Exploring amendments 8 and 10

Amendments 8 and 10

Amendment 8

Amendment VIII (8): Bails, fines, and punishments
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Modern Translation

More than necessary payment shall be required, nor more than necessary fines be forced, nor cruel and unusual punishment may be inflicted.

News Article

The Supreme Court recently gave the country an object lesson in the absurdity of the Eighth Amendment -- at least, as it is currently understood by the justices. On a single day, it handed down a decision upholding as constitutional the specific mixture of drugs by which thirty states put condemned prisoners to death, and it then went on to hear oral arguments over the question of whether states may constitutionally execute child rapists. That may not sound absurd, and it wouldn't be if the court had any kind of coherent approach to cases alleging "cruel and unusual punishment." But it doesn't. So the one-two punch, like so most of the court's recent hand-wringing over the amendment, operated more as a kind of philosophical and -- let's face it -- political Rorschach test for the justices than anything else.

Amendment 10

Amendment X (10): Powers retained by the states and the people
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

Modern Translation

The power of a State is in possession of the state and the people. The powers of the states are not entrusted to the United States by the Constitution, nor are the powers forbidden to the states, they are kept to the States or the people respectively.

New Article

Since then, the 10th Amendment has had a rather checkered history: Sometimes, it has worked as a strong curb on federal authority, other times much less so. But whenever it has had a genuine revival, that has usually come from the U.S. Supreme Court.


Right now, it is having another such revival at the hands of the court, and that–more than anything else–explains why the Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of the most important provision of the 1965 law that has been the nation’s most successful civil rights law.