1st Amendment:

Congress can’t make you shut up. (1791)

It can’t establish a religion, ban a religion, prevent free speech, prevent free press, stop people from assembling peacefully, or punish people for complaining about government (often to the government).

2nd Amendment:

The government can’t take your guns. (1791)

It can’t infringe on the people’s right to have guns, although it’s often debated whether this applies to state militias (which the amendment says should be well-regulated) or to any individual’s right to own guns, or both.

3rd Amendment:

The government cannot force you to have soldiers as roommates. (1791)

You can’t be made to have a soldier stay in your home, without your consent, regardless of whether the U.S. is at war, UNLESS a law is passed that says it’s okay.

4th Amendment:

The government cannot search (or steal) your shit without permission. (1791)

You can’t have your home, property, or possessions searched and/or seized without a warrant, and that warrant can only granted if there’s probable cause of a crime. The warrant must also describe the area to be searched, and the people and/or possessions to be seized.

5th Amendment:

You have a right to a fair legal process. (1791)

In order to be punished for a serious crime, you need to be indicted by a Grand Jury, unless the case involves land or naval forces, or if you’re in a militia during wartime (which is rare). You also can’t be punished for the same thing twice, or be forced to testify against yourself. You can’t have your shit taken by the government without fair compensation (sounds kinda shady).

6th Amendment:

You have a right to a speedy legal process. (1791)

Your trial must be speedy and public, and with an impartial jury, and held near where the crime was committed, and with the opportunity to have witnesses testify for and/or against you, and to have a lawyer help you if you’re the defendant.

7th Amendment:

You have a right to a trial by jury in civil (smaller) cases. (1791)

This amendment is kind of irrelevant today, but back then if a civil suit was over $20, you could have a jury at the trial and the case couldn’t be tried again in another court.

8th Amendment:

No excessive bail, fines, or cruel and unusual punishment can be imposed. (1791)

Full stop.

9th Amendment:

Not every right is listed in the Constitution. (1791)

The government can’t use the Constitution to violate any rights that AREN’T listed in the Constitution. So in short, not every right is listed in the Constitution.

10th Amendment:

If it isn’t in the Constitution, it’s up to the states. (1791)

Any powers that aren’t specifically listed as federal are given to either the states or the people.

11th Amendment:

You can’t sue your own state, or another state, in federal court without its consent. (1795)

Not a particularly exciting Amendment in all honesty.

12h Amendment:

Choosing Presidents and Vice Presidents. (1804)

The ‘electors’ (if you remember from Article 2) meet to cast their votes for President and Vice President. They give those votes to the President of the Senate. If there’s no majority (if no one gets 270 votes), then the House chooses the President from the top 3 vote-getters and the Senate chooses the Vice President from the top 2 vote-getters.

13th Amendment:

Fuck slavery unless you’re in jail and then it’s…cool? (1865)

No more slavery, except as punishment for a crime. Since criminal justice reform is a true bipartisan issue, we’ll go ahead and say that the concept of “slavery is okay if you’re in prison” is a slippery slope to some messed-up shit and abuse of power.

14th Amendment:

A real grab-bag. (1868)

This one’s all over the place. If you’re born in the U.S., you’re a U.S. citizen and a citizen of the state in which you live. States cannot infringe on the rights given to you by the federal government. States must follow a fair legal process. Native Americans who don’t have to pay taxes aren’t counted in a state’s population when determining how many Representatives it gets. Dudes can vote if they’re 21 or older, unless they’ve rebelled against the government or committed a crime. Government officials must swear an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and to the U.S. and cannot hold office if they’ve rebelled against the country or helped its enemies (but Congress can override that rule with a ⅔ vote). The national debt for things like pensions and the costs of fighting insurrections can’t be questioned, and the U.S. isn’t responsible for the costs associated with those rebellions (a.k.a. America isn’t going to reimburse you for trying to overthrow it). America also won’t reimburse you for no longer owning slaves.

15th Amendment:

Voting isn’t just for white people. (1870)

You can’t be denied the right to vote based on your race, skin color, or whether or not you were once a slave.

16th Amendment:

Congress can tax your income. (1913)

It also doesn’t have to give any of that revenue back to the states.

17th Amendment:

Senators are now directly elected, rather than chosen by each state’s legislature. (1913)

The governor of a state can also appoint a temporary Senator when vacancies happen, as long as his/her state’s legislature says it’s allowed.

18th Amendment:

Sober January…for 15 Januaries (and 164 other months). (1919)

No drinking, making, selling, or transporting alcohol.

19th Amendment:

Voting isn’t just for dudes. (1920)

You can’t be denied the right to vote based on your sex.

20th Amendment:

When federal office terms come to an end. (1933)

They end on January 20th at 12PM EST for the President and the Vice President, and on January 3rd at 12PM EST for Representatives and Senators (the new Congress must also meet at this time). If the President dies, still isn’t chosen, or doesn’t qualify by January 20th, the Vice President fills the role. If the Vice President also doesn’t qualify, then Congress chooses a President, or a new selection method, until a President and Vice President qualify.

21st Amendment:

Back to non-sober Januaries (and other months) forever. (1933)

Yes to drinking, making, selling, and transporting alcohol.

22nd Amendment:

Establishing Presidential term-limits. (1951)

Presidents cannot serve for more than 2 terms. If a President finishes someone else’s term, and serves more than 2 years of it, he/she can only serve one more term (provided he/she wins the next election).

23rd Amendment:

Washington, D.C. gets 3 electoral votes. (1961)

Look, it should also get the 2 Senators and 1 Representative those 3 electoral votes imply, especially since D.C. residents pay taxes – and the city has more people than two existing states (Wyoming and Vermont) – but this statehood advocacy is very much the author’s biased opinion as he was born there.

24th Amendment:

Poll taxes are canceled. (1964)

You can’t make someone pay a tax in order to vote, although this is only specified in elections for President/Vice President, Representative, and Senator (a.k.a. federal).

25th Amendment:

When Vice Presidents take over for Presidents. (1967)

If the President quits, dies, or is removed from office, the Vice President becomes President. When there’s a vacancy for Vice President, the President nominates a new one to be confirmed by a majority of the House and the Senate. If the President quits and then changes his/her mind, the Vice President acts as President in that window. If the Vice President and a majority of executive officers (e.g. Cabinet members) tell Congress that the President is unfit for office, the Vice President becomes the acting President. The President can then tell Congress that he/she is fine – and that the Vice President and executive officers are full of shit – but the Vice President and executive officers then have 4 days to say “no really, the President is actually unfit for office”. At that point Congress has 48 hours to assemble and 21 days to determine, with a ⅔ vote (in the House and the Senate), if the President is indeed fit for office. If they vote “no”, the Vice President takes over. If they vote “yes”, then the President resumes office, presumably followed by a series of extremely awkward Cabinet meetings.

26th Amendment:

The voting age drops from 21 to 18. (1971)

If you can fight for your country, you should get a say in who’s making you do it.

27th Amendment:

Members of Congress get a raise. (1992)

But they can’t take effect for Representatives and Senators until after the next election.

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