Perspectives: What are the limits, if any, to Constitutional rights?

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  • Sarah Buxton

    Sarah Buxton

    There are countless examples of limits to the Constitution that come in the forms of additional amendments, laws passed by Congress and Supreme Court decisions. For example, your First Amendment right to free speech does not include libel and defamation, obscene or indecent expressions, or shouting “Fire!” in a movie theatre. But here’s some food for thought: Should the Constitution be read as a living document that can change from era to era, or should it be taken literally? Shouting “Fire!” in a movie theatre protects the public and restricts the rights of an individual. But why do we have this limit in the first place? If the Constitution is a living, breathing document, why do we even need to formally make a restriction on the First Amendment? Why not just read it differently? Because, in the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the Constitution is, “good and dead.” So next time you start thinking you are completely free in the United States, think about all of the restrictions we have on our Constitutional rights. Come to think of it, now I feel the need to break out my “Don’t Tread on Me” t-shirt.
  • Morgan Atwood

    Morgan Atwood

    The Constitution applies to “we” the people. Yet, the “we” included in the “we” continues to evolve. Those in power determine who is included and what rights and freedoms “we” are afforded. For example, the Sixth Amendment protects one’s rights to a speedy trial and to the assistance of counsel. However, those protections are frequently absent to those who cannot afford them. In practice, the accused without funds to hire an attorney or pay even a nominal cash bail remain incarcerated, awaiting the aid of a time and resource constrained public defender. Under such dire circumstances, one may plead guilty and forego trial for a crime he or she did not commit to escape continued incarceration or make life-altering decisions with inadequate legal advice. “We” are stratified according to economic, race, gender and other factors. A more perfect union is only attainable when “we” provide equal protection to all.
  • Dan Ponder

    Dan Ponder

    The Constitution (7,369 words) is ambiguous and barely longer than a Drury senior thesis. Cases that implicate the Constitution yield outcomes derived from one of two ways the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution. “Originalism” holds that no rights are given if the Constitution does not explicitly create them, and must be interpreted the way the Framers did. Originalism assumes that the meaning was plain to all in 1787, which is simply untrue. Compromise and bargaining reflects what Michael Walzer calls “the balance of forces, not the weight of arguments,” and any clear understanding is impossible. In the gun control case District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), Justices Scalia and Stevens used “original meaning” to arrive at different conclusions of Framers intent. A “Living Constitution” adapts with society. A 21st century understanding of the commerce clause is hardly equivalent to that from the 18th century. The Living Constitution IS “original intent” and the future was on the Framers’ minds. The amendment process is the most obvious example; others include barring Congress from ending the slave trade until 1808, strategic ambiguity in areas from elections to policy, institutional design, relationships between state and nation, leaving to the future to fill in the blanks. The Framers were smart enough to know they weren’t smart enough to set the limits for generations to come which they cannot. It is to their credit that they did not try.
  • Corey Ritter

    Corey Ritter

    I’ve always been a staunch supporter of the constitution (in its entirety), and wary of what too many limits, or amendment abolition, could lead to. As a “country boy” married to a law enforcement officer, I’ve seen (and heard) plenty of talk around “sensible limits” to constitutional rights, usually floating around one in particular. But, it seems that no one thinks of the implications and/or ramifications associated with these limits. Further, with all the talk around sensible limits, there are few definitions of the term “sensible” given that don’t border absolute abolition. Limiting or abolishing one constitutional right opens the door to allowing all of our constitutional rights to be limited, or abolished. It’s an all or none scenario. The first amendment is adamantly supported, as it should be. But, failing to realize that suggesting the abolition or strict limitation of another amendment is extremely dangerous to democracy, and ultimately, that “God-given” right of Freedom of Speech. Let me be clear: I am aware that this is just my opinion, and the issue is far bigger than me – but it has nothing to do with how I align myself politically, as I’ve voted for candidates from both major parties, as well as independent candidates. However, from my experience and personal beliefs, there is no such thing as “sensible limits,” unless, you know, you’re cool with limitations on all of our constitutional rights.