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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe how the Ninth and Tenth Amendments reflect on our other rights
  • Identify the two senses of “right to privacy” embodied in the Constitution
  • Explain the controversy over privacy when applied to abortion and same-sex relationships

As this chapter has suggested, the provisions of the Bill of Rights    have been interpreted and reinterpreted repeatedly over the past two centuries. However, the first eight amendments are largely silent on the status of traditional common law, which was the legal basis for many of the natural rights claimed by the framers in the Declaration of Independence. These amendments largely reflect the worldview of the time in which they were written; new technology and an evolving society and economy have presented us with novel situations that do not fit neatly into the framework established in the late eighteenth century.

In this section, we consider the final two amendments of the Bill of Rights and the way they affect our understanding of the Constitution as a whole. Rather than protecting specific rights and liberties, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments indicate how the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should be interpreted, and they lay out the residual powers of the state governments. We will also examine privacy rights, an area the Bill of Rights does not address directly; instead, the emergence of defined privacy rights demonstrates how the Ninth and Tenth Amendments have been applied to expand the scope of rights protected by the Constitution.

The ninth amendment

We saw above that James Madison and the other framers were aware they might endanger some rights if they listed a few in the Constitution and omitted others. To ensure that those interpreting the Constitution would recognize that the listing of freedoms and rights in the Bill of Rights was not exhaustive, the Ninth Amendment states:

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

These rights “retained by the people” include the common-law and natural rights inherited from the laws, traditions, and past court decisions of England. To this day, we regularly exercise and take for granted rights that aren’t written down in the federal constitution, like the right to marry, the right to seek opportunities for employment and education, and the right to have children and raise a family. Supreme Court justices over the years have interpreted the Ninth Amendment in different ways; some have argued that it was intended to extend the rights protected by the Constitution to those natural and common-law rights, while others have argued that it does not prohibit states from changing their constitutions and laws to modify or limit those rights as they see fit.

Critics of a broad interpretation of the Ninth Amendment point out that the Constitution provides ways to protect newly formalized rights through the amendment process. For example, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the right to vote was gradually expanded by a series of constitutional amendments (the Fifteenth and Nineteenth), even though at times this expansion was the subject of great public controversy. However, supporters of a broad interpretation of the Ninth Amendment point out that the rights of the people—particularly people belonging to political or demographic minorities—should not be subject to the whims of popular majorities. One right the courts have said may be at least partially based on the Ninth Amendment is a general right to privacy, discussed later in the chapter.

Questions & Answers

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we know what's best for us... with humility, GOD's Word, "Do no Harm to Others" Civil and Respectful people can and should manage their own lives.. This is one of the main Tenents of our Constitution. The Federal Government is supposed to regulate Commerce, Treaties & Protect rights of Citizens
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The Constitution is the law of the land regarding the governance of America. However, it is not The complete Law in itself. The laws that we follow, both federally and state-wide, come from the foundations laid down by the Constitution and it's articles.
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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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