Rich Galen

We all know the term "The Bill of Rights" which are the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution although few of us (including me) could name them.

Hint: None of them start "Thou shalt not …" Rather they tend to start "The Government (or Congress) shalt not …" Keep that in mind.

The First Amendment is a catch-all of rights upon which the Congress may not trample: It protects an individual's freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press, as well as the right to assemble and to petition the government.

The American press corps is very, very focused on the First Amendment and will go to great lengths to make sure that right is not diminished.

Similarly the Fifth Amendment is often a show stopper. The money clause in the Fifth Amendment is, of course the clause against self incrimination.

In practice, according to Black's Law Dictionary, the Fifth Amendment "requires the government to prove a criminal case against the defendant without the aid of the defendant as a witness against himself."

The Tenth Amendment, in total, reads:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

This was dropped in to protect the notion of "Federalism" and might have been attempting to strike a balance between an all-powerful central government (read, George III) and a totally useless central government (read, Articles of Confederation).

The Amendment that is on everyone's lips these days is, of course, the Second: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

We walked through those to show the vast range of protective language the founders found necessary to include even after they had finished the body of the Constitution itself.

There are no unfettered rights. As we have discussed many times, the First Amendment does not protect your right to "falsely shout 'fire' in a crowded theater" (as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is often quoted has having written in U.S. v. Schenck).

Anyone who as ever watched more than a few frames of a CSI episode knows that the Fifth Amendment prohibition against self-incrimination can be overturned by almost any judge issuing a warrant that allows the police to take a cheek swab to get your DNA.

The Second Amendment doesn't mean that any device that fires a projectile through a barrel as the result of a chemical reaction (known in higher scientific circles as "going boom") is protected.

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at