Amendment IX

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

April 11, 2012 – Essay #38 – Amendment IX: Guest Essayist: Brion McClanahan Ph.D., author of The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution

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http://vimeo.com/40152775

Amendment IX:

 

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

In the waning days of the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, George Mason of Virginia, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and Luther Martin of Maryland began pressing for the addition of a comprehensive bill of rights to the final draft of the Constitution.  Roger Sherman of Connecticut immediately rejected their plea.  A bill of rights, he said, was unnecessary because “The State Declarations of Rights are not repealed by this Constitution; and being in force are sufficient….”  Sherman, a man who Thomas Jefferson regarded as one of the finest statesmen of the founding generation, reasoned that because the Constitution was mute on civil liberties and because it was a document with delegated and enumerated powers for the general purposes of the Union—the States United—the general government could no more legislate on matters of trial by jury than it could on the minutia of state law.  Gerry’s proposal to form a committee to draft of a bill of rights was unanimously defeated (votes were by State), and as a result Mason said he would rather cut off his right hand than sign the document.  This exchange began the process for codifying the language of the Ninth Amendment.

During the ratifying process in the State conventions, several leading proponents of the document made arguments against a bill of rights that mirrored those Sherman gave in the Philadelphia Convention.  James Wilson of Pennsylvania, perhaps the most ardent nationalist among the founding generation, said in the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention that “A bill of rights annexed to a constitution is an enumeration of the powers reserved.  If we attempt an enumeration, every thing that is not enumerated is presumed to be given.  The consequence is, that an imperfect enumeration would throw all implied power into the scale of the government, and the rights of the people would be rendered incomplete.”

Alexander Hamilton of New York, the most famous nationalist of the founding period, echoed Wilson in Federalist No. 84.  Adding a bill of rights, he said, “would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than were granted.  For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”   Both Hamilton and Wilson contended that a bill of rights would destroy liberty rather than protect it by allowing scheming men to enlarge the power of the central authority.  In short, if a particular liberty was not protected by the list of rights, they believed it could be assumed that the government had the power to abridge that liberty.  And, since all powers delegated to the general government were enumerated in the Constitution, they wondered why open that Pandora’s Box?

Thus, the modern Ninth Amendment was born.  As proposals for a bill of rights flooded into James Madison’s hands in the months after the Constitution was ratified, he quickly realized that individuals needed assurances that their liberties would not be circumscribed by the Constitution nor would they be left to flutter in the wind should ambitious men usurp power from the States or the people.  The Tenth Amendment protects the States and most importantly the federal compact among the States.  The Ninth does the same for the people individually by implicitly recognizing the validity—and to the founding generation supremacy—of the several State declaration of rights.  It is an enhancer.  The original preamble to the Bill of Rights expressly stated that they were “restricting clauses” on the general government only.  The Ninth Amendment ensured that the powers of the general government as operating on individuals would be further checked by the States.  State declaration of rights often tended to be more detailed and comprehensive and therefore served as a more effective shield for the people.

Madison said in 1789 that Hamilton’s argument against the Bill of Rights was “one of the most plausible…I have ever heard against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against.”  He was referring to the Ninth Amendment.  Of course, the powers of the general government in the modern era have spiraled out of control and today the two most ignored Amendments in the Bill of Rights are the Ninth and Tenth, arguably the most important Amendments to the founding generation.  The States have always stood at the vanguard of individual liberty.  American citizens should remember that their first line of defense against both the State and Federal government rests in their separate State bill of rights.  The founding generation believed that those declared rights coupled with the Ninth Amendment would prevent the modern leviathan in Washington D.C.  We need to protect their legacy.

Brion McClanahan holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of South Carolina.  He is the author of The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution (Regnery History, 2012), The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers (Regnery, 2009), and Forgotten Conservatives in American History (forthcoming with Clyde Wilson, Pelican, 2012).

April 10, 2012 – Essay #37 – Amendment IX: Rights Which Are Enumerated – Guest Essayist: W.B. Allen, Dean Emeritus, James Madison College; Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University

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http://vimeo.com/40060581

Amendment 9 – Construction of Constitution. Ratified 12/15/1791.

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

The 9th Amendment to the Constitution was one of twelve submitted to the states for ratification in fall, 1789.  Ten of the twelve were ratified by December 15, 1791, and came to be known as the “Bill of Rights.”  An eleventh, the 27th Amendment, was ratified May 7, 1992.  The final of the twelfth, applying the relevant terms of the “Bill of Rights” to the states was never ratified.  However, the Supreme Court in the 20th Century adopted a doctrine of “incorporation” which imported many of the guarantees of the “Bill of Rights” as applying against the states through the 14th Amendment, adopted during the process of Reconstruction following the 1861-65 War for the Union.

The context for interpreting the 9th Amendment, therefore, is focused on the controlling ideas informing the “Bill of Rights.”  The Supreme Court has never provided clear guidance concerning the 9th Amendment itself.  A fundamental principle of constitutional interpretation, however, is that every article bears some intentional meaning which remains significant in understanding at minimum the intentions of the framers and the design of the institutions of self-government framed by the Constitution.  In that sense, we may take the 9th Amendment to refer primarily to the question of the breadth of the guarantees mentioned in the other articles of the “Bill of Rights.”  This follows the debate that took place over the ratification of the Constitution, in which the Antifederalists chiefly criticized the draft constitution as over-broad and threatening the rights of the people and their state institutions with the prospect of an unlimited federal/national government.  The defenders of the Constitution (the Federalists) responded that the guarantees of individual rights familiar in most of the state constitutions of the founding era should not be included in a federal constitution precisely because the federal constitution was not designed to convey the kind of police power (health, safety, and morals) that would imperil individual rights, reserving that jurisdiction to the states.  That argument is made most forcefully in essay number 84 of The Federalist Papers.  An additional argument made there is the argument that any determinate listing of guaranteed rights would bear the unfortunate implication that any specific guarantees omitted in the process of listing specific rights would imply the existence of a governmental power that had not been intended.

Once, therefore, the political compromise of adding a bill of rights to the constitution had been accepted, the authors of the amendments (mainly James Madison) thought it important to do everything possible to avert any unintended consequences of such an enumeration of rights.  The 9th of Amendment is the first of two deliberately intended to restrict the breadth of the application of those guarantees in such a manner as neither to imply unlimited power in the federal/national government nor to imply individual rights were exhausted by such an enumeration.  In that sense, the 9th Amendment creates a shadowy, unspecified realm in which certain additional rights may be discovered as reserved to the people and, to that extent, thus brought under the controlling language of the 1st Amendment, namely, that “Congress shall make no law respecting” such additional rights.  It is in that spirit that the Supreme Court in the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 decision discovered a constitutional “penumbra” within which a “right to privacy” sheltered and served to proscribe state prohibition of access to contraception.  It was because of the incorporation doctrine through the 14th Amendment that the Court was able to make use of the “Congress shall make no law respecting” the unspoken right to privacy language to enunciate a limit upon the states.  Though the Court has never said so, it should logically follow, therefore, that such a proscription against state policy can only be considered authoritative to the extent that it operates with equal effectiveness against the federal/national government.  For the language of the 9th Amendment is primarily a language of restriction on the federal/national government, as are all of the “Bill of Rights”, and in the absence of ratification of the drafted 12th amendment, applying the same terms to the states, the primary meaning of all such language must be that it is a limitation upon the government of the United States.  Besides contraception, the areas in which such application has occurred have been the parental right to educate children, the right to study a foreign language, the right to make and enforce contracts, etc.

W. B. Allen is Dean Emeritus, James Madison College; and Emeritus
Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University

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May 31, 2011 – Amendment IX of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Steven H. Aden, Senior Counsel, Alliance Defense Fund

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Amendment IX

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

Despite 220 years of constitutional interpretation, there really isn’t much one can say about the Ninth Amendment.  And that’s just what James Madison and the Framers intended.

The Ninth Amendment is that rare creature in American politics, a success story conceived in humility.  The first eight amendments of the Bill of Rights established freedom of worship, the freedoms of assembly, speech, press and petition, the rights to bear arms, to be free from government intrusions into citizens’ homes, to due process and to a jury of one’s peers, and many others.  Having penned what may have been the finest articulation of the rights of man in human history, Madison and his colleagues could have been forgiven for giving way to hubris and capping it with a rhetorical flourish.  Instead, they added a caution, by way of an afterthought.  The Ninth Amendment’s quiet caveat has done much more to protect fundamental rights from government encroachment than its humble phrasing would suggest.

The Bill of Rights exists because a compromise was required to satisfy the Anti-Federalists and States that were cautious about ratifying into existence a federal government of broad powers.  The Ninth Amendment exists because another compromise was necessary to satisfy those in the Federalist camp who believed that an enumeration of rights would tend to negate recognition of rights left unmentioned.  Madison, Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists contended that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary because the federal government’s powers were delineated by and limited to those set forth in Article I, Section 8 [link to John Baker’s blog on this provision  – http://constitutingamerica.org/category/analyzing-the-constitution-in-90-days-2011-project/article-i-section-08-clause-01/ ] Hamilton’s Federalist 84 queried, “Why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”  But the Anti-Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson, prevailed, and history has affirmed their wisdom as through expansive interpretations of the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Commerce Clause the mantle of federal power has come to envelope virtually every aspect of life from the light bulbs in our ceilings to the “individual mandate” to purchase health insurance.  The enumeration of rights stands as a bulwark against that tide of federal authority in the sphere of private life, speech and conduct.  On the other hand, the Ninth Amendment lifts its staying hand against the argument that these rights, and only these, stand between the citizen and his seemingly omnipotent (and, with digital technology, increasingly omnipresent) government.

That the rights enumerated in the first eight amendments are not all the rights we possess may strike one at first as a challenging notion.  For rights that went unenumerated at the time, but became “self-evident” (in the words of the Declaration) much later, consider the right to be free, expressed in the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery (1865); the right to vote (Amendment XIV in 1870); and the right to vote for women, which came a half-century later (Amendment XIX in 1920).  Except for the salutary effect of the Ninth Amendment, it might have been presumed that no other fundamental human rights existed outside of those enumerated in 1789 – that the “canon of human rights” was closed, not subject to further elaboration through constitutional amendment.  Or perhaps what is worse, it might have been supposed that all “rights” secured by the people through amendment of the Constitution subsequent to the Founding were not “fundamental” human rights, but only positive political rights secured through an effective application of the Social Contract.  For unenumerated fundamental rights that have yet to be affirmed in the written constitution, consider the right of conscience; the right of parents to raise and educate their children outside of the government school system (unrecognized in parts of Europe and elsewhere), or the right to be free from genetic manipulation.

Mark Twain quipped, “Some compromise is essential between parties which are not omniscient.” Our generations, and generations to come, will have to struggle with the meaning of rights enumerated and unenumerated, and with the wisdom of further constitutional amendments.  Thankfully, because the two great forces in the making of the Constitution were willing to admit their fallibility and broker resolutions, we have the wisdom of the Bill of Rights, and the wisdom of the “Bill of Other Rights” – the Ninth Amendment.

Steven H. Aden is the Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/ .