The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights

The constitution consists of a preamble, seven articles and 27 amendments. The Constitution, the oldest still in force in the world, sets up a federal system by dividing powers between the national and state governments. It also establishes the basic form of government: three separate independent branches (the executive, the legislative, and the judicial), each one having powers (‘checks and balances’) over others. The executive branch, the President, enforces national laws; the legislative branch, the Congress makes national laws; and the judicial branch, the Supreme Court and other federal courts, applies and interprets laws when deciding legal disputes in federal courts. It specifies the powers and duties of each federal branch of government, with all other powers and duties belonging to the state. Federal powers listed in the Constitution include the rights to collect taxes, declare war, and regulate interstate and foreign trade.

All governments and governmental groups, federal, state, and local, must operate within its guidelines. The ultimate power under the Constitution is not given to the President (the executive branch), or the Supreme Court (the judicial branch). Nor does it rest, as in many other countries, with a political group or party. It belongs to ‘We the People’, in fact and in spirit.

The United States Constitution resulted from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia. When the convention was over, the proposed Constitution was sent to the states for ratification. Nine of the thirteen states were needed to ratify the Constitution in order for it to be adopted. One of the main arguments of those opposed to the ratification of the Constitution was that it did not contain a list of the rights, or a bill of rights, which a government could not take away from the people. Many who wanted ratification saw that the absence of a Bill of Rights could lead to rejection of the Constitution. They promised to work for a Bill of Rights, and on December 15, 1791 the Bill of Rights finally went into effect. Hence, the Constitution consists of the Preamble and seven articles. Twenty-seven amendments have been added to its original text. The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights. However, only the first eight amendments deal with the guarantee of specific rights of individual citizens against any violation by the government. They stated what they considered to be the fundamental unalienable rights of any American. Among these rights are freedoms of religion, speech, and the press, the right of peaceful assembly, and the right to petition the government to correct wrong. Other rights guarded the citizens against unreasonable searches, arrests and seizures of property, and established a system of justice guaranteeing orderly legal procedures. This included the right of trial by jury, that is, being judged by one’s fellow citizens. Some of these amendments are now relatively unimportant, but the Fifth Amendment retains its significance in the fight of the American people for their civil rights. It provides that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law’ and no person ‘shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.’

All the amendments adopted by the Congress have become an integral part of the Constitution. Mention should be made of some of them. The Thirteenth amendment abolished slavery. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments adopted in 1868 and 1870 defined citizenship and gave the vote to all male citizens, regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude. The nineteenth gave the vote to women, and was adopted in 1920. The Twenty-second amendment, adopted in 1951, makes it impossible for any President to hold office for more than two terms. The 26th amendment was adopted in 1971, it lowered the voting age to 18 years.

The federal and state governments formed under the Constitution, therefore, were designed to serve the people and to carry out their majority wishes (and not the other way round). One thing they did not want their government to do is to rule them. Americans expect their government to serve them and tend to think of politicians and governmental officials as their servants. This attitude remains very strong among Americans today.

3. Look through the Bill of rights in the adapted form to understand the general meaning.


The first 10 amendments to the Constitution and their purpose

Protections afforded fundamental rights and freedoms

Amendment 1. Freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly; the right to petition the government,

Protections against arbitrary military action

Amendment 2. Right to bear arms and maintain state militia (National Guard).

Amendment 3. Troops may be quartered in homes in peacetime.

Protections against arbitrary police and court action

Amendment 4. No reasonable searches or seizures.

Amendment 5. Grand jury indictment required to prosecute a person for a serious crime. No ‘double jeopardy’ – being tried twice for the same offence. Forcing a person to testify against himself or herself prohibited. No loss of life, liberty or property without due process.

Amendment 6. Right to speedy, public, impartial trial with defense counsel, and the right to cross-examine witnesses.

Amendment 7. Jury trials in civil suits where value exceeds 20 dollars.

Amendment 8. No excessive bail or fines, no cruel and unusual punishments.

Protections of states’ rights and unnamed rights of the people

Amendment 9. Unlisted rights are not necessary denied.

Amendment 10. Powers not delegated to the United States or denied to states are reserved to the states or to the people.

4. Give Ukrainian equivalents for the following words and expressions; make up sentences or situations using them.

1. checks and balances; to rest with a political party; the Supreme Court; to specify the powers and duties of each federal branch of government; to apply and interpret laws; regulate interstate and foreign trade; operate within its guidelines; in fact and in spirit; trial by jury; fellow citizens; legal procedures; the right of peaceful assembly; to correct wrong; the guarantee of specific rights of individual citizens against any violation by the government; ultimate power; freedoms of religion; the other way round; to petition the government; tend to think; to guard the citizens against unreasonable searches; seizure of property; to guarantee orderly legal procedures; to be judged by one’s fellow citizens; to be compelled to be a witness against himself; an integral part of the Constitution; to abolish slavery; to define citizenship; to give the vote; regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude; to hold office for more than two terms; to lower the voting age; to serve the people; to carry out their majority wishes; governmental officials.

5. Find in the text English equivalents for the following words and expressions:

1. ділити повноваження між національним урядом та урядами штатів; окремі незалежні гілки; Верховний суд; тлумачити закони; застосовувати закони; правові суперечки; збирати податки; оголошувати війну; приймати /додати поправки до конституції;повна влада; доручати владу політичним партіям; запропонована Конституція; забрати права у людей; привести до відхилення Конституції; повноваження та обов’язки; ратифікувати конституцію; діяти у рамках (згідно директив) конституції; свобода слова, релігії, преси; система стримувань і противаг; безпідставний арешт; право на свободу зборів; подавати клопотання уряду; конфіскація майна; свідчити проти себе; встановити систему правосуддя; судочинство; незалежно від раси; визначати громадянство; попереднє перебування у рабстві; невід’ємні права; служити народу.

6. A: Fill in the appropriate word from the list below.

Effect, due, check, legislative, unreasonable, lowered,rests, petition, specifies, judicial, balanced, searched, executive.

1. The contract … that a penalty must be paid if the work is not completed on time. 2. It .... with the court to decide the prisoner’s guilt. 3. The law goes into …. soon. 4. The defence lawyers decided to … for a new trial. 5. It is …….to demand that employees work without a break. 6. The police officer … the criminal to see what he had in his pockets. 7. The arrest of the diplomat will produce its … effects. 8. The Central Bank has …. interest rates by 2 percent. 9. Thebranch enforces national laws. 10. The … branch makes laws. 11. The … branch applies and interprets laws. 12. The powers given to each branch are carefully … by the powers of the other two. 13. Each branch serves as a … on the others.

B: Fill in the appropriate proposition or adverb where necessary.

1. Don't concern yourself … matters that are not your business. 2. ….the British constitution, there are no similar documents. 3. The local people have petitioned the council …. improved street lighting. 4. Take care in your writing to guard …. typical mistakes. 5. You cannot compel good work … unwilling students. 6. The government established … the Articles …. Confederation was not strong enough to govern a new nation. 7. … example, it lacked ... an executive body and a system national court.

7 . Match the definition in the right column to the word in the left.

1. search a. a recommendation as to policy or conduct;
2. seizure b. to state something explicitly or in detail;
3. guideline c. to present a formal written request made to somebody in authority, e.g. government, esp. one made by a large number of people;
4. check and balances d. to do away with something (e.g. law, custom) wholly; annul (it);
5. to specify f. proper, suitable, right;
6. to ratify g. examining (a person) for concealed articles, e.g. weapons, drugs, etc.
7. to petition h. a company of people gathered together for a particular purpose;
8. due i. to approve or confirm formally, so that it can come in force;
9. to abolish j. methods of control or supervision by Government, or other authorities to guard against misuse of power;
10. assembly k. taking possession of somebody or something by legal process;

8. Read and say whether these statements are true or false:

1. The US Constitution was adopted after the Civil War. 2. The document embodied the political theories of the Founding Fathers. 3. All the amendments adopted by the Congress are included in the Bill of Rights. 4. The Constitution of the United States was based on the separation of powers – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. 5. The separation of powers means the system of governmental powers where one governmental branch checks and balances those of others. 6. Under the constitution the ultimate power rests with the President of the USA. 7. The US Constitution can be altered easily, like many other written constitutions. 8. The Constitution of the USA abolished slavery. 9. A constitutional amendment can be added if a very substantial majority, both in Congress as in the individual States, approve it. 10. A lot of contemporary constitutions are based on the US Constitution.

9. Complete the following text with the suitable words or phrases.

When the Constitution was written in 1787, there were only 13 states. Because the 1) ___________ of the Constitution saw that the future might bring a need for changes, they 2) ____________ a method of adding 3) _____________ . Over the years 27 amendments have been added, but the basic 4) ____________ has not been 5) _______. The pattern of government planned so long ago for 13 states today meets the needs of 50 states and more than 57 times as many people.

The first 10 amendments to the Constitution, called the 6) ___________, assure individual 7) _______________ and 8) _____________. Added in 1791, they included provisions for freedom of the 9) ____________ and 10) ____________: the right of citizens to 11) __________ peacefully; the right to be 12) _________ in one’s own home against unreasonable 13) ____________ and 14) ___________ of person or property; and the right of any person charged with 15) ___________ the law to have a speedy trial by 16) _________ of fellow 17) __________.

The Constitution 18) _______ the powers of the government into three branches: the 19) _____________ headed by the 20) ___________; the 21) ___________ which includes both houses of 22) __________ (the Senate and the House of Representatives) and the 23) __________ which is headed by the Supreme Court. The Constitution limits the role of each 24) ___________ to prevent any one branch from gaining undue 25) ____________ .

10. Answer the questions.

1. What three main branches is the federal government divided into? 2. What are the main duties of each branch? 3. What principle forms the basis of the Constitution? 4. Has the text of the Constitution ever been changed? How did it become possible? Why does the US Constitution need some changes? 5. Does any governmental organ or official in the USA have the ultimate power? Why? 6. What is the Bill of Rights? 7. What freedoms and rights are proclaimed by the Constitution? Which of them has become the most important?

11. Translate into English.

Розчарувавшись (to disappoint) у британському правлінні, тринадцять північноамериканських колоній послали 1776 року своїх делегатів на Континентальний конгрес у Філадельфію. Там вони ухвалили Декларацію про незалежність. Північноамериканські штати стали незалежними державами-штатами.

Спочатку вони заснували конфедерацію. Невдовзі після проголошення Декларації про незалежність Континентальний конгрес запропонував Статті конфедерації, і до 1781 року їх ратифікували всі тринадцять штатів. Ці статті стали першою Конституцією Сполучених Штатів Америки. Конфедерація, проголошена Статтями, була вельми слабка. Центральний уряд мав широкі повноваження у сфері військових та закордонних справ. Однак у сфері внутрішніх справ майже вся влада зберігалася за окремими штатами. Конгрес не мав повноважень накладати податки на покриття федеральних витрат. Федерального суду практично не було. Центральний уряд залежав від штатів.

Незадоволення Статтями конфедерації підштовхнуло штати послати знов, 1787 року, делегатів до Філадельфії. Делегати мали право лише запропонувати поправки до Статей, але невдовзі вони вирішили скасувати їх зовсім і представити народові зовсім нову Конституцію. Через два роки після ратифікації законодавчими зборами дев’яти штатів нова Конституція набула чинності.

Цю Конституцію час від часу підправляли, але її положення чинні й досі. Складається вона з семи статей і двадцяти семи поправок. Вона дає повноваження центральному урядові, розподіляє ці повноваження поміж кількох урядових розгалужень та обмежує владу як центрального уряду, так і окремих штатів.

До найбільших переваг (merit) Конституції належать три великі принципи, покликані забезпечити неможливість зловживати урядовою владою. Принцип федералізму обмежує офіційний гніт, розподіляючи повноваження між нацією і штатами; принцип розподілу влад забезпечує це, ділячи владу між трьома гілками федерального урядування. Принцип стримування та противаг дає ще більший захист, наділяючи в багатьох випадках котрийсь підрозділ владою, щоб стримувати хибні чи незаконні дії іншого.

8. Home assignment. Read about the Constitution of Ukraine and speak about its main provisions.

The Constitution of Ukraine

Governed by the Act of Ukraine’s Independence of August 24, 1991, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on behalf of the Ukrainian people adopted the Constitution – the Fundamental Law on June 28, 1996.

The Constitution establishes the country’s political system, assures rights, freedoms and duties of citizens and is the basis for its laws. It asserts that Ukraine is a sovereign and independent, democratic, social, legal state. It is a unitary state with single citizenship. Ukraine is a republic. The people are the only source of power which is exercised directly and through the bodies of state power and local self-government. The land, mineral raw materials, air space, water and other natural resources which are on the territory of Ukraine are objects of the property right of Ukrainian people. The state language in Ukraine is Ukrainian.

The state symbols of Ukraine are the State Flag, the State Emblem and the State Anthem of Ukraine. The State Flag is a blue and yellow banner made from two equal horizontal stripes. The Small State Emblem of Ukraine is the trident. The Anthem of Ukraine is the national anthem with the music of M. Verbytsky.

The capital of Ukraine is Kyiv.

The Constitution states that every person has the right to the free development of his/her personality, and has obligations before society where free and full development of the personality is assured. Citizens have equal Constitutional rights and freedoms and are equal before the law. There are no privileges or restrictions based upon race, color of skin, political and other beliefs, gender, ethnic and social origin, property, ownership, position, place of residence, language, religion. The articles of the Constitution guarantee the rights to life, personal inviolability and the inviolability of dwelling, noninterference in private life, free choice of residence, work, rest, education, social security, housing, health protection, medical care and medical insurance, legal assistance, a safe and healthy environment.

Defense of the Motherland, of the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and respect for the state’s symbols are the duty of citizens. Citizens of Ukraine perform military services in compliance with the law. No person may damage the environment, cultural heritage. Every person shall pay taxes and duties in the order and amount determined by law.

The Constitution outlines the structure of the national government and specifies its powers and duties. Under the Constitution the powers of the government are divided into three branches – the legislative which consists of the Verkhovna Rada, the executive, headed by the Prime Minister, and the judicial, which is led by the Supreme Court. The Parliament – the Verkhovna Rada is the only body of the legislative power in Ukraine. There are 450 people’s deputies who are elected for a term of five years on the basis universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot. The Verkhovna Rada’s main function is making laws. Laws drafting work is performed by its Committees. The Verkhovna Rada adopts the state Budget for the period from January 1 till December 31 and controls the execution of it. The President of Ukraine is the head of the state and speaks on behalf of it. He is elected directly by the voters for a term of five years with no more than two full terms. The highest body of the executive power is the Cabinet of Ministers. It is responsible to the President and is accountable to the Verkhovna Rada. It carries out domestic and foreign policy of the State, the fulfillment of the Constitution, as well as the acts of the President, develops and fulfills national programs on the economic, scientific and technical, social and cultural development of Ukraine. Justice in Ukraine is exercised entirely by courts. It is administered by the Constitutional Court and by courts of general jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Ukraine is the highest judicial body of general jurisdiction.

The monetary unit of Ukraine is the Hryvnia.

The Constitution defines the territorial structure of Ukraine. It is composed of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, 24 regions, districts, cities, and districts in cities, settlements and villages. Cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol possess a special status determined by law.

The Constitution of Ukraine consists of 16 chapters, 161 articles.

The day of its adoption is a state holiday – the Day of the Constitution of Ukraine.

Grammar Section

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