Federal laws/regulations; Program Description;

OLR Research Report

November 29, 2010




By: Susan Price, Senior Attorney

You asked about an individual's constitutional rights and responsibilities. In order to cover such a broad topic, we have limited the scope of this report to the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights and the three Reconstruction amendments.


The Bill of Rights comprises the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which were ratified on December 15, 1791. They are designed to guarantee individual rights and set limitations on federal and state governments.

It is derived from the English Magna Carta (1215), Bill of Rights (1689), and the colonial struggle against the English king and Parliament. The guarantees in the Bill of Rights have binding legal force.

The 13th through 15th amendments, referred to as the Reconstruction Amendments, were adopted in the aftermath of slavery's abolition, and also have the force of law. The 13th Amendment abolished and continues to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. The 14th amendment contains three principal clauses. It:

1. overrules a United States Supreme Court decision holding that blacks could not be citizens of the United States;

2. prohibits state and local governments from depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without certain steps (due process of law) being taken (this clause has been used to make the Bill of Rights applicable to the states); and

3. requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction.

It also includes clauses dealing with the Confederacy and its officials.

The 15th Amendment ensures that a person's race, color, or prior history as a slave could not be used to bar that person from voting.

The complete text of the Bill of Rights and Reconstruction amendments is set forth below.


Amendment 1

Congress shall make no law respecting (1) an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; (2) abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or (3) the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.


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 abridged.

Amendment 3

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment 4

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment 5

No person shall be held to answer to a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, or be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment 6

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment 7

In suits at common law, where the value of a controversy shall exceed $20, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of common law.

Amendment 8

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.

Amendment 9

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

Amendment 10

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, or prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.


Amendment 13 (ratified in 1865)

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Amendment 14 (ratified in 1868)

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state. (Note: the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote; the 26th amendment lowered the voting age to 18).

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of

the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Amendment 15 (ratified in 1870)

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.