Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bill of Rights, ROV (Revised Obama Version)

Is the language of the Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights, so archaic as to need translation? I think not. Lawyers argue about points of language, but they do that about statutes written yesterday. Take a look at this White House dot gov page titled "The Constitution."

It's not the Constitution! It's something you might expect to find in a fifth-grade Social Studies textbook. (They haven't done "history" or "civics" in the schools since, like, forever, you fossil.) There is a difficult-to-see link to the full text. But the full text, at an external link that takes two clicks through a warning to get to, is presented with a side-by-side gloss that makes the whole thing less, not more, comprehensible.

But right there on the page is a section headed "The Bill of Rights" which, darn it, is not the Bill of Rights! Here:

The Bill of Rights

One of the principal points of contention between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was the lack of an enumeration of basic civil rights in the Constitution. Many Federalists argued, as in Federalist No. 84, that the people surrendered no rights in adopting the Constitution. In several states, however, the ratification debate in some states hinged on the adoption of a bill of rights. The solution was known as the Massachusetts Compromise, in which four states ratified the Constitution but at the same time sent recommendations for amendments to the Congress.

James Madison introduced 12 amendments to the First Congress in 1789. Ten of these would go on to become what we now consider to be the Bill of Rights. One was never passed, while another dealing with Congressional salaries was not ratified until 1992, when it became the 27th Amendment. Based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the English Bill of Rights, the writings of the Enlightenment, and the rights defined in the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights contains rights that many today consider to be fundamental to America.

The First Amendment provides that Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. It protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms.

The Third Amendment prohibits the government from quartering troops in private homes, a major grievance during the American Revolution.

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. The government may not conduct any searches without a warrant, and such warrants must be issued by a judge and based on probable cause.

The Fifth Amendment provides that citizens not be subject to criminal prosecution and punishment without due process. Citizens may not be tried on the same set of facts twice, and are protected from self-incrimination (the right to remain silent). The amendment also establishes the power of eminent domain, ensuring that private property is not seized for public use without just compensation.

The Sixth Amendment assures the right to a speedy trial by a jury of one's peers, to be informed of the crimes with which they are charged, and to confront the witnesses brought by the government. The amendment also provides the accused the right to compel testimony from witnesses, and to legal representation.

The Seventh Amendment provides that civil cases also be tried by jury.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments.

The Ninth Amendment states that the list of rights enumerated in the Constitution is not exhaustive, and that the people retain all rights not enumerated.

The Tenth Amendment assigns all powers not delegated to the United States, or prohibited to the states, to either the states or to the people.
See what I mean? It's the ROV. And it's wrong in significant places. Take a look at the second amendment. For instance.

What is the point of presenting a baby-talk version of the basic law of the land, unless the presenter hopes that some of those who read it might mistake it for the real thing; which would change their perception of what the Bill of Rights means.

From Jerry Pournelle's mail.

Added: Obama has also spoken favorably of FDR's idea of a second bill of rights, more European or Soviet in style, in that it would list entitlements, as opposed to freedoms.

1 comment:

blake said...

You know, when you think about it, there are Biblical translations that are like this.

So, literally, nothing is sacred.