The Bill of Rights


Amendment I

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

First Amendment Center - The First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Lots of resources about the First Amendment.

Establishment of Religion Clause

Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) - This Supreme Court ruling established the "Lemon Test" to be used to determine if a law violates the Establishment Clause.

Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940) - A Supreme Court ruling that students may be compelled to salute the flag and pledge alegiance even if it is a violation of their religious beliefs. The ruling is soon overturned in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

Lynch v. Donnelly (1980) - In this decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a city nativity scene at the time of Christmas did not necessarily violate the Establishment Clause.

Allegheny County v. ACLU (1989) - Here the Supreme Court ruled that a nativity scene inside a government building did violate the Establishment Clause.

Engel v. Vitale (1962) - Supreme Court decision that voluntary, nondenominational school prayer violates the Establishment Clause.

Torcaso v. Watkins (1961) - In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that a clause in the Maryland Constituion, which prohibited a man from becoming a notary public because he would not swear his belief in God, was a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Free Exercise of Religion Clause

McDaniel v. Paty (1978) - A Supreme Court ruling that state laws preventing clergy from holding office in the legislature violated the Free Exercise Clause.

Reynolds v. United States (1879) - In this case about polygami, the Supreme Court ruled that while Congress has no power to legislate "mere opinion" it could legislate against some actions.

Sherbert v. Verner (1963) - In this case about a Seventh-day Adventist who lost her job because she refused to work on Saturday (for religious reasons) the Supreme Court ruled that there must be a "compelling state interest" to allow infringement upon the Free Exercise right. This became known as the "Sherbert Test" but was largely overuled in Employment Division v. Smith (1990).

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) - In this decision, the Supreme Court ruled that even religiously-neutral laws violate the Free Exercise Clause if they "unduly burden" the free exercise of religion.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 An act passed by Congress that was passed in response to the 1990 Smith ruling. The purpose of the law was to "to restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened." The law was ruled unconstitutional in City of Boerne v. Flores.

Freedom of Speech

Schenck v. United States (1919) - A famous Supreme Court decision from which comes the Chief Justice Holmes quote "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."

Frohwerk v. United States (1919) - Another Supreme Court decision outlining the limits of the Freedom of Speech. The decision states that "the First Amendment while prohibiting legislation against free speech as such cannot have been, and obviously was not, intended to give immunity for every possible use of language."

Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) - Famous pornography decision where Justice Stewart stated that he would not define pornography, but "I know it when I see it."

Brandenburg vs. Ohio (1969) - per curiam Supreme Court decision upheld previous decisions which state that hate speech which calls for violence can only be prohibited by the state "where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."

Freedom of the Press

New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) - In this decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution "prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with "actual malice" - that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not."

New York Times v. United States (1971) - The famous "Pentagon Papers" case in which the Supreme Court ruled that there is a "heavy burden" to be met before any prior restraint of the press may be enforced.

Freedom of Assembly

NAACP v. Alabama (1964) - Supreme Court decision ehich stated that the provacy of the membership list of the Alabama NAACP was protected under the right of the Freedom of Assembly and thus, by implication, also protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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Freedom to Petition the Government

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Amendment II

"A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

United States v. Miller (1939) - A rare Supreme Court decision dealing with the Second Amendment. The issue at hand was the interstate transport of sawed-off shotguns.

Second Amendment Foundation - A foundation which "is dedicated to promoting a better understanding about our Constitutional heritage to privately own and possess firearms."

Embarrassing Second Amendment - An article from the Yale Law Journal. 99 Yale L.J. 637-659 (1989).

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

There don't seem to be any Supreme Court cases dealing with the Third Amendment. Perhaps that, in and of itself, is a tribute to the Amendment's authors. There are, of course, some internet sites dedicated to the Third Amendment.

Brief History of the Third Amendment - Written by a guy who thinks that the Third Amendment "has very little practical application." I'd be willing to bet, however, that at the time he wrote that he was not being coerced to house soldiers in his own home. If he was, he might have felt differently.

Third Amendment: Forgotten but Not Gone - A site with a lot of interesting cackground information about the Amendment.

Third Amendment and the Issue of the Maintenance of Standing Armies: A Legal History - Amother article about the history of the Third Amendment. American Journal of Legal History (Temple) 35 (1991): 393

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Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Weeks v. United States (1914) - Supreme Court decision that states that evidence obtained from an unauthorized seizure cannot be used in federal court.

Carroll v. United States (1925) - Supreme Court decision that states "if the search and seizure without a warrant are made upon probable cause, that is, upon a belief, reasonably arising out of circumstaces known to the seizing officer, that an automobile or other vehicle contains that which by law is subject to seizure and destruction, the search and seizure are valid."

Mapp v. Ohio (1961) - In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that all evidence obtained in violation of the U.S. Constitution (in this case, the Fourth Amendment) was inadmissable in state court.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

United States v. Causby (1946) - Interesting Supreme Court decision that the owner of a farm near a military airport base was entitled to "just compensation" for his chickens that were killed by flying into walls when they were scared by the aircraft.

Miller v. Schoene (1928) - Supreme Court decision that declared the owner of a group of cedar trees that had been cut down because of a fungus that endagered apple trees was not entitled to just compensation. It's interesting that the plantif was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates at the time it passed the law that he subsequently argued was unconstitutional. He had not only voted for the law, but he had successfully amended it.

Miranda v. Arizona (1966) - Well-known Supreme Court decision that states that a defendent must be given a "full and effective warning of his rights at the outset of the interrogation process." The ruling also states "The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him."

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) - Landmark Supreme Court decision that protected the Sixth Amendment right to counsel to all persons accused of a crime.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Furman v. Georgia (1972) - Supreme Court ruling that capital punishment, as it was being performed at the time, was "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Most justices felt the problem was the arbitrary manner in which the sentence was imposed (often with a racial bias).

Gregg v. Georgia (1976) - Supreme Court decision ruling that the new Georgia death sentence law (modified following Furman) was constitutional because it addressed the problems outlined in Furman.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be con- strued to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) - Supreme Court decision that stated there is a right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution. One of the main places that this right is found (particularly according to the concurring opinion) is the Ninth Amendment.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) - In this landmark Supreme Court decision, it was decided that even though the power to create a national bank was not "delegated to the United States" it was nonetheless constitutional to do so.

Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) - An early Supreme Court decison affirming that Congress had the exclusive right to regulate interstate commerce.

United States v. Darby (1941) - A Supreme Court decision that affirmed the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.


One More Amendment


Amendment XIV

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 to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2: Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election f or the choice of Electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3: No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or Elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State Legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4: The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Notes: Though not a part of the Bill of Rights, I include the Fourtheenth Amendment here because Secton 1 of this Amendment is often considered the mechanism by which the original Bill of Rights (which prohibited the Federal Government from infringing upon rights) is extended to also prevent the State Governments from infringing upon these rights ("liberties"). Many of the court cases involving one of the first ten Amendements also include this Amendment.

Barron v. Baltimore (1833) - Supreme Court decision (35 years before the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment) that stated that the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government and not to state governments.

Gitlow v. New York (1925) - Supreme Court decisin which declared, among other things, that freedom of speech and freedom of the press were liberties that were protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the states. See also Near v. Minnesota (1931).

Everson v. Board of Education (1947) - The Supreme Court rulilng in this case said that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (and, by implication, the other liberties outlined in the Bill of Rights) also applies to state governments because of the Fourteenth Amendment.