Passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791. The first 10 amendments form the Bill of Rights.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The Ninth Amendment is a constitutional safety net intended to make clear that individuals have other fundamental rights, in addition to those listed in the First through Eighth Amendments. Some of the framers had raised concerns that because it was impossible to list every fundamental right, it would be dangerous to list just some of them (for example, the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, and so forth), for fear of suggesting that the list was complete.
This group of framers opposed a bill of rights entirely and favored a more general declaration of fundamental rights. But others, including many state representatives, had refused to ratify the Constitution without a more specific list of protections, so the First Congress added the Ninth Amendment as a compromise.
Because the rights protected by the Ninth Amendment are not specified, they are referred to as “unenumerated.” The Supreme Court has found that unenumerated rights include such important rights as the right to travel, the right to vote, the right to keep personal matters private and to make important decisions about one’s health care or body.
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One of the arguments against adding a bill of rights to the Constitution was that such a list might imply those were the only rights the people had. Therefore, when James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights in Congress, he included a provision protecting rights “retained by the people,” but not written down in the Constitution. These unenumerated rights referred to in the Ninth Amendment have proven to be very controversial. Libertarians believe that the Ninth Amendment includes certain fundamental rights, such as privacy, that are so important they must be protected by judges, whether or not they are specifically listed in the Constitution. Advocates of judicial restraint argue that such interpretations of the Ninth Amendment give judges too much discretion, and that it is the job of state legislatures and the people themselves to protect unenumerated rights.
Linda R. Monk, J.D., is a constitutional scholar, journalist, and nationally award-winning author. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she twice received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, its highest honor for law-related media. Her books include The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution, Ordinary Americans: U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, and The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide. For more than 25 years, Dr. Monk has written commentary for newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Huffington Post. In addition, she has appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN, and NPR.