Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Rights Granted in the United States Constitution

In addition to, and as a consequence of, the rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" listed in the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers wrote some additional rights into the Constitution.

There was a division among them as to whether the Constitution was the proper vehicle for a listing of the rights of individuals. Some felt that this document should only address the structure of the new government and the relationship of the new government to the individual states. Others took a more comprehensive view.

In order to break this logjam, it was proposed that the Constitution would be ratified first and that one of Congress's first order of business would be to declare and guarantee the rights of the individual citizen. Being honest men, this was agreed to and faithfully executed, resulting in the first amendments to the Constitution now known as the Bill of Rights.

The Constitution of the United States

The United States was created out of the consensual joining of the thirteen former British colonies. Each colony had its own local government, wrote and enforced its own laws, and their own elected leaders. The problem was, as individual states, they were too weak to protect themselves from the great European powers. In uniting together, there was strength.

After their experience with the British monarch, they were very wary of giving any new "government of governments" too much power and authority. They sought to achieve balance, both between the states and the federal government and between the branches – legislative, executive and judicial – of the federal government.

In the Constitution of the United States, several individual rights are declared.

Article I - The Legislature

Section 8

Article I, Section 8 lists the powers of the legislature, including:

Congress shall have the Power ...

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

This establishes the right of individuals to own their intellectual property and protect their investment in it with copyrights and patents. This was in contrast to the British system which, at that time, rewarded intellectual property "pirates" because

..., the British designed their early patent system to introduce foreign technologies to the kingdom. Therefore, they granted monopoly privileges not to inventors, but to those who brought inventions into public knowledge. (Susan Sell, Intellectual Property and Public Policy in Historical Perspective: Contestation and Settlement. 9/1/2004, p.282)
Based on the mercantilist goals of limiting imports and promoting exports, and to gain the maximum benefit from inventions, most European nations
had adopted intellectual property policies to encourage the migration of useful inventions to their territory and to facilitate the reading public's access to an extensive range of published materials. These policies included introductory patents, compulsory licensing, working requirements, differential treatment for citizens versus foreigners, and by contemporary standards, weak or lax intellectual property protection. (Susan Sell, Intellectual Property and Public Policy in Historical Perspective: Contestation and Settlement. 9/1/2004, p.282)

Section 9

In Article I, Section 9, there is a list of individual rights created by placing restrictions on Congress, including

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

This quotation contains three legal terms from British Common Law that require explanation:

Writ of Habeas Corpus
Habeas corpus is a legal action in which a prisoner challenges the authority of the jail or prison to continue holding him. ... it allows incarcerated people to seek relief from unlawful confinement. Habeas corpus is a protection against illegal imprisonment, afforded to United States citizens as outlined in the Suspension Clause of the U.S. Constitution. (Legal Dictionary)
Bill of Attainder
A legislative act, directed against a designated person, pronouncing him guilty of an alleged crime, (usually treason,) without trial or conviction according to the recognized rules of procedure, and passing sentence of death and attainder upon him. (The Law Dictionary)
Ex post facto Law
Ex post facto often refers to a law that applies retroactively, thereby criminalizing conduct that was legal when originally performed. (US Legal)

In this article, we find a deep distrust for government, especially a national government located many miles away. The British government, indeed almost all governments of the time, threw political opponents into jail charged with various made-up or newly created crimes. They then left these prisoners there indefinitely.

Actually, we do not have to look to history to find modern examples of this behavior. We just have to look into the newspaper — China versus Ai Weiwei, Russia versus Pussy Riot, and various local Syrian and Egyptian critics whom have been jailed by their respective governments.

Article III - Judicial

Section 2

In Article III, Section 2, our Founding Fathers guaranteed anyone accused of a Federal crime the right to a trial in front of a jury:

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

Again, by requiring that criminal trials be public and be judged by members of the public, our Founding Fathers were attempting to eliminate the use of secret trials and of "show trials" where the verdict is determined in advance of presenting the evidence in the case. Both of these tactics were in wide use at the time and, in much of the world, are still in use today.

Article IV

Section 1

In Article IV, Section 1:

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.

This section of the Constitution allows Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Divorce Certificates, Death Certificates and real property deeds issued by one state to be valid in all states. It also allows escaped convicts caught in one state to be returned to the state in which they were convicted or to another state to complete their sentence. The Supreme Court upheld this and the Fourteenth Amendment in the Loving case, where a black person and a white person whom were married in one state were arrested in another where interracial marriage was illegal, and recently upheld this in a case of a same sex married couple.

Section 2

In Article IV, Section 2:
The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

This, too, was an attempt to protect the rights of citizens as they travel from one state to another. It was strongly reinforced by the Fourteenth Amendment.

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