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Roundtable: What's Your Favorite Constitutional Amendment?

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By William Peacock, Esq. on September 15, 2014 8:57 AM

Welcome to Constitution Week at FindLaw! Why this week, of all weeks? Because during this week in 1787 (on September 17, to be exact), the U.S. Constitution was signed by attendees of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Of course, the original draft had a few imperfections -- no Bill of Rights, the three-fifths compromise, and slavery, for example -- but the foundation was solid.

That being said, we're glad the Constitution has a built-in editing function. Here are our staff members' favorite fixes (amendments) to the U.S. Constitution:

Willie Peacock: The 21st Amendment

Though I'm the office expert on budget booze, my pick has very little to do with drinking.

With the Justice Department's recent moves to scale down the "War on Drugs," two states making the controversial move of legalizing marijuana, and a nationwide problem with mass incarceration, the failed experiment of Prohibition seems like a historical lesson that is especially relevant today.

Do we stop punishing addicts and low-level dealers? End prohibition of controlled substances altogether? Pick and choose which drugs should be legal and illegal?

Plus, the 21st Amendment is a hell of a brewery.

Tanya Roth: The 1st Amendment

I know, I know, this is a major cliché, but like all clichés, it contains a kernel of truth. And that truth is, free speech and a free press are the absolute bedrocks of democracy. Imagine any of the troubled states around the world with these rights (really guaranteed that is, not just on paper) and all of them would be wholly different. Think of China or Iran with a fully functioning press or even a consistently working Twitter. Where might they be?

Why does this matter? Because, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest.

Brett Snider: The 14th Amendment

Do I even need to argue this? Constitutional law from the last 100 years wouldn't even exist without the 14th Amendment. Like the exclusionary rule? Who doesn't? It wouldn't even apply to state and local law enforcement without this little constitutional gem.

Oh and civil rights. The underpinnings of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, every equal protection case in the last century, and the current fight for marriage equality -- we owe all of it to the 14th Amendment. And despite the fact that Justice Scalia may believe that it's an abhorration to apply the 14th Amendment's protections to any case that isn't race-related, equality in the realms of gender and sexual orientation wouldn't be possible without it.

Andrew Chow: The 1st, 19th, and 26th Amendments

I know Tanya already discussed the First Amendment, but along with the freedom of the press (which speaks to my prior career in journalism), I'll add that I'm a huge fan of the Establishment Clause and the free exercise of religion.

My other favorites: the 19th Amendment, barring denial of the right to vote based on sex, and the 26th Amendment, which not only gave 18-year-olds the right to vote, but also took the shortest amount of time to ratify (three months, eight days).

Daniel Taylor: The 21st Amendment

I'm by no means a Constitutional scholar, but as a world-class appreciator of an ice cold can of domestic beer or delicious whiskey cocktail I'm joining Willie in offering a toast to the 21st Amendment. After all, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name without having to sneak around. Meeting up with the boys for a nice glass of warm milk on Friday night just doesn't do the trick sometimes.

Mark Wilson: The 4th Amendment

Maybe it's because I'm a criminal defense lawyer by trade, but I think the Fourth Amendment is among the most important of the amendments. It was directly targeted at an English practice called the general warrant, which would allow Crown officials to barge into a home on a pretense of investigation and root around until they found something incriminating. This is, for example, why the amendment requires a warrant to "particularly" describe what's going to be searched or seized.

From this fairly innocuous beginning, the Fourth Amendment caused the development of a whole culture of privacy, where privacy today is a given and those seeking to invade it must justify the invasion, not the other way around.

What's your favorite amendment? Tweet us your thoughts @FindLawLP.

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