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San Antonio Express-News, December 12, 1997

The U.S. Bill of Rights

© 1989-2004, Paul Premack

Dear Mr. Premack: December 15 is National Bill of Rights Day. I remember a few years ago you wrote about the Bill of Rights, and the PBS documentary "Liberty" a few weeks ago has re-ignited my interest. Could you share that information with us again? - W.C.

Although the colonies declared independence in 1776, our first government was not officially formed until the Articles of Confederation of 1781. The people were dissatisfied with that weak government, and in 1789 ratified the Constitution, which called for a much stronger central government.

At the same time they desired a strong central government, they feared it as well. For protection of individual liberties several states pushed for enactment of a Bill of Rights. It passed as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution in 1789.

Texas, too, has adopted several bills of rights - one in our Constitution and two in our statutes. We have an equal rights amendment to guarantee equality under the law regardless of a person's race, sex, color, creed, or national origin. We have a statute aimed at protecting Senior Citizens and another protecting patients in Personal Care facilities. But the federal Bill of Rights sets the baseline; a state can offer additional rights, but can never restrict a right guaranteed in the Constitution. The federal Bill of Rights says:

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

"2. 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. 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. 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. 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 offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

"6. 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 been 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 defence."

"7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."

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

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

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

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Disclaimer: This column answers a specific legal question offered by an individual in the South Texas area. The answer may or may not match your individual situation. Be careful not to treat this column as specific legal advice that meets your individual needs. It may give you a solid basis for discussion with your own attorney. Also, please be aware that laws change. You should consult with your personal attorney before you take any action on this or any legal issue.



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