We are a nation founded on principles of
individual liberty, and a
limited national government. The constitution serves not only to define the powers of this government,
but also as a shield to protect us from government encroachment on our
natural rights and liberties. It protects our abilities to speak our minds,
defend our property, and travel with minimal restriction.
Below are a few of our constitutional provisions defended every day in
courtrooms throughout the country:
The 4th Amendment guarantees us the right to be secure in our persons,
houses, papers and effects. It protects us from unreasonable searches
and seizures of our property, essentially requiring the government to prove
probable cause to believe a crime is being committed before it may search, and often
also requiring the consent of a neutral judge. It prevents the government
from searching our property at will and taking it
without legal justification.
With the government holding an almost limitless supply of resources, the
5th Amendment prevents us from being
persecuted continually when the government accuses us of wrong doing. We cannot be put twice
in jeopardy for the same offense under the same set of facts. We cannot
be compelled to assist the government in our prosecution –
the right to remain silent – and our exercise of this right cannot be taken as an admission
of guilt. When private property is taken for public use, the owner must
be paid just compensation. Finally, the government may not take life,
liberty or property without
due process of law, requiring notice and an opportunity to be heard.
The 6th Amendment provides us the right to a
speedy and public trial by an impartial jury; the right to be informed of the government’s
allegations; and the right to confront the witnesses against us. It also
includes the right to have the assistance of an attorney and to compel
favorable witnesses to appear in court on our behalf.
The 8th Amendment forbids
excessive fines and
excessive bail and
prevents cruel and unusual punishment by our government. Thus crimes and penalties must be proportionate.
The 14th Amendment affords all persons the
right to equal protection under the law, regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion, or national
origin. It has also been interpreted to apply most of the Bill of Rights
to the states and political subdivisions. Regardless of our individual
abilities and talents, we are equal in the eyes of the law.
Thomas Jefferson has been credited with saying that a government that is
strong enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to take
everything you have. It is the nature of a bureaucracy to suffer from
mission creep. While technology has changed, human nature has been constant
since the time of founding. The Constitution remains not only the defining
document for our system of government, but an
important shield in protecting the people from their government, especially as the mission
of the government expands.