This is going to be a touchy topic. It was sparked because of the events of in Arizona but doesn’t have anything directly to do with it. All I ask is that, from the start, keep an open mind and read through to the end before judging the content.
As news filtered out of what happened in Az accusations began flying from all corners about the motives of the shooter. Most, well, almost all, were railing against Sarah Palin’s map specifically and the rhetoric of the right in particular. Now, as I write this 2 days after the shooting in Tucson, the actual motives of the shooter are not known. I am saying right now, I do not know the motives. I am not defending his motives if and when they become known. I am not defending his actions.
But the lashing out of individuals against the right for their rhetoric is reaching a fevered pitch. Much of it is centered upon the Four Boxes meme, “There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order”. It is the idea that armed revolt is an option of last resort. It has crept into the rhetoric of the right as of late because they feel that the first two boxes aren’t working any more. The people on the left whom I have either read or interacted with are attacking this notion that it is a viable option at all.
In one of those discussions I asked the following question. At what point would you advocate a justified revolt? Work backwards through the amendments and tell me upon which one would you say “no more”? Let’s just keep it confined to the original 10 so as not to be overly long.
I think this is an important thought exercise for people, on both sides of the political spectrum, to think about when discussing the validity of that final box in defense of liberty. Most people are at least nominally aware of the Bill of Rights. They should grasp, at some level, that it is important to us as Americans in defining the foundations upon which our liberty rests even though many think the freedoms are granted, not enumerated, by those 10 Amendments. So it is my hope that at some level this provides a common measure upon which to gauge how threatened people feel about their liberty at these times so as to understand why that meme is resonating with many people.
But why a countdown? Because when it comes to the Bill of Rights they do tend to decrease in importance. Not that they aren’t all important and aren’t all intertwined but, let’s be honest, I think we can all agree that without the freedom of speech enumerated in the First Amendment it is hard to defend the other nine.
So, with the above in mind here are the Bill of Rights (presented in their summary). However I am not going to just present them as a dry list. After each I will explained why some feel some of the Amendments have been violated and no longer apply. Note, I am not presenting these as my view but rather a view that is held by a good deal of people. Views which are not hard to dig into in depth with judicious use of Google. A practice I encourage anyone who reads this to engage, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they are.
This is an important step for understanding. As you go through each of the Amendments, mentally ticking off that you can do without one or the other until the burden is too great and you feel at that time you would consider an armed revolt appropriate, keep a tally of how many some people feel have already been lost and see how you would fair. Ok? Here goes.
10. Limits the powers of the federal government to those delegated to it by the Constitution. With the expanding scope of the commerce clause there are people who feel that this Amendment no longer applies to the federal government since any and all activities an individual may chose to engage or not engage in can have an effect on interstate commerce. In fact the individual mandate of the PPACA which requires individuals to purchase health insurance is argued on the basis that people who don’t purchase health insurance are causing a burden to interstate commerce.
9. Asserts the existence of unenumerated rights retained by the people. This one is dicey as it is the only Amendment which isn’t too specific. So a violation of it to one person is not a violation of it to another. So it is hard to pin down specific examples to cite.
8. Prohibits excessive fines and excessive bail, as well as cruel and unusual punishment. Again, another dicey one as the definitions of excessive, cruel and unusual differ from person to person. Again, hard to find specific examples.
7. Provides for the right to trial by jury in certain civil cases, according to common law. While we still have trial by jury the process by which juries are selected and instructed to perform their duties calls into question if this Amendment really applies. Simply follow any discussion over the concept of Jury Nullification to see this view in action. The short form is that the jury can judge not only the defendant but the law and choose to not convict someone on the basis of a bad law. It is a practice some judges have explicitly states as not allowed to prospective jurors. Note that this is one of the four boxes in the meme above so if you are someone who feels this no longer applies then the use of the jury box in defense of liberty is already lost.
6. Protects the right to a fair and speedy public trial by jury, including the rights to be notified of the accusations, to confront the accuser, to obtain witnesses and to retain counsel. This one is probably one of the easiest for those on the left to see as lost. Fair and speedy public trial is often cited as a reason to close Guantanamo. To be notified of accusations is seen as violated by no-knock and sneak & peek warrants. Confront accusers has been stymied in the past two administrations by claims of national security concerns.
5. Sets out rules for indictment by grand jury and eminent domain, protects the right to due process, and prohibits self-incrimination and double jeopardy. Questions of due process come up all the time. Kelo vs. New London is viewed as a clear overreach of eminent domain.
4. Prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and sets out requirements for search warrants based on probable cause. The recent TSA policies of invasive pat-downs or a near-nude body scanner is often cited as an example of unreasonable searches. Unreasonable seizures have a much longer history under the name of Asset Forfeiture. A concept which also could have been listed under the 6th and 5th Amendments because the notion is that a person isn’t on trial, their property is!
3. Prohibits the forced quartering of soldiers. I am not aware of any clear cites of controversy, let alone violations, to this Amendment.
2. Protects the right to keep and bear arms. I don’t think I need to explain this to anyone who has any passing interest in politics. The only thing to add is that here rests another one of the boxes to protect liberty, the one of last resort.
1. Protects the freedom of religion, speech, and the press, as well as the right to assemble and petition the government. Again, another one that is pretty much in the lime light all the time. I don’t think I need to go into detail on how some might feel this one has been violated time and again as well from limits to speech, the press, the right to assemble and to petition the government. I separate freedom of religion because this one, while seemingly violated all the time as told by the religious, really isn’t. They just tend to forget that the Amendment starts off with “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion” and skip right to “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” On the other hand the 1950s were not kind to the leading clause of this Amendment. This is where the third box of the meme rests.
So, here we are at the end of the countdown. To some degree or another I hope I have presented examples on how some people can feel that 9 of the 10 Amendments which comprise the Bill of Rights are no longer applicable to the government as it currently stands. So at which point (if at all) did you say “no more, this is too much” and felt that if that were to come to pass that armed revolt would be an appropriate response? Keeping that point in mind can you understand that if someone feels the right enumerated here have been violated as described that they might feel they are already at that point? You don’t need to agree, just understand.
Finally, to those who made it to the end of the list I have one final question. If living in a state where you are not free to practice your religion, speak your mind, assemble with your peers, to keep arms, where authorities can take your property at a whim, without a trial, where your property and person are subject to searches at any time, for any reason, where you can be locked up without being told why nor to be presented with an opportunity to defend yourself and the national government can do anything and everything it wants isn’t enough for you to consider armed revolt, what would it take? Because those conditions were more than sufficient justification for many a populace to take arms against their government in the past.