The year was 1789. The U.S. Constitution, which had recently passed Congress and been ratified by majority of states, established the U.S. government as it exists today. But a number of thinkers of the time, including Thomas Jefferson, were concerned that the Constitution included few explicit guarantees of personal liberty of the sort that had appeared in state constitutions. Jefferson, who was living abroad in Paris at the time as U.S. ambassador to France, wrote to his protege James Madison asking him to propose a Bill of Rights of some kind to Congress. Madison agreed. After revising Madison's draft, Congress approved a Bill of Rights and ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution became law.
The Bill of Rights primarily a symbolic document until the U.S. Supreme Court established its power to strike down unconstitutional legislation in Marbury v. Madison (1803), giving it teeth. It still only applied to federal legislation, however, until the Fourteenth Amendment (1866) extended its power to include state law.
It's impossible to understand civil liberties in the United States without understanding the Bill of Rights. Its text limits both federal and state powers, protecting individual rights from government oppression through the intervention of federal courts.
The Bill of Rights
United States Bill of Rights currently housed in the National Archives.It is commonly understood that originally the Bill of Rights was not intended to apply to the states; however, there is no such limit in the text itself, except where an amendment refers specifically to the federal government. One example is the First Amendment, which says only that "Congress shall make no law...", and under which some states in the early years of the nation officially established a religion. A rule of inapplicability to the states remained until 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, which stated, in part, that:
“ 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. ”
The Supreme Court has interpreted this clause to extend most, but not all, parts of the Bill of Rights to the states, a process known as incorporation of the Bill of Rights. The balance of state and federal power under the incorporation doctrine is still an open question and continues to be fought separately for each right in the federal courts.
The amendments that became the Bill of Rights were the last ten of the twelve amendments proposed in 1789. The second of the twelve proposed amendments, regarding the compensation of members of Congress, remained unratified until 1992, when the legislatures of enough states finally approved it; as a result, after pending for two centuries, it became the Twenty-seventh Amendment.
The first of the twelve, which is still technically pending before the state legislatures for ratification, pertains to the apportionment of the United States House of Representatives after each decennial census. The most recent state whose lawmakers are known to have ratified this proposal is Kentucky in 1792, during that commonwealth's first month of statehood.
First Amendment: addresses the rights of freedom of religion (prohibiting Congress from making a law "respecting an establishment" of religion and protecting the right to free exercise of religion), freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of petition.
Second Amendment: guarantees the right of individuals to possess weapons. The most recent Supreme Court decision interpreting the Second Amendment is McDonald v. Chicago.
Third Amendment: prohibits the government from using private homes as quarters for soldiers during peacetime without the consent of the owners. The only existing case law directly regarding this amendment is a decision of the Court of Appeals (the appellate level between the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Supreme Court) in the case of Engblom v. Carey. However, it is also cited in the landmark case, Griswold v. Connecticut, in support of the Supreme Court's holding that the constitution protects the right to personal privacy.
Fourth Amendment: guards against searches, arrests, and seizures of property without a specific warrant or a "probable cause" to believe a crime has been committed. Some rights to privacy have been inferred from this amendment and others by the Supreme Court.
Fifth Amendment: forbids trial for a major crime except after indictment by a grand jury; prohibits double jeopardy (repeated trials), except in certain very limited circumstances; forbids punishment without due process of law; and provides that an accused person may not be compelled to testify against himself (this is also known as "Taking the Fifth" or "Pleading the Fifth"). This is regarded as the "rights of the accused" amendment, otherwise known as the Miranda rights after the Supreme Court case. It also prohibits government from taking private property for public use without "just compensation", the basis of eminent domain in the United States.
Sixth Amendment: guarantees a speedy public trial for criminal offenses. It requires trial by a jury, guarantees the right to legal counsel for the accused, and guarantees that the accused may require witnesses to attend the trial and testify in the presence of the accused. It also guarantees the accused a right to know the charges against him. The Sixth Amendment has several court cases associated with it, including Powell v. Alabama, United States v. Wong Kim Ark, Gideon v. Wainwright, and Crawford v. Washington. In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled that the fifth amendment prohibition on forced self-incrimination and the sixth amendment clause on right to counsel were to be made known to all persons placed under arrest, and these clauses have become known as the Miranda rights.
Seventh Amendment: assures trial by jury in civil cases.
Eighth Amendment: forbids excessive bail or fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.
Ninth Amendment: declares that the listing of individual rights in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is not meant to be comprehensive; and that the other rights not specifically mentioned are retained by the people.
Tenth Amendment: reserves to the states respectively, or to the people, any powers the Constitution did not delegate to the United States, nor prohibit the states from exercising.