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The 9th Amendment: Definition & Famous Cases

The 9th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is included in the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791.

The original 9th Amendment text reads:

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

What is the 9th Amendment About?

Back when the government ratified the Bill of Rights, Federalists worried that listing out each and every right would be dangerous and give the government too much power to veto any rights that weren’t listed. Alexander Hamilton was quoted as saying, “why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”

The 1788 Virginia Ratifying Convention addressed this concern with “that those clauses which declare that Congress shall not exercise certain powers be not interpreted in any manner whatsoever to extend the powers of Congress. But that they may be construed either as making exceptions to the specified powers where this shall be the case or otherwise as inserted merely for greater caution.”

James Madison further explained the 9th Amendment during a speech with: “It has been said, by way of objection to a bill of rights….that in the Federal Government they are unnecessary, because the powers are enumerated, and it follows, that all that are not granted by the constitution are retained; that the constitution is a bill of powers, the great residuum being the rights of the people; and, therefore, a bill of rights cannot be so necessary as if the residuum was thrown into the hands of the Government. I admit that these arguments are not entirely without foundation, but they are not as conclusive to the extent it has been proposed. It is true the powers of the general government are circumscribed; they are directed to particular objects; but even if the government keeps within those limits, it has certain discretionary powers with respect to the means, which may admit of abuse.”

Where is the 9th Amendment Used?

The 9th Amendment is used as a precaution to avoid the government from expanding its power further into areas not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution. However, it does not in any way limit the government’s control.

The 9th Amendment does not actually offer any rights to U.S. citizens but merely provides a guideline on how to use the Constitution to prevent a power-hungry government from taking over and controlling Americans against their will.

Famous 9th Amendment Cases

In United Public Workers v. Mitchell, (1947), the Supreme Court ruled that The Hatch Act of 1939 did not, in fact, violate the 9th Amendment. The case dealt with unions for government workers.

The landmark case of Barron v. Baltimore, (1833) declared that the Bill of Rights applied only to federal government and the states were exempt from complying. Many states abide voluntarily by amendments from the Bill of Rights.

The notorious Roe v. Wade case in 1973 legalized abortion and privacy and the Supreme Court consulted the 9th Amendment during its ruling.

In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), made it legal for couples to obtain birth control and protects individual’s rights to privacy. The Supreme Court again invoked the 9th Amendment in this case. Justice Arthur Goldberg argued that:“I do agree that the concept of liberty protects those personal rights that are fundamental, and is not confined to the specific terms of the Bill of Rights. My conclusion that the concept of liberty is not so restricted, and that it embraces the right of marital privacy, though that right is not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, is supported both by numerous decisions of this Court, referred to in the Court’s opinion, and by the language and history of the Ninth Amendment. In reaching the conclusion that the right of marital privacy is protected as being within the protected penumbra of specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights, the Court refers to the Ninth Amendment … I add these words to emphasize the relevance of that Amendment to the Court’s holding …”

Modern Society and the 9th Amendment

Although the 9th Amendment may appear a bit vague and confusing, it is actually intentionally ambiguous. In our modern justice system, it is used in a variety of present-day cases to determine how far the government can go without overstepping boundaries set in place by the Founders. The 9th Amendment is probably the least argued in the court system in America, but it is still an essential part of our history.

Since every case is drastically different and we continue to evolve as a society with new and interesting experiences, the courts will continue to evaluate each on a case-by-case basis to keep within the terms of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights that govern our nation.