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White House commemorates Bill of Rights Day

28th December 2015   ·   0 Comments

President Barack Obama issued a proclamation earlier this month declaring December 15, 2015 as Bill of Rights Day, commemorating the ratification of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791.

Obama said the ratification of the Bill of Rights 224 years ago “marked one of our country’s earliest and most important steps toward ensuring that the ideals enshrined in our founding documents are the birthright of all Americans.

Written to guarantee our fledgling Nation would never succumb to the tyranny it fought against, these first 10 Amendments to our Constitution help safeguard the bedrock principles of equality, liberty, and justice. In the years since, America has carried forward the spirit enshrined in the Bill of Rights — recognizing that freedom is a value we must forever work to uphold.”

The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed following the oftentimes bitter 1787–1788 battle over ratification of the Constitution, and crafted to address the objections raised by Anti-Federalists, the Bill of Rights amendments add certain safeguards of democracy—specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights; clear limitations on the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings; and explicit declarations that all powers not specifically delegated to Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people—to the Constitution. The concept codified in these amendments are built upon those found in several earlier documents, including the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the English Bill of Rights 1689, along with earlier documents such as Magna Carta (1215).

On June 8, 1789 Representative James Madison introduced a series of 39 amendments to the constitution in the House of Representatives. Among his recommendations Madison proposed opening up the Constitution and inserting specific rights limiting the power of Congress in Article One, Section 9. Seven of these limitations would become part of the ten ratified Bill of Rights amendments. Ultimately, on September 25, 1789, Congress approved 12 articles of amendment to the Constitution and submitted them to the states for ratification. Contrary to Madison’s original proposal that the articles be incorporated into the main body of the Constitution, they were proposed as supplemental additions (codicils) to it. Articles 3 through 12 were ratified as additions to the Constitution December 15, 1791, and became Amendments 1 through 10 of the Constitution. Article Two became part of the Constitution May 7, 1992 as the 27th Amendment. Article One is technically still pending before the states.

Originally the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government. The door for their application upon state governments was opened in the 1860s, following ratification of the 14th Amendment. Since the early 20th century both federal and state courts have used the 14th Amendment to apply portions of the Bill of Rights to state and local governments. The process is known as incorporation.

There are several original engrossed copies of the Bill of Rights still in existence. One of these is on permanent public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Bill of Rights 1-10 read as follows:

1. Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion and Petition.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

2. Right to keep and bear arms.

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

3. Conditions for quarters of soldiers

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

4. Right of search and seizure regulated.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

5. Provisions concerning prosecution.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital,or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of lifer limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived or life,liberty or property,without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

6. Right to a speedy trial, witnesses, etc.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have bee previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

7. Right to a trial by jury.

In suits of common law, where the value on controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no far t trial by jury shall be otherwise reexamined by any court in the United States, ethan according to the rules of the common law.

8. Excessive bail, cruel punishment.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

9. Rule of construction of Constitution.

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

10. Rights of States under Constitution.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

“When you read the Bill of Rights it becomes immediately clear why people of color in particular need to pay close attention to the U.S. Constitution and its protections for the people of the nation,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly Tuesday. “When you read it, the many ways that Black and Brown people’s rights are routinely violated by law enforcement officers and the criminal justice system as a whole become even more clear.

“We need to familiarize ourselves with these rights and not just depend on the attorneys we hire and public defenders to plead our cause,” Aha added. “We also need to do a better job of holding the U.S. Department of Justice’s feet to the fire and ensure that it does a better job of making sure people of color and the poor enjoy equal protection under the law.”

In a previous interview with The Louisiana Weekly, W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and local co-host of the cable-access show “OurStory,” said that Black people need to mount a major movement to repeal the 13th Amendment, which allows slavery in U.S. penal institutions, and bring their case for being deprived of not only the U.S. constitutional rights but human rights as well.

“Black people have a long and proud history of doing for ourselves,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “The Bill of Rights cleary spells out how all people who live in the United States should be treated by the government and underscores how radically different Black folks and the poor are treated from the way wealthy white folks are treated.

“Just as the Civil Rights Movement held the U.S. government’s feet to the fire and forced America to do a better job of protecting the rights of Black people and other groups, we need to continue that effort to make sure that the U.S. Constitution does for Black people what it says it is supposed to do. Not what it meant to do — because it was never intended to protect Black people or even poor whites — but what it says it guarantees to the people of the United States.”

Johnson said in addition to bringing its case against the U.S. to the United Nations, Black America needs to demand a Constitutional Convention to right the systemic wrongs that have negatively impacted Black people throughout the history of the United States.

“Each generation is tasked with continuing the work of perfecting our Nation,” Obama said. “In the 224 years since this codification of our most fundamental freedoms, America has been propelled by the persistent effort of her citizens —people from all walks of life who have accepted the challenge of pushing to expand liberty to all.The same American instinct that sparked our revolution and spurred the creation of the

Bill of Rights still inspires us to step forward to defend our founding ideals. It is what inspired a groundbreaking convention in Seneca Falls, drove courageous people to march in Selma, and started a transformative movement for LGBT rights at a bar in New York City. Generations of heroes who believed America is a constant work in progress have advocated and sacrificed to realize that progress and have worked to uphold the belief at the heart of the Bill of Rights: Free men and women have the capacity to shape their own destiny and forge a fairer and more just world for all who follow.

“Today, we stand on the shoulders of those who dedicated their lives to upholding the meaning of our founding documents throughout changing times – a mission made possible by the fundamental liberties secured in the Bill of Rights. As we reflect on the strides we have made to lift up an engaged citizenry, we pay tribute to the extraordinary foresight of our Founders who granted the protections that enable us to bring about the change we seek. Let U.S. recommit to continuing our legacy as a Nation that rejects complacency empowers its citizens to recognize and redress its imperfections, and embraces the struggle of improving our democracy so that all our people are able to make of their lives what they will.”

This article originally published in the December 28, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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