Congress to pass enforcement legislation, and Andrew Volstead, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pushed for this. The Volstead Act and Amendment were repealed because they weren’t very well enforced.
The Nineteenth Amendment
Women were granted the right to vote under the 19th Amendment. Susan B. Anthony contended that the 14th Amendment privileges and immunities section granted women the right to vote as they had always been citizens before the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920.
The women’s suffrage movement attempted to achieve a US Constitutional Amendment to grant women the right to vote after the Supreme Court ruled in Minor v. Happersett (1875) that being citizens alone did not grant women the right to vote.
The Twentieth Amendment
The 20th Amendment established the start and end of congressional and presidential sessions. It also specifies the succession order for the presidency, albeit the 25th Amendment later changed that order. Sen. George W. Norris of Nebraska proposed it on March 2, 1932, and it was approved in January of the following year.
The Twentieth Amendment, also referred to as the “Lame Duck Amendment,” was created to shorten the abnormally long period of time that a defeated president or member of Congress would continue to hold office after losing their campaign for reelection. In the event that a president-elect passed away before taking the oath of office, the amendment also allowed for the vice president-elect to assume the presidency.
As required by the 20th Amendment, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to be inaugurated in January as opposed to March or April, as George Washington had done in 1937.
The Twenty-First Amendment
Prohibition on the manufacture and sale of alcohol was abolished by the 21st Amendment. On February 20, 1933, Congress approved it, and on December 5, 1933, it was ratified. The only amendment that nullifies an earlier amendment was approved by state ratifying conventions rather than state legislatures, and it is also the only amendment that does so.
While the repeal of prohibition receives the majority of public attention, it’s crucial to remember that the Twenty-first Amendment also gave states more freedom to control alcohol both within and outside of their boundaries. As long as they do not violate the Constitution’s commerce clause, the states may limit the importation and transportation of alcohol.
The Amendment is unique in two ways:
- It is the only one to explicitly repeal another amendment;
- It is the only one to ratify itself using state conventions as a secondary procedure rather than state legislatures.
The Twenty-Second amendment
Presidents are only allowed to serve two terms in office because of the 22nd Amendment, which was approved by Congress on March 21, 1947, and ratified on February 27, 1951. This is largely due to George Washington’s decision to leave office after serving only two terms, which established the standard for the next 150 presidents of the United States. Fear of a despotic presidency led to the passage of the 22nd Amendment. The Hoover Commission, established by President Harry S. Truman, made 273 recommendations to the U.S. Congress in an effort to reform and reorganise the federal government. This was one of those suggestions.
The Amendment limits a president’s term to 10 years. A person who succeeds in the presidency without an election and holds the position for less than two years is eligible to run for two consecutive terms. Otherwise, they can only hold the position for one elected term. Despite efforts to have the Amendment repealed since it prevents voters from democratically electing the president of their choosing, it has proven to be uncontroversial over time. However, presidents who are elected to a second term in office are frequently referred to as “lame ducks,” and the race to succeed them frequently starts even before their second term is officially inaugurated.
The Twenty-Third Amendment
Congress approved the 23rd Amendment on June 16, 1960, and it was ratified on March 29, 1961. Because residents of Washington, DC are federal district residents and not state citizens, it allowed them to choose electors for presidential elections. The Twenty-third Amendment gave District residents the right to vote in presidential elections and gave Washington the same number of electoral votes as the state with the fewest people (in effect, three). Although Congress, which according to the U.S. Constitution has exclusive jurisdiction over the federal district, established a nonvoting elected delegate to the House of Representatives in 1970, residents still lack representation in the U.S. Congress.
The Twenty-Fourth Amendment
The United States Constitution’s Twenty-fourth Amendment, adopted in 1964, forbade the federal and state governments from imposing poll taxes before a citizen could vote in a federal election. On August 27, 1962, the U.S. Congress made the proposal, and on January 23, 1964, the states ratified it.
The Supreme Court reasoned in Breedlove v. Suttles (1937) that the states bestow voting rights and that the states may decide voter eligibility as they see proper, with the exception of any problems with the Fifteenth Amendment (regarding race) and the Nineteenth Amendment (respecting sex). Additionally, it determined that a tax on voting did not violate any rights or exemptions guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. In other words, the levy did not contravene the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments because it applied to all voters rather than simply specific kinds of voters.
Initially, more people were able to vote because they could pay the poll tax rather than show they were property owners. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, poll taxes were reinstated as a means of preventing black Americans from casting ballots.
The Twenty-Fifth Amendment
The 25th Amendment establishes the president’s line of succession and specifies what should happen in the event of a presidential infirmity. It was approved by Congress on July 6, 1965, and it was ratified on February 10, 1967.
It mainly had three Sections. These are explained briefly as follows:
- While the first Section of the Twenty-fifth Amendment codified the customary succession procedure in the event of the death of the president, according to which the vice president would take office, it also brought about a change regarding the vice president’s assent to the presidency in the event that the latter resigned from office.
- The amendment’s second Section handles vacancies in the vice president’s position. Because the vice president’s position became vacant in the past, generally when the president died and the vice president took over as president, that position remained unfilled until the following election. The Vice President shall be appointed by the President pursuant to the Twenty-fifth Amendment and shall be subject to confirmation by the United States Congress. This clause went into force not long after the amendment was ratified.
- The formal procedure for evaluating the president’s ability to carry out his or her responsibilities as president was outlined in the third part of the Amendment. It is assumed that the president will be in a position to formally notify the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate of such circumstances by means of a written statement, which would result in the vice president temporarily filling in as president. The fourth Section of the Amendment mandates that such decisions be made jointly by the vice president and the cabinet, with the vice president immediately taking on the role of acting president in the event that a president is unable to declare his inability to carry out the powers and duties of the office.
Since its ratification, this Amendment has only been invoked three times to remove presidents from office for medical reasons. After John F. Kennedy was slain in 1963, there was initially a fear of presidential succession that led to its passage. When Gerald R. Ford took office as president in 1974 following Richard Nixon’s resignation, the 25th Amendment was first used. The second instance occurred in 1985, when, while undergoing surgery, Ronald Reagan temporarily transferred his presidential responsibilities to Vice President George H. W. Bush. While receiving routine colonoscopies in 2002 and 2007, George W. Bush twice used the 25th Amendment to grant vice president Dick Cheney presidential powers.
The Twenty-Sixth Amendment
The 26th Amendment amended Section 2 of Amendment 14 of the US Constitution to permit voting by US citizens who are 18 years old. The protection of voting rights is addressed in this amendment, which is the last one. Americans may vote at age 21, prior to the ratification of the 26th Amendment.
Congress approved the Voting Rights Act, which lowered the voting age for all federal, state, and local elections to 18 as a result of the Vietnam War when men were being drafted at the age of 18 but were not yet eligible to vote. Congress approved it on March 23, 1971, and it was ratified on July 1, 1971.
The 26th Amendment was adopted in order to decrease the voting age after the Supreme Court ruled in Oregon v. Mitchell (1970) that Congress could not mandate it.
The Twenty-Seventh Amendment
So far, the last amendment to the US Constitution is the 27th amendment. James Madison put forth a proposal of 12 amendments to the US Constitution, the second of which was the 27th Amendment, commonly known as the Congressional Compensation Act of 1789. According to this, wage adjustments for members of Congress can only be made after the subsequent election.
Only six states, including Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia, voted to ratify it when it was first put up in 1789. The proposition remained unratified for 80 years, but Ohio ratified it in 1873 and Wyoming ratified it in 1978.
The movement to ratify the amendment and stop political corruption gained momentum in 1982 as a result of a research paper authored by Gregory Watson, a student at the University of Texas in Austin at the time, that served as the inspiration for the movement. Watson’s professor gave him a “C” for the paper because he felt the justification that the change was still pending was unpersuasive. The Amendment was certified by the United States Archives as the Twenty-seventh Amendment on May 18, 1992, more than 202 years after its initial proposal. The necessary 38 states had ratified the Amendment by May 5, 1992 (North Carolina had ratified it again in 1989).
The above mentioned are all the Articles and Amendments that are required to be known if one wants an overview of the US Constitution. Let us conclude the article with some interesting facts about the US Constitution. The United States Constitution is known as a “Bundle of Compromises.” James Madison and Gouverneur Morris served as the U.S. Constitution’s principal draughtsmen. The U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789 with the support of 9 out of 13 states. All 13 eventually approved the US Constitution.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Why is the US Constitution called ‘a bundle of compromises?’
The US Constitution was called “a bundle of compromises” because, in order to construct a constitution that was acceptable to all 13 states, delegates had to compromise on a number of crucial issues. In the end, all 13 ratified it in 1789.
- What were the compromises of the US Constitution?
The Great Compromise, the Three-Fifths Compromise, and the Electoral College were the three main compromises.
- What, in the simplest terms, is the American Constitution?
The Constitution outlines the three main federal government branches and their respective responsibilities. It also specifies the fundamental legislation of the United States federal government. It is the oldest written national constitution still in use and has come to represent a Western legal precedent.
- Who is the father of the US Constitution?
Because of his crucial contribution to the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, James Madison is referred to as its “Father.”
- Who was against the US Constitution?
Given the lack of a bill of rights and their concern that the new national government would be overly powerful and harm individual liberty, the Anti-Federalists opposed the passage of the 1787 U.S. Constitution.
- Constitution of the United States of America | Definition, Summary, Amendments, Analysis, Importance, & Facts | Britannica
- US Constitution | US Law
- United States Constitution – Ballotpedia
- The Bill of Rights: What Does it Say? | National Archives
- The US Constitution has 27 amendments that protect the rights of Americans. Do you know them all?
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