We are a nation founded on principles of natural rights, 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.