Constitution

Reason Staffers Share Their Favorite Constitutional Amendments

The U.S. Constitution was signed on this day 231 years ago.

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|||Oleg Dudko/Dreamstime.com
Oleg Dudko/Dreamstime.com

The United States Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. Since then, the document has grown by 27 amendments. To celebrate the Constitution's 231st birthday, I asked the Reason staff to pick one of their favorite amendments and tell us why they like it so much.

Katherine Mangu-Ward, Editor in Chief

Which amendment did you pick?
The 13th.
Why?
It's important to admit when you make mistakes, and slavery was our biggest one as a nation.

Jesse Walker, Books Editor

Which amendment did you pick?
The 3rd.
Why?
The 1st and 4th and 5th may sound better, but those amendments have been shot full of holes. This is the one item in the Bill of Rights that is still clearly working.

Eric Boehm, Reporter

Which amendment did you pick?
The 10th.
Why?
The Supreme Court has held that the 10th Amendment added nothing to the meaning of the Constitutionā€”that is, that the document itself is clearly a limitation on the powers of the federal government. Still, I wonder where we'd be today without the explicit counterbalance that the 10th Amendment provides against the implied powers of the Commerce Clause and the Supremacy Clause. Not every policy problem has a federal solution, and the 10th says we shouldn't always be looking for one; let the states find their own way.

C.J. Ciaramella, Criminal Justice Reporter

Which amendment did you pick?
The 14th.
Why?
States are cool, but sometimes they also suck. When County Commissioner Hogg* decides to step all over your due process, or the local sheriff decides that certain civil liberties aren't for those people, the 14th Amendment is there to smack them around.

Matt Welch, Editor at Large

Which amendment did you pick?
The 3rd.
Why?
When my daughter was like 5, I asked her on July 4 why the Americans had gotten mad at the king of England. Her answer? They didn't like British soldiers sleeping in their houses whenever they wanted. There is wisdom both practical and metaphorical in that notion.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Associate Editor

Which amendment did you pick?
The 19th.
Why?
Because people should be treated equally under the law regardless of their sex or gender, and that includes U.S. women being able to participate in the same state-sanctioned symbolic rituals as their male counterparts.

Scott Shackford, Associate Editor

Which amendment did you pick?
The 9th.
Why?
How can you not love an amendment that makes it explicit that the purpose of the Constitution is to define the limits of government authority and to make it very, very clear that it's not our lawmakers and judges who "grant" us rights like benevolent nobles?

Joe Setyon, Assistant Editor

Which amendment did you pick?
The 15th.
Why?
While the 13th and 14th amendments made slavery illegal and said African Americans had equal protection under the law, the 15th affirmed their all-important right to vote. Freedom is great and necessary, but if you can't have a say in who makes the laws, are you really free?

Tammy Barry, Grantwriter

Which amendment did you pick?
The 1st.
Why?
Shot full of holes as it may be, the 1st Amendment secures (along with the 2nd) the Declaration's promise that the government derives its just powers from us, the people. Without it, serfdom is a much more certain destination. Without it, we'd be travelling in an amorphous crazyland like Great Britain: criminalizing speech via arbitrary measures, and giving police license to monitor noncriminal speech as well.

Peter Suderman, Managing Editor (Online)

Which amendment did you pick?
The 21st.
Why?
If you enjoy a beer, a glass of wine, a shot of liquor, or a well-measured cocktail, raise a glass to the 21st Amendment, which in 1933 ended 13 years of Prohibition (and a wide array of unintended consequences) by repealing the 18th Amendment. In addition to ending the federal government's poorly enforced and socially ruinous ban on booze, it also has the distinction of being the only amendment ratified by state conventions instead of state legislatures. Its existence is a victory for both personal autonomy and culinary artistry, and it provides hope that, with enough time and pressure, serious policy mistakes can (eventually) be corrected.

Brian Doherty, Senior Editor

Which amendment did you pick?
The 2nd.
Why?
The 2nd Amendment, whether deliberately or not, embodies a vital fact: Although government is supposedly utterly necessary for our safety and thriving, its ability to specifically defend our lives from direct threat is practically non-existent, and at the very least it ought not interfere with our ability to preserve ourselves and our loved ones lives from such threats.

Robby Soave, Associate Editor

Which amendment did you pick?
The 1st.
Why?
Censorship is the defining characteristic of a dictatorship. "So long as men can speak and write freely…they still have a chance to reform their society," Ayn Rand once said. "When censorship is imposed, that is the sign that men should go on strike intellectually." Rand made those remarks during the course of an interview with Playboy, which drives the point home, I think.

Zuri Davis, Assistant Editor

Which amendment did you pick?
The 8th.
Why?
A fair justice system requires the punishment to always fit the crime. In a perfect world, the equal application of the 8th Amendment would challenge such practices as mandatory minimums, the death penalty, and exorbitant sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

*CORRECTION: This piece originally identified the fictional character of Boss Hogg as the sheriff of Hazzard County, Georgia. He was in fact the county commissioner.

NEXT: Michael Bloomberg Thinks Charlie Rose, Unlike Random Black Dudes, Deserves a 'Presumption of Innocence'

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I think Doherty cheated off Tuccille’s paper.

  2. Only one chooses the 9th. Sad.

    1. Very šŸ™

  3. The zeroeth — every system needs a root password.

    1. The Commerce clause is the root password.

      1. More like a backdoor.

        But well done. Very punny.

  4. Joe picks the 15th? Is he really convinced that of all of the Constitutional Amendments, the right to vote regardless of color, is the most important? More important than the 1st?, 2nd? 4th?

    1. Why criticize his response? ENB choose the 19th, which was less effective than the 15th since women could vote in some states already. I don’t think even free African Americans were allowed to vote in any state before the 15th Amendment.

  5. None of the writers, other than Soave, chose the First Amendment. My god, the irony

    1. It says “pick one of their favorite amendments,” not “pick your favorite.” We knew the First was covered.

      1. Ah, that explains the popularity of the 3rd Amendment

    2. Didn’t read very well.

      Tammy Barry, Grantwriter

      1. That’s why I said “writer”. I don’t think the grant writer is published in the magazine

        1. And you’re criticizing ME for not quibbling?!?

          1. What? I was criticizing you?

    3. What’s Tammy Barry, a grantwriter?

  6. Shikha Dalmia, Senior Analyst

    Which ammendment do you pick?

    The 113th.

    Why?

    Because white racist colonialists should understand the importance and significance of foreign people’s right to change their Constiutional identity under the law.

    1. Lol, I skimmed this article for two things: to see if anyone chose the 2nd and to see if Shikha would be conspicuously absent

  7. Hey morons the 13th actually LEGALIZES slavery as a punishment for crimes. That’s right slavery is still legal in the United States.

    1. Oh boy, you’re clever

    2. It was already legal under common law.

  8. You can make an argument for which of the amendment reiterates your most important right (1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, take your pick) but the 9th is definitely the most important amendment. Because it covers all those rights and myriad others, and makes it explicit.

    Almost every federal law on the books is in violation of the 9th amendment and through incorporation by the 14th, state laws as well.

    1. Yes, so that makes the most ignored amendment the most important.

  9. Good choices all.

    Quite relieved that no one picked the 16th, 17th or 18th amendments. Horrible ones all.

    A little bit disappointed that no one picked the 4th amendment.

    1. The third amendment was pretty popular, which is a kind of protection against unreasonably acquiring people’s stuff, I guess

      1. Third Amendment? Really? The last time someone tried a Third Amendment claim it was dismissed.

        1. Because the last (I think it was the only time) someone tried a 3A claim, the claim was absurd.

          1. It was “absurd” to claim that the police were soldiers for that purpose?

  10. My favorite unratified amendment is the Congressional Apportionment Amendment.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C….._Amendment

    Evidently it has a bit of a colorful history. Plus I do think we would be better served nowadays if we had more representation in Congress. There is nothing magic about 435.

    1. 435 is nice for a two-party system that’s hell bent on retaining power between themselves. Increase it to 4,350 and now smaller parties and independents become relevant.

  11. Like the Boortz Amendment.

    I believe the Constitution should be amended with a clause which states that neither the federal nor any state government shall make any activity that does not violate, through force or fraud, a persons right to life, liberty or property, a crime.

    And number nine. Number nine. Number nine. Number nine…

    1. Better just to have one that says, “Government may not initiate force.”

      1. I propose a constitutional amendment to truncate the 1st amendment after the fifth word.

        Henceforth, the 1st amendment shall read “Congress shall make no law.”

        šŸ™‚

      2. Ah, the anarchist amendment. You get my vote.

  12. I would argue that just because soldiers aren’t living in our homes, doesn’t mean that the 3rd isn’t being violated. In my opinion, the spirit of the 3rd is violated every time we are taxed to pay for the military. Our property is being taken from us to provide support to the military.

    1. The constitution explicitly grants the federal government the power to have a standing navy and an army in two year increments as needed. A perpetually renewed military authorization act, and using the military to be the world’s policeman, is the problem. Not the military itself.

  13. “state-sanctioned symbolic rituals”

    What?

  14. Oh, and Hogg was the county commissioner. Coltrane was the sheriff. DO SOME JOURNALISM MAYBE.

    1. What about Flash, huh?

    2. FUCK.

      1. Retractions/corrections won’t save you now, Ciaramella. Your 80s TV show street cred is totally shot, now.

      2. The 14th is a terrible amendment.
        It was ratified in an emotional time, as a punishment to those who supported the Confederacy.
        Far reaching actions need to be considered in a dispassionate manner and this one wasn’t, and then it has been interpreted in a way that has turned the idea on its head, that federal legislation must have an overwhelming need to be able to remove our liberty, as almost all laws do, to one where the Supreme Court gets to decide if the law is “equal”, or not – an impossible metric – and in some cases, gets to force that “equality” on us, with no ability for voters to respond.
        When County Commissioner Hogg* decides to step all over your due process, or the local sheriff decides that certain civil liberties aren’t for those people, state voters get to weigh in. When something similar is done by FEDGOV, we have very little recourse.
        Just look at how much turmoil is created when a SC ruling is based on this amendment. Two biggies come to mind – Roe and 0bergefell.

  15. I pick the most misunderstood Amendment of all-The 16th Amendment. Yes, the 16th Amendment. The income tax amendment, most hated by libertarians since Frank Chodorov. But the most misunderstood Amendment of them all.
    As Judge White wrote in the landmark case “Brushaber v Union Pacific Railroad” and was, as Judge Kavanaugh would say, affirmed by precedent on precedent after that, the 16th Amendment created no new type of tax, but instead it AFFIRMED the original taxing clauses in the Constitution.
    The 16th Amendment was really aimed at The Supreme Ct itself, and federal judges, that excise taxes were not direct taxes on property, but were only indirect excise taxes on certain activities and privileges subject to federal jurisdiction. Judges were not to look at the sources of the tax, as the Supreme CT did in the Pollack cases, when it struck down excises taxes on federally privileged dividends (from a federal corporation, the Union Pacific Railroad, incorporated in the State of Utah), or on rents collected on federally connected real estate in the territories, as direct taxes and subject to apportionment.

    1. I hate the 17th more than the 16th.

  16. Congress had proposed the 16th Amendment after both populists and classical liberals had organized in opposition to the Pollack decisions. Both of these groups, the William Jennings Bryant populists and the gold standard classical liberal Cleveland Democrats, were sick of Republican crony capitalism and protectionist tariffs. They favored the reinstatement of the original income tax of 1862 as reinstated by Cleveland in c 1882 but struck down by the conservative Pollack court as a means to combat crony capitalism.
    The income tax was not aimed at private workers, but at federal employees and federal pensions and investments, and on federally connected privileges and profits. Private workers were encouraged to pay into the treasury, but there was no collection mechanism and tax collectors were instructed to accept their returns without question. In fact, few private workers even bothered to file tax returns from the time the 16th Amendment was passed until the late 1930’s (Social Security influenced more participation) and then the infamous voluntary Victory Tax of 1942.

  17. Since WWII the US INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAX has grown into the primary method of state expansion. But it is still voluntary for private workers without a federally connected “trade or business”. Unfortunately, the truth of tax honesty has been suppressed by the original tactics espoused by Irwin Schiff and others since the 1970’s of “Don’t file, don’t pay and make them prove their jurisdiction in court”. The federal judges, and the libertarian legal experts and think tanks and pundits have simply not understood the 16th Amendment and provided absolutely no help to the Patriot Constitutional movement. Judges see laws that don’t exist against non filers (Congress must have meant everybody).
    Fortunately, a libertarian named Pete Hendrickson in 2003 saw that it was the tactics that were the primary problem, and by understanding the laws regarding returns, especially the zero return, and the necessity of using IRS forms and procedures, tens and no doubt hundreds of thousands of private workers working without a federal connection are receiving full refunds of all withheld taxes, state and federal, including payroll taxes. The libertarian/conservative establishment has done nothing to help to this day. Why? see http://www.losthorizons.com

  18. Brian Doherty, Senior Editor
    Which amendment did you pick?
    The 2nd.

    You can always tell who the oldsters are. ‘Ol Whiskey Breath Doherty spat his cigarillo out and told us what’s what.

  19. Why is Gillespie’s pick not there? Is there no amendment that applies to Bob Dylan going electric?

    1. They asked him his favorite and he responded “The Ramones”. Then they clarified that they were talking about constitutional amendments and he lost interest

      1. The eight and a halfth amendment guarantees the right not to be buried in a pet cemetery.

        1. Amendment 4.20 guarantees the right to be sedated.

  20. The First amendment is the US’s gift to the world that very few nations seem to want to accept.

    1. Including the US.

    2. It’s a strictly American concept, like monster truck rallies, and thus should be ignored.

  21. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27.

    I think that covers the good ones. The rest can suck it.

    1. We’d be better off without 11, 16, 17, 18. We’d probably be better off without 26 except repealing that one would be an excuse to reinstitute the draft.

  22. Amend the 14th to remove birth right citizenship. Then it is fine.

    1. It doesn’t include birthright citizenship like the Commerce Clause it has been twisted to say something it doesn’t say.

    2. What?!?! You’d give the p[oliticians the power to revoke the citizenship of someone born here? Very, very bad idea.

  23. Great discussion, but it’s kind of like asking, “What is your favorite bodily function?” The machine doesn’t work unless ALL of its components are installed and functional.

  24. Jesse Walker – I had the same formulation, years ago: the 3rd was the only one that they haven’t yet violated. Then, damned if GHW Bush didn’t go and take over Roberto Durant’s apartment in Panama, because it overlooked the Vatican Embassy compound where Manuel Noriega had taken refuge. So, unfortunately, us Bill of Rights backers are 0-10.

  25. 22nd is the only thing that has prevented us turning into a full-fledged monarchy fronting an oligarchic plutocracy. Americans have no clue how to restrain the Prez with our vote. One Prez in the last 40 years was a one-termer – and he was hardly a real one-termer. That used to be the norm. We are quite simply too stupid and manipulated to govern ourselves anymore. But two terms is just too short for a full-fledged intermarrying bunch of dynasts to manipulate the system to maintain perpetual control and ultimately do away with elections altogether.

    I suspect that we could be easily manipulated into repealing it too.

    1. Actually it’s 2 presidents in the last 40 – Carter (77-81), Bush the Elder (89-93).

      It’s interesting if you look at the timeline:

      Of the 44 prior presidents, there have been 17 two-termers in history, but they tend to occur in groups (Washington to Jackson; Roosevelt to Eisenhower; Reagan to Present). Others could have been two-termers, but were assassinated (Lincoln, Kennedy), Most of the one-termers occurred from 1837-1901.

      POTUS Timeline

  26. Quoting Ayn Rand in.. any context really, makes one sound like an angsty dum-dum.

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