In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
In Orson Welles' "The Trial," the great director uses his bold, impressionistic style to transform Franz Kafka's novel into a frenzied totalitarian nightmare. For Josef K. (a brilliant Anthony Perkins), worse than the actual captivity is the mystery behind it.
The lack of explanation for why he's being held takes on an existential nature: Who could possibly hate him this much, to punish him in this way? Would it be better to simply be killed or locked away forever with no hope of escape, rather than continuing to wonder about his fate indefinitely?
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
It would feel wrong to not choose 12 Angry Men as the film that best encapsulates the ideal of the trial-by-jury system. Henry Fonda uses reasoned argument and logic to fight for justice. What's more American in spirit than that? The notion that anything can be worked out through rationally and in the spirit of compromise.
It doesn't always work out that way in real life, of course, and Sidney Lumet's film can seem a bit sunny and overly-optimistic in how easily some of the prejudiced jury members are swayed. But we're talking about American ideals here, people. What these documents really seem to stand for behind all the rhetoric and the parsing and the divergent scholarly interpretations. The notion that citizens can only be judged fairly by other citizens, that people will put their differences aside to make an even-handed and honest judgement of guilt of innocence, and that Truth will win the day.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
I'll break this one up, because there's two different issues to discuss in this one amendment. First, that "excessive fines imposed" thing. I know, technically, the FCC doesn't neccessarily count as a wing of the federal government, but they still impose these ridiculous fines for obscenity or whatever, essentially controlling media content by extortion.
Howard Stern's "Private Parts" perfectly exemplifies this kind of bizarre behavior. The zany, haphazard rules make no sense. ("I can't say 'big cock,' but you can say 'big cock coming out of my mouth?'") What can be done on the air thus becomes a simple matter of economics. You can't say "boner" on the air just in case the government decides to fine you for it. If the penalties are so great that a single agency can determine what is and is not appropriate for television and radio, those fines are "excessive."
Second, "cruel and unusual punishment." In the tremendous, intense "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang," based on a true story, we witness first-hand the horrors to which wrongfully accused James Allen (Paul Muni) is subjected by a harsh penal system. Forced to labor in the field for endless hours every day, fed nothing but tasteless gruel, Allen's brutal chain gang experience robs him of his humanity. Even after his escape, hiding out under an assumed name in Chicago, he's haunted by memories of the gang and constantly terrified he will be found out and sent back for more punishment.
A decorated WWI veteran, we come to see Allen's predicament as one essentially forced upon him by an uncaring society. With no job opportunities, he unintentionally finds himself on the street in a community of criminals. After being promised his freedom, he's cruelly tricked into additional years of undue suffering. Eventually, the United States government will push this previously honorable, proud man deep into the life of crime they always accused him of leading. Once you are in this chaotic system of authoritarian beurocracy, director Melvyn LeRoy seems to insist, there is no hope of escape.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
By design, the 9th Amendment is really vague. I mean, how do I choose a movie that deals with all the rights which may be preserved by the Constitution but are not actually spelled out? I guess you could say the idea is to allow for maximum freedom as long as no one is directly harmed by this free enterprise and open exchange of ideas.
So I'm choosing "Ghostbusters," the story of a bold and profitable small business constantly harrassed and scrutinzed by corrupt EPA bureauocrats. All Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) and company want to do is save people from ghosts and make a little money in the process, but no, Agent Walter Peck (William Atherton) had to breach the containment system and set all the psychomagnatheric energy loose to wreck havoc on Manhattan.
The loose cause of "public health," Ivan Reitman's film seems to argue, can allow for all manner of overreach and unchecked aggression by local authorities. In this case, only an appeal to the Mayor (who is brought over to the Ghostbusters side selfishly through the promise of an election-year turnaround) can override Peck's attempts to dismantle the Ghostbusting organization and destroy New York City.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Congress gets around this one all the time for stuff like the Drug War. Using a loophole involving interstate commerce, they can make drug possession illegal, when it really should be a matter for states to take up. In that spirit, I think the only reasonable film to choose to represent the Tenth Amendment is Cheech and Chong's 1981 effort "Nice Dreams."
In the film, the stony duo rip off a crop of marijuana and travel around selling it out of an ice cream truck while pursued by bumbling cops. If that doesn't accurately reflect the day-to-day reality of the Drug War in America, I don't know what would. Also, this film contains a classic performance from Pee Wee Herman, whose combination of child-like innocence and lusty, secretly-indulged perversions summarizes the American character better than any post I could ever compose.
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