Wednesday, February 16, 2005


The Ninth Amendment as an Excuse for Bad Political Behavior?

Al Knight at the Denver Post noted this about Ward Churchill:

Back in 1991, he helped cancel a Columbus Day parade in Denver and later defended himself on the basis that he was adhering to international law, which he said compelled him to protest against genocide.

He has since elaborated on this claim, and now says the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives him the authority to interfere with the free-speech rights of Italian-Americans.

The Ninth Amendment says, in its entirety: "Reserved rights. The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

In Churchill's mind, as he explained last week, this means that if he finds a "right" - such as the one he says he found in international law to protest genocide - that "right" trumps the right of Italian-Americans to march in a parade.

To label this a novel interpretation of the Ninth Amendment is to badly understate the case. Under Churchill's reading, the amendment is nothing less than a license to suspend or selectively enforce any or all of the other provisions of the U.S. Constitution. It is highly doubtful, of course, that Churchill would allow the Italian-Americans to employ the same logic to block one of his parades.
A license to trample the rights of Americans so that you can be activist in the way you feel? I don't think so. But it's clear that certain members of society would like this right. Several areas are getting close to pushing free speech to the point that anyone who feels offended will have the right to take legal action. Might get hard to live in some of those areas if that happens - particularly for activists!

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