A Textual-Historical Theory of the Ninth Amendment

38 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2006

See all articles by Kurt Lash

Kurt Lash

University of Richmond School of Law


Despite the lavish attention paid to the Ninth as a possible source of unenumerated rights, surprisingly little attention has been paid to actual text. Although often raised in opposition to reading the Due Process Clause as incorporating only textual rights, the text of the Ninth has nothing to do with interpretation of enumerated rights such as those contained in the Fourteenth Amendment. No matter how narrowly one construes the Fourteenth, the Ninth merely demands that such enumerated rights not be construed to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people. In fact, the standard theory of the Ninth places the text in considerable tension with that of the Tenth. Although both the Ninth and Tenth Amendments close with the same reference to "the people," most contemporary scholars and courts treat the same term in the two amendments as having opposite meanings, with the Ninth referring to a single national people and Tenth referring to the people in the several states. Finally, recent historical evidence reveals that for more than one hundred years after its enactment, courts applied the Ninth Amendment in a manner that preserved the autonomous rights of the states. This seems out of sync with a text that speaks only of the retained rights of the people, not the states.

This article addresses these and other textual mysteries of the Ninth Amendment. The over-all effort is to construct a text-based theory of the Ninth that both explains its historical application and reconciles the Amendment with other texts in the Constitution such as the Tenth and Fourteenth Amendments. Particular attention is paid to the meaning of "deny or disparage," the distinction between "rights retained" and "rights assigned," and the relationship between rights retained by the people under the Ninth Amendment, and powers reserved to the people under the Tenth. The article closes by sketching a textual-historical approach to judicial enforcement of the Ninth Amendment in a manner that reconciles the text with the Fourteenth Amendment.

Suggested Citation

Lash, Kurt, A Textual-Historical Theory of the Ninth Amendment. Stanford Law Review, 2007, Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2007-17, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=953008

Kurt Lash (Contact Author)

University of Richmond School of Law ( email )

28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA 23173
United States

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