The Ninth Amendment to the US Constitution reads:
The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage
others retained by the people.
Why was it considered so important that they made it one of the “Big Ten,” and what does it mean?
A little (very) general background about the Constitution and the first ten amendments will help understanding quite a bit.
The Constitution was written to replace the Articles of Confederation, which many felt was flawed because it did not result in a sturdy enough framework for the national government. The Founding Fathers wanted to give more authority to the central government in various matters such as interstate commerce, disputes between states, and dealing with foreign governments, but at the same time were still aware of the possibility that too much power could be exercised by a national government based either on a misunderstanding of its place in the power structure of the country, or through unscrupulous politicians assuming (taking) powers unlawfully.
The body of the Constitution consists of the powers and authorities granted TO the government by the people. It was understood that all authority and rights rested with The People, but that certain of those rights would be ceded to the government. There was worry that future despots and tyrants would, either purposefully or mistakenly, misconstrue the meaning of The Constitution, claiming that its meaning was the opposite of what the Founders intended, thereby stripping The People of their rights. There is a very limited set of powers listed in Article 1, Section 8, and it was understood by The Founders that these were the only powers the federal government would have. The Constitution granted powers to the government, but only those powers specifically listed.
During the ratification debates in the states, many states expressed a desire that the intent of the Constitution be more fully expressed, and stated that they would not ratify the Constitution unless there was a “Bill of Rights” attached to it, hence the Ten Amendments. (Actually, there were twelve, but two did not pass)
After the first 8, it was again a worry that future tyrants could claim that “if it’s not listed in the Bill of Rights, then it is not a right of The People.” So, the 9th Amendment was crafted. The meaning is fairly clear: The People’s rights contained in the Bill of Rights are not the only rights that The People have. I.e., it doesn’t have to be listed (‘enumerated’) in the Bill of Rights to be a right of The People. The Constitution, or the amendments, are in no way a “grant” of rights to The People – The People already have those rights that are not EXPRESSLY granted TO the federal government.
Several States still refused to ratify the Constitution unless it was more even clearer what the status was of rights that were not listed in either the body of The Constitution (which grants specific powers to the government) or the “Bill of Rights” which recognizes rights of The People). So the Tenth Amendment was added as well.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the
States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
This makes it even clearer, so future politicians could understand: anything not mentioned in the Constitution or Bill of Rights remains a right of The People or the states.
These two amendments appear to say almost the same thing, and their purpose is nearly the same: to remind future generations that the federal government has ONLY those powers which are specifically listed in the Constitution. All others powers, whether they are listed (enumerated) or not, belong to The People.
There is no such thing as adding an amendment to give some group more rights under the federal Constitution. Unless it is an authority SPECIFICALLY granted to the government in the Constitution, The People already have that right. The People have always had that right, and always will, UNLESS THEY GIVE THE GOVERNMENT THE AUTHORITY TO REGULATE THEM – then, it becomes a priviledge, to be given by the government, or taken away, on a whim. For this reason, asking the legislature to add another amendment to the Constitution is the same thing as asking them to regulate you more.
A far better method to exercise your rights is to tell the government to mind its own business, and you can show them exactly what their business is limited to! You have that right, along with all others.