Additional Constitutional Protections: Voting, Privacy, Bearing Arms

Authored By: Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia


(Right to Bear Arms, Right to Vote, Right to Privacy)

This document tells you the following:

  • What constitutional rights are there besides those in the First Amendment?
  • Is there a right to bear arms?
  • Is there a right to privacy?
  • Is there a right to vote?
  • What do some of the amendments in the Bill of Rights say?


There are other constitutional rights besides those in the First Amendment. Some are specified, such as the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Others are not specified, such as those in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. Some have been recognized by court interpretations over the past two centuries. Freedom of association has already been discussed. Three important rights-the rights to bear arms, to privacy, and to vote-are discussed in this section.

Is There a Right to Bear Arms?

Recent controversy over laws to control ownership of handguns has focused interest on the Second Amendment. This amendment guarantees to citizens the right to bear arms. Historically, this right was to make sure that each state could maintain a "militia." Therefore the courts have said that its protection specif-ically relates to establishing a state militia. The amendment does not prohibit laws limiting peo-ple's right to own guns and other weapons. There is a similar provision in the Georgia Constitution that expressly authorizes the General Assembly to "prescribe the manner in which arms may be borne" (Article 1, section 1, paragraph 8).

Is There a Right to Privacy?

You will not find a specific reference to a right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, this right has been drawn from a number of constitutional guaranties of privacy from governmental intrusion, including the Third, Fourth, and Ninth amendments. In 1904, Georgia was the first state in the country to recognize a right to privacy.

The right to privacy affects our lives in matters beyond searches, protection of records, and drug testing. It affects our right to die rather than live in a coma. It protects reproductive and family rights. The courts have said that the government may not interfere without proper reason in matters relating to family relationships. For example, any requirements a government sets for getting married must be reasonable. Would laws such as the following be constitutional?

SITUATION 25 In order to obtain an abortion, a de-pendent unmarried minor is required by a state law to notify one parent. The requirement can be waived by the juvenile court if it is in the "best interest of the minor."

SITUATION 26 To control population, the state makes it a crime to have more than two children.

In protecting the rights of individuals to make choices about their families, the courts have recognized a person's right to have access to birth control. They have prohibited laws requiring that some welfare recipients be sterilized.
In a controversial 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court recognized the right of women to an abortion (410 U.S. 113 (1973)).

(Since then, those opposed to abortions have worked hard to have this decision overturned.) On the other hand, two 1990 decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have made constitutional a Georgia law similar to that in situation 25, even though the Georgia law limits the rights of minors with respect to abortion. Hodgson v. Minnesota, 110 S. Ct. 2926 (1990); Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, 110 S. Ct. 2972 (1990).

Do couples have a right to decide the size of their families? Yes. The law in situation 26 would be unconstitutional. Not all countries allow their citizens such freedoms, however. The Chinese government has tried to ensure that couples have only one child. A former Romanian government used its power to force citizens to have as many children as possible.

Is There a Right to Vote?

The U.S. Constitution barely mentions the right to vote. Indeed, for much of the country's history, many people did not have that right. For over 130 years, voting was mostly limited to white males aged 21 years and older. Even their right to vote was sometimes restricted. They sometimes had to pay a special tax, called a poll tax, or pass a literacy test.

Constitutional amendments have extended the right to vote. In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment extended voting rights to men of all races. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. In 1943, Georgia became the first state to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. State officials felt that those old enough to fight in World War II were old enough to vote. In 1971, the Twenty-sixth Amendment gave 18-year-olds across the country the right to vote.

Excerpts from the Bill of Rights:

First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Second Amendment

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Third Amendment

No Soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Fourth Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Ninth Amendment

The Enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Tenth Amendment

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.

* Excerpted from An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Third Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2001). The Vinson Institute is not responsible for errors in the online text. Content is for information only; in no way should the information in the book be considered legal advice to anyone on any matter for which there are legal implications. Any such matter should be specifically addressed with an attorney. The book is available for purchase ator by contacting the Publications Program, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 201 M. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30602; telephone 706-542-6377; fax 706-542-6239.

Last Review and Update: Aug 03, 2005
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