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Are Amendments to the Constitution Absolute?

Posted by Justin on

Our Constitution is our nation’s guiding document, but many Americans aren’t fully aware of what it means, how strictly its text needs to be followed, and whether the rights we derive from Amendments are truly absolute. 

Remember, all American rights technically come from Amendments (especially the first 10, which comprise the Bill of Rights). 

So are the Amendments to the Constitution absolute? Let’s take a look at this political question a little more closely:


What Does “Absolute” Mean?

It depends on your definition. Some politicians take "absolute" to mean that we must follow the exact letter of the amendments and the rights they spell out, with no room for interpretation. Others are a little more liberal in their interpretation. 

In reality, no amendment is truly absolute in practice, even if philosophically it seems like it should be. Take the right to free speech; this applies to most circumstances when you might need the right to free speech in your everyday life, such as when protesting, meeting up with friends or political groups, or even posting things online. 

But you don’t have the right to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater, since this presents a risk to the public. As a result, there is a reasonable limitation on your right to free speech when it is necessary.

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Reasonable Limitations

Of course, the big debate about amendments and personal rights stems from whether or not a particular limitation is “reasonable”. The above example is something that we can all agree upon, but other rights and other prospective limitations are more debatable. 

For example, some Americans believe that the right to bear arms should be more limited than it currently is because of reasonable dangers that certain members of the public face. Other Americans believe that the right to bear arms is already reasonably limited enough, given the requirement for background checks and restrictions on buying certain types of explosives and gun attachment

Amendments to Amendments

In addition to the above debate, there’s also the fact that other amendments can amend previous amendments. This actually happened once before, with the 18th and 21st Amendments, respectively.

The 18th Amendment prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the US, starting the prohibition era. But this was so unpopular, and lead to such a big crime spike, that the 21st Amendment was written and passed specifically to repeal the 18th Amendment. The 21st Amendment ended the prohibition era.

As you can see, amendments are not truly absolute, nor were they intended to be by the Founding Fathers. Indeed, part of the versatility of the Constitution lies in its ability to be amended more than once. As a democracy, we can make a decision and then reverse our decision later down the road if we decide to change course.

As for reasonable limitations, we still have a lot of debating to do before we draw clean lines around where our rights begin and end. Do your part and join the political conversation – as an American, after all, it's your right to do so! 


Thank you for reading, stay strong patriots.

Justin | FamTeeWorld

Maine, USA

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