Ninth Amendment Facts
The Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted in 1791. It is part of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments.
The Ninth Amendment explains that people’s rights are not limited only to the rights that are listed in the Constitution. People have additional rights that are not included.
What does the Ninth Amendment say?
“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
A Brief History of the Ninth Amendment
When state representatives were debating over whether to ratify (approve) the Constitution, some argued about the absence of a Bill of Rights. (The amendments were not part of the original document.)
They were afraid that the Constitution gave the government too much power. They thought that the government might try to control the people and restrict their rights.
Others argued that a Bill of Rights would actually be dangerous. It might suggest that all the rights not listed were surrendered to the government. Since it would be impossible to list all the rights of the people, the government might use the Bill of Rights to limit any unlisted rights.
In the end, it was agreed to add amendments to the Constitution that guaranteed certain rights and freedoms to the people.
James Madison, who drafted the amendments, included the Ninth Amendment to make it clear that the Bill of Rights was not a complete list of the rights granted to the people.
Confusion and Debate
Like several other amendments, the Ninth Amendment isn’t exactly clear. So, what rights are protected but not listed? And who gets to decide what those rights are?
Some people think that state legislatures should decide what these rights are. Since state legislatures are made up of representatives of the people, their decisions will reflect the majority opinion of people within that state (in theory).
Others say that it is the Supreme Court’s job to decide what rights are or are not protected. In some cases, a state has ruled that something is a protected right, only for the Supreme Court to reverse the decision.
Of course, this practice is very controversial. If the Supreme Court can throw away laws made by the people, then the Supreme Court has a lot of power. Some argue that this goes against the purpose of the Constitution.
Changes in Interpretation of the Ninth Amendment
For over 100 years after the Constitution was ratified, the Supreme Court rarely if ever discussed the Ninth Amendment. They never threw out a rule created by the state legislatures.
This was because the Tenth Amendment explains that any power not granted to the federal government belongs to the states.
So, this included the power to determine what is or is not a guaranteed right of the people (beyond what is already listed in the Constitution).
Then, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed. It was interpreted by the Supreme Court to mean that the states couldn’t make any laws violating the rights of the people, and that the Court could decide what those rights should be.
Griswold vs. Connecticut
Another change was caused by Griswold vs. Connecticut in 1965. The case itself is complicated, but the ruling set important guidelines for future court rulings.
The Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court. In the majority opinion, Justice William Douglas wrote that some rights are implied based on the rights that are described in the Constitution.
For example, the Third Amendment protects people from being forced to house or feed soldiers in their homes. It could be said that this amendment implies the right to privacy within one’s home too.
In this particular case, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy within marriages and relationships is protected.
It may not be specifically mentioned in the Constitution, but it is implied based on other rights related to privacy. It is a Ninth Amendment right that is protected, even if it isn’t written in the Constitution.
This ruling was important because it said that the Court, not the state, determines what rights are protected.
Remember: The Ninth Amendment means that people have many rights, not just those that are listed in the Constitution. Debate over who should decide these rights continues.
Other Interesting Facts About the Ninth Amendment
Judge Robert Bork once called the Ninth Amendment “a meaningless inkblot” on the Constitution.
Bork said that just like people shouldn’t try to guess what’s under an inkblot, they shouldn’t try to guess what the unclear Ninth Amendment really means.
Some judges say that the Ninth Amendment is just a rule about how to read the Constitution and is not a source of additional rights.
Perhaps because there are so many different opinions about the meaning and legal effect of the Ninth Amendment, it is one of the least used amendments in Supreme Court rulings.
The Ninth Amendment was cited by the Supreme Court in the very famous Roe v. Wade case in 1973.