The inescapable federalism of the Ninth Amendment

Kurt T. Lash

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For the past several decades, the majority of courts and commentators have viewed the Ninth Amendment as a provision justifying judicial enforcement of unenumerated individual rights against state and federal abridgment. The most influential advocate of this libertarian reading of the Ninth Amendment has been Professor Randy Barnett, who has argued in a number of articles and books that the Ninth Amendment was originally understood as guarding unenumerated natural rights. Recently uncovered historical evidence, however, suggests that those who framed and ratified the Ninth Amendment understood it as a guardian of the retained right to local self-government. Recognizing the challenge this evidence poses to libertarian theories of the Ninth Amendment, Professor Barnett now argues that what evidence we have is consistent with both a libertarian and federalist reading of the Ninth Amendment and that remaining gaps in the historical record preclude a solely federalist reading of the Clause. This Article clarifies the distinction between the federalist and libertarian models of the Ninth Amendment and argues that the two models are incompatible in critical ways. In addition to critiquing Professor Barnett's reading of the historical evidence, this Article presents newly discovered evidence of the original meaning of the Ninth Amendment that fills in important gaps in the historical record and strongly supports an originally federalist understanding of the Amendment. The Article concludes by distinguishing the Ninth Amendment from the Tenth Amendment and considers the Fourteenth Amendment's potential impact on the meaning and scope of the Ninth Amendment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)801-879
Number of pages79
JournalIowa Law Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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