Friday, December 28, 2012

Let's Make Amends

            Howdy! I’m currently pulling an all nighter? Why, you may ask? Well, no reason. I don’t have work or responsibilities of any kind tomorrow so I wanted to see if I could still do it. Obviously, I’m getting a little loopy, or so says the leprechaun in the corner. So as a challenge to myself, I’m going to see how well I can describe the 27 amendments to the Constitution (American Constitution, that is. Lookin’ at you, Ecuador). Obviously, it won’t be very well at all, but that’s half the fun right?
And as we all know, the fun half is the South Half!

1. The Right to Free; Speech, Press, Religion, Petition, and Gathering
            This one is pretty big. You’re likely to have heard of it. It’s what guarantees that we cannot be jailed for speaking out against the government, although Lord knows that not every President has followed this rule. It also affords the press the same right to speech in publication that citizens receive. Especially important to note when discussion the First Amendment: It only applies to governmental bodies. I can delete your comments off of my Facebook status, and that’s not infringing your First Amendment rights. You can be fired for, say, flipping off a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, or saying the N-word several times a second, and as long as your employer isn’t the United States Government, you can’t claim wrongful termination stemming from the First Amendment. Obviously there are other rules in place to protect employees, but those aren’t the First Amendment. Petition and gathering are pretty easy. They mean you get to ask the government for things officially, even if they don’t have the power to do it (like firing the Cowboys head coach), and then show up places en masse to prove that you have nothing better to do than yell about how you have nothing to do.

            Religion is a sticky wicket, to paraphrase a British caricature I have living inside my brain. (2:30 AM, remember). The true phrasing is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. That means that not only can Congress not create or push a certain religion (or religion in general, as in Engel vs. Vitale), much like the Church of England had been pushed on them by… uh… let me check my notes here… England, Congress also cannot restrict the actions of a religious nature. The funny thing is: they totally do. Polygamy has been struck down in multiple cases throughout the history of the United States. Animal sacrifices likewise. The Constitutional issue of whether or not sacrificing an animal who had multiple wives is illegal is still working its way up the appeals court.

2. The Right to Bear Arms
            If I were to take a truly non-partisan position on the Second Amendment, I could only explain it as such: “The Second Amendment is in the Constitution.” That’s about how many words you can get out before the meaning starts getting fuzzy. What I think is funny is how the Amendment was supposedly set up to protect the people from violent crackdowns of a corrupt government, yet I’m willing to bet if the government is corrupt enough to be in “murder our own citizens” mode, they’re corrupt enough to pass an amendment overturning this one, making the entire point moot. Oh well. In America, if you don’t want to be shot, you shoot the other person first.

3. Quartering Troops
            Ah, the middle child of the Bill of Rights. While the first two are hot-button issues and the middle four deal with important rights in courts, the Third Amendment says that, during peacetime, the government can’t make you house soldiers. And that’s about it. If war breaks out in the US, I suggest getting out the nice tablecloth, because then it’s totally legal for Uncle Sam to make you board soldiers.

4. Search and Seizure
            Please repeat these words after me- “I do not consent to a search.” “Do you have a warrant?” Even if you have nothing to hide, those are important phrases to know. It is in no way, shape, or form, illegal to turn down a policeman on a voluntary search. Here’s a tip for staying out of trouble- don’t have frigging illegal things on your person or in your possession. That’ll keep you out of jail pretty well. Anyway, the Fourth Amendment prevents police and other governmental agencies from infringing your right to be secure in your persons, houses, papers and effects. Also, fun fact, Law and Order is a stupid show that doesn’t realize every case will likely be thrown out of court once Detective Stabler’s door-kicking antics come to light.
Then again, any man who was in Wet Hot American Summer
can infringe my civil liberties any time he wants.

5. A Whole Host of Court Rights
            The Fifth Amendment is your one-stop-shop for your rights as a suspect and defendant. You get your right to a jury trial (making it less likely to get a corrupt and unfair singular judge), protection against self-incrimination, and your right against having your property unfairly seized, which, admittedly, is kind of jammed in there weirdly. The protection against self-incrimination is better known as the “right to remain silent” as we all know from those kooky Miranda Rights. Your property, weirdly enough, actually can be seized with due process of law OR bought for “just compensation.” We should put quotes around “unfairly” seized, because who decides if it’s fair or not? Oh, just the people doing the seizing. Yeah. I love the Constitution but that bit scares me a little.

6. Court Rights 2: The Streets
            If the Fifth Amendment contains your rights as a suspect, the Sixth Amendment is the lifeline for the accused. It creates a speedy and public trial, which prevents the government keeping you in jail for undue periods of time, or trying you in secret without access to counsel. You also gain your right to face your accuser, most notably used in that one episode of House where he’s sued for keeping that guy alive.

7. Inflation
            Here’s my main reason for sometimes believing in a loose interpretation of the Constitution: The Seventh Amendment gives you the right to sue in court for anything above $20. That’s it. Twenty. Dollars. Of course, in 1786, this was a large sum of money. But that was more than two hundred years ago, things were different then. You probably won’t go to court for $20 seeing as that’ll pay just about only your lawyer’s business card.

8. Cruel and Unusual Punishment
            The Eighth Amendment is vehemently anti-cruel and unusual punishment. Although what constitutes “cruel and unusual” is left to the viewer, much like the ending of the Sopranos.

9. Unenumerated Rights
            The amendment so forgotten that Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognize it, the Ninth Amendment basically says “Just because we put some rights in here doesn’t mean you don’t have the ones we left out.” You think this would be used for more court cases, but it’s relatively left aside.

10. Federalism
            Anything the Constitution didn’t specifically assign to the Federal government is the domain of the states or the people or now, in the 21st century, the Federal government again. It… kinda got away from us.

11. Why We Shouldn’t Let Lawyers Write Everything
            I’ll let it speak for itself: “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subject of any Foreign State.” So we’ll head to the Twelfth… What? You don’t get it? Oh, well, I had to look it up on Wikipedia to figure out what the hell this was talking about, and basically it says “Citizens from one state cannot sue the government of a different state.” This amendment prevents a person in California from feeling prosecuted by Rhode Island (although who could blame him, Rhode Islanders are dicks), and suing the government. Then EVERYONE would sue Rhode Island.
You better HOPE I don't sue the pants off of you,
Rhode Island's real state flag!

12. The Election as We Know It
            Basically, before the Twelfth Amendment, whoever came in second place in presidential voting was elected Vice-President. Now, you may think it was a bad idea to have two people who bitterly opposed each other try to work together now that the election was over, but I’m here to tell you that yes that was an awful idea and I’m glad we changed it. If high school class presidency elections are smart enough to have set vice-presidential candidates, then the US Government should too.

13. Slavery
            Thanks to the 13th Amendment, slavery’s illegal… except as punishment for a crime. You may wonder how Congress passed such a progressive Amendment. It’s because everyone who would have normally blocked its passage kinda seceded. That backfired a bit.

14. Citizenship
            The logical outpouring of the 13th Amendment, the 14th promises full protection of the laws for all citizens. Amazingly, this wasn’t already a “thing”. Even to this day, the 14th Amendment is second only to the First Amendment in number of court cases hinging on its interpretation. Discussion of gay marriage, for instance, could be largely based on the 14th Amendments’ substantive due process idea that every citizen has the same rights. Crazy! Also crazy: Until the 14th Amendment, none of these rules applied to state governments. None of them. Not even the First Amendment. A state government could restrict the HELL out of some speech. If the States had armies, ya’ll best believe they’d be all up in your house. But no longer, with the passage of the 14th Amendment. Although, even then, the policy of the Supreme Court was for “Selective Incorporation” meaning that only the MOST IMPORTANT rights get transferred to the state level. Because apparently most rights aren’t that important. As recently as Palko vs. Connecticut in 1937, the late Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo ruled that the protection of Double Jeopardy (being tried twice for the same crime) was not essential and did not transfer from the national government to the state level. Palko went to jail. yay.

15. Suffrage
            ...kinda. Male suffrage. Race was no longer an issue to keep you from voting. I mean, sure, there were thousands of instances of suppressing votes that extended until… holy crap the 1960’s? That came with 24th Amendment, so we’ll get to that.

16. Income Tax
            Hey, here’s where it says the government has the right to levy taxes on your income. So the next time somebody says that the income tax is unconstitutional, it’s as unconstitutional as free black people. That’s not very unconstitutional.

17. Senators!
            Before the 17th Amendment, state legislatures appointed your state’s senators. So you voted for the person who was going to vote for the person who was going to vote for the things you wanted. It was kind of getting a few degrees away from Republicanism, if you ask me. Which you did, by reading seventeen freaking Amendment summaries. Jeeze. It’s your fault, buddy.

You could only do worse by actually reading Seventeen.

18. Prohibition
            The national government made alcohol illegal with the 18th Amendment. Let’s see how that goes.

19. Universal Suffrage
            Sometimes we forget how hard life can sometimes be for virulent racist misogynists. Just think, in fifty years, you went from white men only to all races and both genders. That must have been tough for those poor, awful men.

20. Lame Duck
            Not every amendment brings some fancy new vote or human dignity with it. Sometimes there are just administrative changes to make, like the 20th Amendment. This amendment moves up the day of inauguration for the President and representatives, so that there’s less time for a President or Congress to be that guy who put his two weeks in and now is totally coasting at work.

21. Antihibition
            Get it? Cause it’s like, the opposite of PROhibition? Eh, screw you. I could be sleeping right now. Anyhoo, turns out that trying to ban alcohol is pretty tough to do, and not something that’s any fun anyway. FDR was president when this amendment was ratified, and his reaction? “I’m going to have a beer.”

22. FDR’s Unbreakable Record
            The Ol’ Double Deuce, as we in the biz of Constitutional summaries like to call it, prevents any one person from being President more than twice. Why twice? Well, it just felt right, ya know? So FDR, the bane of conservatives everywhere, will always be that guy that holds double the terms of any future president.

23. D.C. Gets a Vote
            What? D.C. gets as many votes in the Electoral College as the least populous state and a representative in Congress. Not everything is complex.

24. This Really Taxes my Poll
            So it turns out requiring people to pay to vote or take a test proving their literacy can be REALLY racist. Like, so racist you wouldn’t even believe. Imagine your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, and his ramblings are actual beliefs held by people in positions of power. This is why we can’t have nice things, the South. To this day, southern states have to clear their voting requirements with the Department of Justice because they were that bad.

25. Succession Order
            The 25th Amendment formally sets up the chain of command in the executive branch. As in, if the President dies, the Vice President becomes President. What’s funny is that all eight presidents who died in office died before the passage of this amendment. Nixon resigned after, but I think we all kind of knew how the process works. The 25th was just putting it in writing, much like how I make all my dates sign non-disclosure contracts. I don’t know if that makes sense, I’ve only got two left, cut me some slack.

26. Eighteen Year Old Suffrage
            In what is one of the most surprising moves, people above 18 actually cared about the rights of 18 year olds. So this is the line we think of as “adult” now, even though before 1971, you could serve in the military and not be able to vote. Woah, man. You could, like, get drafted to fight in a war you couldn’t vote against. That’s heavy, doc. Sleep deprivation makes me turn into a hippie Marty McFly, apparently.

27. Congress Pay Raises
            This amendment is basically saying one Congress cannot vote to raise their pay until a new Congress takes its place. As in, giving the citizens a chance to vote out the people who would vote to raise the pay. What’s laughable is the incumbency rate basically cancels out this amendment. Wait, did I say laughable? I meant “depressing.”


We got all the way through 27 amendments. Even though they are a lot for a man who is only keeping himself awake to prove he can, it’s really not all that many for an entire government. You really have to admire the whole set up when you only need 26 corrections to your founding document and a correction to one of your corrections. By the by, I did the math last year (I’ve since lost it), and judging the average number of years between amendments, we’re due for a new one soon. Let’s hope it’s one that changes our National Anthem to The Roots’ “In Love With The Mic”.

So there you have it. Instead of sleeping, I wrote stupid summaries about the amendments to the Constitutions. Even the dumb ones! -Lookin' at you, 7-

I love you and now I’m gonna give up on this all nighterrrrrrrrrrradfkadffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff.

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