Civil Liberties: John Ashcroft Is Rewriting the 6th Amendment

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Mr. Barnhill is an independent historian living in Oklahoma.

Am I losing something here? Or is this federal government of ours inept, deceptive, or flat out determined to get a conviction regardless of the Constitution? I don't know.

To steal from Will Rogers, all I know is what I read on the Internet. And what I read on the various news sites is that Zacarias Moussaoui wants to delay his trial. Seems he's having trouble reaching witnesses, being somewhat isolated. He's also having trouble getting access to government evidence because it's classified and he's not cleared. And on and on. The man is somewhat hamstrung in putting together his defense, and his team of advisors would like to have a few months more time before they go into court.

As I see it, there really shouldn't be any big controversy about the delay. After all, there's a life at stake here. So, it makes no sense for the prosecution to be in a rush. Unless the prosecution's intending to run roughshod over the rest of the bill of rights as they propose to do with Article VI.

Reportedly, the prosecution asked that the trial not be delayed, citing a right of the public and victims to a speedy trial. They also cited national interest, but that is extraneous. What bothers me is that they claimed for the "people" a right that is clearly and unequivocal under the sixth amendment protects the accused against those same people acting through their government. The government is using the speedy trial laws, which came into being in the 1970s as an attempt to reinvigorate the sixth amendment, as a tool to subvert that amendment.

As I recall my history, the Bill of Rights was added to protect the people against the federal government. The Bill of Rights reserved powers to the states and rights to the people. In the case of the sixth amendment, the rights belong to a specific class, not collectively but as individuals. The protection goes to the defendant and nobody else. The rights, based on English common law, had suffered abuse from colonial governments, especially in the decades prior to the American Revolution when the British government was having problems getting convictions in smuggling cases in the northern colonies. The solution was to move the trials, but the result was to deny the basic English right to a speedy trial by one's peers. Thus, when the first Congress solicited proposals for the bill of rights, collecting over 200 and weeding down to eight, among the final eight that James Madison put to the states was the sixth.

There is no public right mentioned in the sixth amendment, nor is there mention of victims' rights. What the amendment says is: "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."

As I read that language (and it's a lot clearer than the talk about establishment of religion or arms and the militia), the government is flat out wrong in trying to deny Moussaoui his delay. It's arguable that the government has not been fully sixth amendment friendly with regard to venue, charges, and access to witnesses, but it's totally without question that the government has attempted to twist the speedy trial provision to use a right of the accused against Moussaoui. That is not what justice is all about. The judge acted properly in granting Moussaoui's request, and the government added another to its ever-lengthening list of questionable readings of the Constitution.

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stephanie lynn Stewart - 11/22/2004

need to know why the 6th amendment was put into the consitution

Larissa - 12/4/2003

I need some more info

Emily - 4/25/2003

I have to write a paper on the 6th amendment can you help me.

tj - 2/6/2003

jake ober is gay

Anya - 11/4/2002

I have to write a speech on the sixth amendment in one week. Can you give me any pointers, hints, or helping suggestons? Thank you!!

Hugh Price - 8/25/2002

With all due respect, it appears that Mr. Barnhill is one very naive "historian."

How any even half-way thinking person could not understand that this Administration is hostile to interests that conflict with their goal of further enriching the wealthiest in U.S. society, is beyond me.

The Bill of Rights is a useful tool in many respects for this crowd: as a propagandistic sloganeering source to rally support, as justification for opportunistic "round-ups" of undesirables, as validation for additional police state tactics, and on and on.

Mr. Barnhill must be an "independent" contractor (writer/historian) for the very crowd he purports to question.

bill mcwilliams - 8/24/2002

No, you aren't losing anything. Rather, you are finding something out. You are finding that your government is in the hands of people who do not believe in fair play (except for themselves). After all, their leader's grandfather was a business associate of Nazi's during WWII. What else would you expect from people like that? Come to think of it, when was the last time you heard any politician (on the national level) advocate measures to increase freedoms, liberties, and a fair judicial system? Me neither.

Thomas Gunn - 8/21/2002



Alan Derschowitz warned you. Now you will reap what you've sown.

Unfortunately for you, yours will be the more severe consequences b/c you don't have the where-with-all to defend yourself. You gave your means of defense away when you gave away the second. Tsk, Tsk, tsk.


Thomas Gunn - 8/21/2002


It is gratifying to see that you have a clear understanding of just how easy it is to gore the sacred bull. Do you really expect anyone to support your contention on the sixth when you are so blithe over the rationalizing away of the second?

Besides, we needn't worry that the government will run roughshod over the supposed rights of an accused. If they weren't guilty they would never have been charged. But you are correct in that *all* the ills you speak of are a direct result of guns and the people's right to have them.

I don't think it will be much longer before we can interpretate the 6th out of existance, or failing that propagandize it out of favor.

How's it feel ta be in the recievin end?


William H. Leckie, Jr. - 8/21/2002

Once again, someone on the right has responded like a spolighted deer and can't discern distinctions between content and purpose within a collection of diverse constitutional amendments. The infamous Second Amendment, dealing not with procedural rights, is a very different ball of wax from the Sixth and raises considerably more complex interpretative issues. It's not "pc" (whatever that means) to distinguish the layered meanings of of the Second. I recall a fairly recent work of scholarship linking the right to bear arms with the English Whig tradition that neglected raising the question whether any Whig gentleman would want to see fowling pieces in every crofter's cottage or London tenement; lurking behind the "well-regulated militia" idea was more than defense against an overweening government but the necessity to maintain social and political order felt by propertied interests. If I recall correctly, the first occasion militia were called up under the new constitution, it was to repress the Whiskey Rebellion, and the Second could be construed; the case law is replete with characterizations of gun-toting as the practice of lower class thugs, and widespread gun ownership has given us everything from soon-to-be-ex-congressmen firing off rounds accidentally at a fund-raiser to drive-by shootings, and a recent civil judgment against a father in Jefferson County, Missouri--arms-bearin' red-blooded Amurican country if there ever was such--for allowing a mentally disturbed son access to the weapon with which he murdered another son. The complexity of maintaining social order both in the 18th century and today has been elided for the sale of a one-dimensional notion of "right." Just whose "pc" is at work?

Thomas Gunn - 8/20/2002


[As I recall my history, the Bill of Rights was added to protect the people against the federal government.]

[In the case of the sixth amendment, the rights belong to a specific class, not collectively but as individuals.]

Could the founders have actually meant the BOR as protection against an over reaching *federal government"?

We better rethink the Second.

See what happens when what THEY said is reinterpreted with an eye to pc?