Government » American Civil Liberties and Rights » Interpreting the Bill of Rights

Interpreting the Bill of Rights

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe how the Ninth and Tenth Amendments reflect on our other rights
  • Identify the two senses of “right to privacy” embodied in the Constitution
  • Explain the controversy over privacy when applied to abortion and same-sex relationships

As this chapter has suggested, the provisions of the Bill of Rights have been interpreted and reinterpreted repeatedly over the past two centuries. However, the first eight amendments are largely silent on the status of traditional common law, which was the legal basis for many of the natural rights claimed by the framers in the Declaration of Independence. These amendments largely reflect the worldview of the time in which they were written; new technology and an evolving society and economy have presented us with novel situations that do not fit neatly into the framework established in the late eighteenth century.

In this section, we consider the final two amendments of the Bill of Rights and the way they affect our understanding of the Constitution as a whole. Rather than protecting specific rights and liberties, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments indicate how the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should be interpreted, and they lay out the residual powers of the state governments. We will also examine privacy rights, an area the Bill of Rights does not address directly; instead, the emergence of defined privacy rights demonstrates how the Ninth and Tenth Amendments have been applied to expand the scope of rights protected by the Constitution.

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