Where did James Madison look for possible proposals that eventually became included in the Bill of Rights?
Madison obtained most of his proposals from proposals in various state constitutions. Madison compiled a list of various proposals from the state constitutions. Many states had a section similar to the eventual bill of rights. Some of these sections were called declarations of rights.
Isn't it true that the original Constitution (before the Bill of Rights) was already a bill of rights of sorts?
There is some credence to the argument that the Constitution as it existed before the Bill of Rights already was a type of bill of rights. For example, the Constitution prohibits Congress or state legislatures from passing bills of attainder or ex post facto laws. Bills of attainders are laws that target a specific group of people, while ex post facto laws are laws that make something a crime after the fact. An ex post facto law makes conduct a crime retroactively.
Furthermore, the Constitution prohibits Congress from suspending the writ of habeas corpus except in very limited situations, such as war. Another provision of the Constitution prohibits individuals in political office from having to take religious tests to qualify for office. All of these provisions in the body of the Constitution do provide a measure of individual freedom—similar to what the Bill of Rights does.
Some have said James Madison used the Bill of Rights to save the Constitution. Is there truth to this?
Yes, James Madison avoided proposed amendments that would have altered the structure of the government and reduced the power of the federal government. Instead, he
James Madison felt that the Bill of Rights was needed in the U.S. Constitution, even though many of these rights were guaranteed by the states, to ensure that equal protections were granted to all U.S. citizens (iStock).
focused on proposed amendments that would add to individual liberty and garner popular support but would not lessen the power of the federal government.
What is an example of an ex post facto law?
A prime example of an ex post facto law is a law that punishes a defendant for conduct that was not criminal at the time it was committed. A recent example occurred in a federal district court in the Virgin Islands involving a convicted sex offender. The offender was convicted before the passage of a new federal law requiring increased reporting requirements for former sex offenders. The federal district court reasoned that applying the new federal registration requirement to a former sex offender whose crime of failing to register occurred prior to the passage of the new law. Thus, the court reasoned that retroactive application of the new federal sex offender law violated the prohibition against ex post facto laws.
Where are constitutional amendments placed in the Constitution?
Constitutional amendments are added on to the end of the legal document. This differs from many state constitutions, which simply amend language directly in the body of their constitutions. However, the process is different at the federal level, where all changes to the constitution take place by the state.
What freedoms does the First Amendment protect?
The First Amendment states that "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." It thus protects the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition from interference by the government. The First Amendment also protects something known as the right of association—the right of groups and people to associate together for expressive purposes.