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A constitutional amendment refers to a formal alteration of the content of the written constitution of a nation or a state. Depending on the jurisdiction, it could be the text of the constitution that is altered, while in other cases, the text remains unchanged while the amendments take effect. In a majority of constitutions, it is necessitated that amendments only be enacted when such amendments are subject to certain special procedures that are more articulate than that which is asked of as far as ordinary legislations are required. A good example of such procedures is the requirement for super-majorities in the legislature, or even in some cases, direct approval by the electorate in a referendum. At times, it takes a combination of both the said special procedures. In some jurisdictions, a referendum to amend a constitution is triggered by a popular initiative (Kariem, 2008).
How and Why Amendments Become Part of the Constitution
Despite its official ratification in 1789, the U.S. Constitution has so far been subjected to 27 formal amendments. In part, it is understood that the paucity of such amendments emanates from the fact that the U.S. Constitution is comparatively a small document that handles fundamentally with the issues of governmental structure as opposed to the day-to-day policies. It is evident that in the U.S., it is not always simple to rule on the constitutionality of issues. It is such stalemate that often calls for constitutional amendments, so as to offer a guideline on how such issues should be handled.
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Basing his argument on the premises of popular sovereignty, Akhil Reed Amar (2001) observes that it is possible for the article V convention to specify proposals for ratification by a majority of the people. Alternatively, in a position regarded as so close to one advocated by supporters of a referendum amendment, Amar posits that the Congress is constitutionally obliged to convene a proposing convention, in the event that a bare majority of American voters so petition the Congress.
Regardless of the majority approval of the essence of constitutional amendment, a number of scholars have also come up to question the benefits of such amendments (Straus, 2001). According to Strauss, it is clear that constitutional amendments can reverse constitutional changes; including but not limited to judicial decisions that seem to have gained popularity outside the constitution. Strauss’s main concern is the rate at which the Congress proposes amendments to the Constitution.
Factors that Led To the Ratification of the Bill of Rights
The Constitution at the first place was crucial, but had some defects that rendered it invalid, hence calling for the constituion amendments. It was flawed in a way that it did not contain the bill of the individual rights; it gave the government the opportunity to perform various roles, but still didn’t limit its powers. Also, the constitution was limited to specific people. It applied to the white men only. The inexistence of the Bill of rights in the original document hindered it from being adopted to the extent that Anti- Federalists were so much afraid of a strong centralized government, hence they could not be in support of a constitution that lacked the Bill of Rights.
The public wanted the freedom of speech, freedom of press, movement, religion and more so a right to be free from warrantless police searches and seizures. The Bill of Rights was spearheaded by Jefferson and reinforced by James Madison. It was then ratified, and the first ten amendments were thereafter considered as the laws of the state.
The Effects of the Bill of Rights
With the introduction and the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the rights of individuals were to determine the powers of the Government. The government powers were limited in scope basing on the individual rights. The existence of the Bill of Rights has bound the Government by the rule of law. More so, individuals have got codified rights that the government can’t deny them the freedom to enjoy and exercise them. Apparently, the Bill of Rights totally transformed the operations of the Government, thus creating a profound impact throughout the world. Many nations copied the US in enumerating such rights and currently an International human rights movement has ensured that international codes and law are adhered to.
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Thirteen through Fifteenth Amendments
Throughout the history of the United States of America, the period between 1865 and 1870 is defined by pursuit of human dignity. The struggle for human dignity as witnessed during this period was a battle for legalization of the fundamental values of a people. As such, there was no better battlefield than the Congress. During this five years period, the Congress could not rest without seeing through the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and consequently the Fifteenth Constitutional Amendments. Each of these amendments in its own unique way resulted in an overwhelming change in the manner in which individual rights were perceived, especially by the state.
This is by far one of the most remarkable historical milestones ever gained as far as Constitutional amendment is concerned. The first section of the thirteenth amendment observes that no individual should be subjected to slavery or involuntary servitude, with exception being where the individual is paying for a punishment for a crime he/she committed. Where this iis the case, then the individual should have been duly found guilty by the justice system as stipulated within the United States jurisdiction, or any other place where the U.S. recognizes such a jurisdiction (Bron, 2002).
In addition, the second section of this amendments gave the Congress the mandate to enforce the article by way of coming up with appropriate legislations. This way, the Congress not only holds the power to oversee the full implementation of the first section of the amendment, but to always ensure that it keeps track of the societal changes that concern this amendment. This has played a critical role in ensuring that slavery or any activity equivalent to it remains outlawed in the United States.
This Constitutional amendment sought to clear the air on what was needed in order for an individual to be regarded as a citizen of the United States. According to this amendment, any persons born or naturalized in the United States are considered citizens of the United States, and as such, citizens of the respective states in which they reside. This amendment goes further to declare that no state is allowed by law to establish and to such effect implement any legislation that is contrary to the legal interpretation of this constitutional amendment. This amendment, therefore, safeguards the liberties and rights of all citizens. It ensures that no state can come up with legislations that could deprive a citizen of his life, liberty, or property. This can only happen where a due process of law is followed (Holcombe, 2002).
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This amendment confers the right to vote for the citizens of the United States. The first section of this amendment requires that no citizen of United States should be denied by the United States or any state for that matter his or her right to vote on account of race, color, or a previous condition of servitude. Through this amendment, citizens of the United States receive equal treatment as far as their exercising of their right to universal suffrage is concerned. It brought to an end different forms of discrimination as would otherwise be effected by those with the vested interests.
A constitution is drafted and ratified by the people to govern them in their day-to-day activities. Just as change is inevitable in a society, the time comes when the provisions of a constitution have to be amended in order to suit the contemporary societal needs. It is at this juncture that a constitutional amendment becomes a social fabric that man cannot afford to lay aside and expect to forge ahead as if all is well. It is for this reason that various amendments to the Bill of rights have been necessitated. Each amendment has had a tremendous effect on the nature of life that the people of United States lead.
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