By William Baldwin, Forbes Staff
Here are six constitutional amendments that would, if passed by two-thirds majorities in each house of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the states, give the citizens some basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The first would help George Zimmerman, the defendant in the Trayvon Martin homicide case.
1. No person shall twice be put in jeopardy of criminal conviction for the same offense.
Defendants usually can’t be retried after being acquitted. But there’s a well-recognized exception for politically unpopular defendants. The police officers who beat up Rodney King were retried after being acquitted. In similar fashion, Zimmerman, after being acquitted in state court of killing Martin, could be tried in federal court for the crime of showing animus to Martin while killing him.
The government also gets a lot of flexibility by discovering a dozen different offenses in the same set of facts (killing someone, conspiring to kill him, depriving him of his rights by killing him, using a weapon to kill him, committing child abuse by killing him, etc.).
A constitutional amendment, if enforced by the courts, would stop this nonsense.
2. Private property shall not be taken for public use without compensation.
There are several ways for the government to acquire real estate without paying for it. It can make the property you own worthless by declaring it to be in need of “historic preservation” (in Manhattan, even a gas station can be landmarked). It can get a conservation easement for free by imposing 20-acre zoning. It can convert a large plot into a wildlife refuge by finding a snail darter or owl on it.
It would be helpful to have a rule stating that parkland has to be paid for.
3. No search warrant shall be issued unless the police show a judge that the person to be searched has probably committed a crime.
That would put a stop to the NSA snooping on every phone call.
4. The Supreme Court’s judicial power extends to cases or controversies, not to advisory opinions.
The last thing a democracy needs is a body of platonic elders decreeing what they would or would not like in the way of legislation. But that’s the direction we veer off in when the judicial branch takes trumped-up cases. The judiciary’s bad habits started with Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 case in which Connecticut pretended to enforce an ancient law forbidding contraceptives. It continued with a factitious dispute that resulted in the recent DOMA ruling.
We should amend the Constitution to create three branches of government. In this system, Congress would repeal DOMA.
5. The president shall faithfully execute the laws.
With this written into the document defining our government, we would avoid a repeat of King George III—some monarch overriding the legislature on a whim. If the executive branch wanted a postponement of a healthcare law, it would have to get a statute passed.
6. To get a criminal conviction, the government must demonstrate that the defendant had criminal intent.
As defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate argues in Three Felonies a Day, there are so many criminal statutes, and so much vagueness in the way they define crimes, that everyone is guilty of something. The only reason we are not all in jail is that prosecutors wisely use their discretion to go after only really bad people.
The Russian legal system is like this. Everything is illegal, but the government prosecutes only those people it has good reason to prosecute, such as political opponents.
Maybe, if we had a Bill of Rights, the U.S. would have a government of laws and not of prosecutorial caprice.
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Forbes Latest