Vail Law: Part Five of a look at the Constitution |

Vail Law: Part Five of a look at the Constitution

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

So far in this series, we have covered the United States Constitution from the Preamble through the first 10 Amendments, known as the Bill of Rights. What follows begins with the Eleventh Amendment, adopted by the States seven years after the Bill of Rights in 1798.

The Eleventh is a single (albeit somewhat run-on) sentence. It holds that the judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by another State or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state. In other words, there are certain judicial processes in which the federal government will not entangle itself, fulfilling the framers’ intent to limit the breadth and scope of the federal government’s reach.

The Twelfth Amendment deals with the manner of choosing a president and vice president. Before its enactment, the President was the greatest vote-getter in the presidential sweepstakes and the vice president was the runner-up. This held even if the two were of diverse or even opposed political persuasions. The presidential contest of 1796 provides an interesting example.

John Adams narrowly defeated Thomas Jefferson for the presidency and, accordingly, Jefferson became vice president. Notwithstanding Adams’ and Jefferson’s close collaboration in the Revolution (and the resumption of their intimate friendship in their later years), Adams and Jefferson were political opposites – Adams a Federalist who believed in a strong centralized authority and Jefferson a Republican who was a strict states’ rights advocate. Not only was the arrangement less than cozy, but Jefferson went to such pains to undermine Adams that, by modern lights, his conduct bordered very nearly on treason.

The Electoral College

The Twelfth established the Electoral College, which, you may recall, provided such rich fodder in the 2000 election.

The Twelfth provides, among other things, that the President and Vice shall not be inhabitants of the same state. The Twelfth establishes that should the President die in office (or be unable to serve because of other constitutional disability), then the Vice President shall succeed the now-ex President. Accordingly, the Vice President must be equally constitutionally eligible to serve.

The Thirteenth Amendment was born of blood, midwifed of the Civil War, the Amendment that abolished slavery in 1865. Despite the deep divisions that had severed North and South, the Thirteenth accomplishes its purposed with blessed brevity. It holds that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude (except as punishment of a crime for which the party has been duly convicted) shall exist within the United States, then grants the Congress power to enforce the Amendment through legislation.

The Fourteenth consists of four subparts. These include assurances that rights of citizenship shall not be abridged; procedures by which representatives in Congress are to be apportioned; grants Congress the power to remove disabilities of United States officials for rebellion; and recites what public debts are valid.

A deeper look

The first of these four subparts is significant, establishing that:

• All persons born or naturalized in the United states are citizens of the United States and the States wherein they reside.

• That no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States.

• That no State shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

• That no State shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the law.

These are biggies. The second of these protections recognizes that citizens of United States have certain, inherent privileges and immunities stemming from the mere fact of their beingness and citizenship. It hearkens back to that crowning expression in the Declaration of Independence (which, incidentally, ushers in the second – not the first – paragraph of that masterful document) that heralds that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Fourteenth says, “don’t mess with my unalienable rights!”

The second important assurance recognized by the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is that neither life, liberty nor property may be deprived without due process of law, that the full gauntlet of the law must be run and thoroughly exhausted. The fourth of these important protections provides that there must be “equal protection.” What this means, simply, is that justice must be blind, that we are all treated as equals before the law, with neither prejudice nor favoritism.

In the next column, on to the remaining provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, known as the Reconstruction Amendment (ensuing as it did “reconstruction,” following the Civil War) and adopted by the 39th Congress in 1869, then on through the Eighteenth, which enforced, for a parched time at least, Prohibition in these United States. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KISSER radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at

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