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Vail Law: Part one of a look at the U.S. Constitution

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

The United States Constitution is what we’re made of. It is used, abused, quoted and misquoted, relied upon for every principal and precept from private ownership of yaks in every urban backyard to the right to purchase quinine tablets at Big Head Todd concerts from aliens on a walkabout from Mars. What it isn’t, though, is particularly well understood. Thus, this simple workman’s guide.

The Preamble

The Preamble is short – just 52 words and a single run-on sentence that sets up the lofty goals of the Framers.



From the start, it’s anti-egoistic. It doesn’t say “Us guys who drafted this thing and whose names appear at the bottom,” but “We the people,” sharing credit for the brilliance of its craftsmanship.

Among other things, the Preamble states its inspiration: “A more perfect union.” May as well shoot high. Those spare 52 words announce that the following document’s intent is to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty.” It assures these blessings to “to ourselves and our posterity.”



What’s in the articles?

The Constitution originally consisted of the Preamble and seven Articles, and in that form, was ratified by a convention of the States on September 17, 1787. The government under the Constitution was declared in effect on the first Wednesday in March, 1789.

You hardly ever hear about the Articles. You hear about Amendments, but the Articles” appear to be poor cousins. So what is an “Article” and how is it different from an Amendment?



An article is a separate and distinct part of a written instrument. When taken together, the various articles make up the whole of the document. An amendment is a change or modification, an addition to the original that either removes defects or faults or revises an instrument. In the case of our Constitution, there was a hue and cry both in and out of Congress following its adoption, in that it was not sufficiently explicit regarding individual and State rights. The hue and cry, in turn, led to an agreement to submit to the people immediately after the adoption of the Constitution a number of amendments. And so it was that the First Congress, on September 25, 1789, adopted and submitted to the States’ 12 proposed amendments — a Bill of Rights. Yes 12, not 10, as you might have supposed.

The Bill of Rights

Ten of these originally proposed amendments (now commonly known as amendments one through 10, but in reality, amendments three through 12) were ratified by the States. The Bill of Rights was declared in force on Dec. 15, 1791.

The Bill of Rights is neither a moral code (rights versus wrongs) nor an invoice or bill from the government. The Bill of Rights is a formal summary of those rights and liberties considered essential to a people. They are the fundament of citizenship, freedoms you and I have owned from the moments of our squawking births. They are the formal shopping list of those liberties we possess by right and virtue of our citizenship.

These are the rights of the people, and each person, rather than a reservation of rights, powers, and privileges by the government.

The next column in this series will hone its focus on the original Articles of the Constitution. Then onward through the Bill of Rights and Amendments XI through XXVI. We’ll take a look, too, at a few amendments that have been proposed since the last Amendment was adopted in 1971 and which, have, for one reason or another, failed to have been adopted.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his e-mail address: robbins@colorado.net.


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