Construction of Constitution: Unremunerated Rights Given to People

The US Constitution Show: Educating Americans About their Freedoms and Rights

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“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. ”

The Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, addresses rights of the people that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.

Ratified:  December 15, 1791

NotesOne of the arguments against adding a bill of rights to the Constitution was that such a list might imply those were the only rights the people had. Therefore, when James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights in Congress, he included a provision protecting rights “retained by the people,” but not written down in the Constitution. These unenumerated rights referred to in the Ninth Amendment have proven to be very controversial. Libertarians believe that the Ninth Amendment includes certain fundamental rights, such as privacy, that are so important they must be protected by judges, whether or not they are specifically listed in the Constitution. Advocates of judicial restraint argue that such interpretations of the Ninth Amendment give judges too much discretion, and that it is the job of state legislatures and the people themselves to protect unremunerated rights.

The 9th Amendment can be used by the people to restore their rights if the government tries to take them away.

Still, the Ninth Amendment has not yet been used to justify the protection of any right not already listed in the Constitution.

So it is still a mystery about which rights Madison had in mind when he wrote the Ninth Amendment.

It assures people that there are rights that members of a free society are entitled to, although neither Madison nor any of the other founding fathers ever stated just what they thought these rights were. Some people believe that they include the so-called natural rights including life, liberty, and property, or the right to pursue happiness.


The Ninth Amendment has generally been regarded by the courts as negating any expansion of governmental power on account of the enumeration of rights in the Constitution, but the Amendment has not been regarded as further limiting governmental power. The U.S. Supreme Court explained this, in U.S. Public Workers v. Mitchell 330 U.S. 75 (1947): "If granted power is found, necessarily the objection of invasion of those rights, reserved by the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, must fail."

Some jurists have asserted that the Ninth Amendment is relevant to interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Arthur Goldberg (joined by Chief Justice Warren and Justice Brennan) expressed this view in a concurring opinion in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut (1965):

[T]he Framers did not intend that the first eight amendments be construed to exhaust the basic and fundamental rights.... I do not mean to imply that the .... Ninth Amendment constitutes an independent source of rights protected from infringement by either the States or the Federal Government....While the Ninth Amendment - and indeed the entire Bill of Rights - originally concerned restrictions upon federal power, the subsequently enacted Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the States as well from abridging fundamental personal liberties. And, the Ninth Amendment, in indicating that not all such liberties are specifically mentioned in the first eight amendments, is surely relevant in showing the existence of other fundamental personal rights, now protected from state, as well as federal, infringement.

Subsequent to Griswold, some judges have tried to use the Ninth Amendment to justify judicially enforcing rights that are not enumerated. For example, the District Court that heard the case of Roe v. Wade ruled in favor of a "Ninth Amendment right to choose to have an abortion."[5] However, Justice William O. Douglas rejected that view; Douglas wrote that, "The Ninth Amendment obviously does not create federally enforceable rights." See Doe v. Bolton (1973). Douglas joined the majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe, which stated that a federally enforceable right to privacy, "whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."[6]

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stated as follows in Gibson v. Matthews, 926 F.2d 532, 537 (6th Cir. 1991):

[T]he ninth amendment does not confer substantive rights in addition to those conferred by other portions of our governing law. The ninth amendment was added to the Bill of Rights to ensure that the maxim expressio unius est exclusio alterius would not be used at a later time to deny fundamental rights merely because they were not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.

Professor Laurence Tribe shares this view: "It is a common error, but an error nonetheless, to talk of 'ninth amendment rights.' The ninth amendment is not a source of rights as such; it is simply a rule about how to read the Constitution."[7] Likewise, Justice Antonin Scalia has expressed the same view, in Troxel v. Granville (2000):

The Declaration of not a legal prescription conferring powers upon the courts; and the Constitution’s refusal to 'deny or disparage' other rights is far removed from affirming any one of them, and even farther removed from authorizing judges to identify what they might be, and to enforce the judges’ list against laws duly enacted by the people.

In the year 2000, the Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn gave a speech at the White House on the subject of the Ninth Amendment. He said that the Ninth Amendment refers to "a universe of rights, possessed by the people — latent rights, still to be evoked and enacted into law....a reservoir of other, unenumerated rights that the people retain, which in time may be enacted into law."[8]

It is important, when discussing the history of the Bill of Rights, to note that the Supreme Court held in Barron v. Baltimore (1833) that it was enforceable by the federal courts only against the federal government, and not against the states. However, in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, in large part to overturn that precedent, and the Supreme Court has used that Amendment, together with enabling congressional legislation, to apply some, but not all, provisions of the Bill of Rights against the states through what is called selective incorporation, thereby enabling a citizen to sue the citizen's own state in federal court (see sovereign immunity). Since 1938, when the Supreme Court wrote its famous "footnote four" of United States v. Carolene Products Co., the proper application of the Bill of Rights has been an increasingly contentious issue.

Robert Bork, often considered an originalist, has likened the Ninth Amendment to an inkblot. Bork argued in The Tempting of America that, while the amendment clearly had some meaning, its meaning is indeterminate; because the language is opaque, its meaning is as irretrievable as it would be had the words been covered by an inkblot. According to Bork, if another provision of the Constitution were covered by an actual inkblot, judges should not be permitted to make up what might be under the inkblot lest any judges twist the meaning to their own ends (cf. underdeterminacy).

Originalist Randy Barnett has argued that the Ninth Amendment requires what he calls a presumption of liberty. Other originalists, such as Thomas B. McAffee, have argued that the Ninth Amendment protects the unenumerated "residuum" of rights which the federal government was never empowered to violate.[9] Constitutional historian Jon Roland has argued,[10] that the Ninth Amendment included by reference all of the rights proposed by the state ratifying conventions, in addition to those enumerated in the first eight amendments.

Gun rights activists in recent decades have sometimes argued for a fundamental natural right to keep and bear arms that both predates the U.S. Constitution and is covered by the Constitution's Ninth Amendment; according to this viewpoint, the Second Amendment protects only a pre-existing right to keep and bear arms.[11] In the related case of United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995), the Supreme Court held that while Congress has broad lawmaking authority under the Commerce Clause, it is not unlimited, and does not apply to something as far from commerce as carrying handguns.

The Ninth Amendment bars denial of unenumerated rights if the denial is based on the enumeration of certain rights in the Constitution, but does not bar denial of unenumerated rights if the denial is based on the enumeration of certain powers in the Constitution. It is to that enumeration of powers that the courts have said we must look, in order to determine the extent of the unenumerated rights mentioned in the Ninth Amendment.[12]


  1. ^ James Madison, Letter to Thomas Jefferson (October 17, 1788). Madison often expressed this idea, for example in a letter to George Washington dated December 5, 1789 ("If a line can be drawn between the powers granted and the rights retained, it would seem to be the same thing, whether the latter be secured by declaring that they shall not be abridged, or that the former shall not be extended").
  2. ^ Virginia Ratification Resolution (June 26, 1788).
  3. ^ Amendments Offered in Congress by James Madison June 8, 1789
  4. ^ James Madison,Speech Introducing Bill of Rights (June 8, 1789).
  5. ^ Roe v. Wade, 314 F. Supp. 1217 (1970).
  6. ^ Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Retrieved 2007-06-4.
  7. ^ Laurence H. Tribe, American Constitutional Law 776 n. 14 (2nd ed. 1998).
  8. ^ Bernard Bailyn, Remarks at White House Millennium Evening (2000).
  9. ^ Thomas B. McAffee, Federalism and the Protection of Rights: The Modern Ninth Amendment's Spreading Confusion, 1996 B.Y.U. Law Rev. 351.
  10. ^ Jon Roland, Presumption of Nonauthority and Unenumerated Rights (2006).
  11. ^ Nicholas Johnson, Beyond the Second Amendment: An Individual Right to Arms Viewed Through The Ninth Amendment, 24 Rutgers L.J. 1, 64-67 (1992).
  12. ^ United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75 (1947)


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