The United States Constitution is a limit on the powers of the federal government, and, since the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is also a limit on the powers of the states. This idea of limiting government was understood not only by the nation’s Founding Fathers, but also by the Framers of Utah’s own State Constitution. The basic principle of all constitutions is the belief that if government isn’t permitted to do something, it is forbidden from doing it.
Two of the most important amendments to the United States Constitution are the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. Because the Bill of Rights could not enumerate all rights (there are far too many) several Framers feared enumerating only certain rights would suggest that the federal government’s powers were far greater than they really were. Thus, the Ninth Amendment says, “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Or, in other words, just because specific rights have been listed, it doesn’t mean these are the only ones.
The Tenth Amendment states, “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.” The United States is a nation of sovereign and independent states – not a national government with political subdivisions. It is inherently important that each state government exercise its powers to protect its citizens and limit the amount of government interference in each citizen’s life.
State senators not only need to protect and defend citizen’s rights as expressed in the United States Constitution (including rights not enumerated), but they must protect rights set forth in State Constitutions. Because most are more familiar with the United States Constitution, many people are unaware that the Utah State Constitution enumerates even more rights for citizens.
Most understand the Fifth Amendment means one cannot be forced to testify against himself or herself, but do they know the Utah State Constitution says that a person’s spouse may not be forced to testify against him or her? Interestingly, Article I, § 14 of the Utah Constitution provides greater protection of privacy than the Fourth Amendment as well.
This legislative session, I have introduced bills that protect the right to due process (SB 214 and SB 205), provide greater transparency in government (SB 177) and promote ethical behavior by those in government (SB 180).