1789年9月，国会批准了宪法的第一至第十修正案，总称为《权利法案》（Bill of Rights）。
200多年过去了，《权利法案》没有被修改过一个字。从生效的第一天起，它们就是美国宪法（supreme law of the land）中最重要的部分之一，是美国立国的基石。
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.
Comment: The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of association and assembly. It also protects the rights of citizens to worship as they please and the right not to be forced to support someone else's religion. The First Amendment also provides for the right to demand a change in government policies.
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.
Comment: Legal scholars disagree about what right is protected by the Second Amendment. Some scholars have concluded that this amendment affirms a broad individual right to gun ownership. Others interpret the amendment as protecting only a narrow right to possess firearms as members of a militia. Supreme Court decisions have not resolved the debate. However, the courts have held that the Second Amendment does not preclude certain government regulations on gun ownership, such as laws prohibiting ownership of firearms by felons.
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.
Comment: The Third Amendment forbids the government from quartering soldiers in private residences during peacetime without the resident's permission, and during wartime only according to law. Under British rule, American colonists were forced to feed and house British soldiers deployed to help enforce colonial tax laws. The colonists resented this practice, and so banned it with this amendment. This amendment has been basically irrelevant since the end of the American Revolution (1775-1783).
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.
Comment: The Fourth Amendment prohibits the police and other government officials from searching people's homes or offices or seizing their property without reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed. In most cases, police can conduct a search of a person's home or office only after they get a written search warrant from a judge, detailing where they will search and what they expect to find.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Comment: The Fifth Amendment provides five important protections against arbitrary government actions. First, no one may be prosecuted for a federal crime without first being indicted (formally accused) by a grand jury. Second, a criminal suspect may be prosecuted only once for each crime. If a jury acquits the accused person, there can be no retrial. Third, a person cannot be forced to testify against himself or herself in any criminal case. This is the right against self-incrimination. Fourth, the due process clause bars the government from arbitrarily depriving anyone of life, liberty, or property. Fifth, the government may not take anyone's private property unless it is necessary for a public purpose and unless the government pays a fair price for it.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Comment: The Sixth Amendment guarantees people accused of crimes the right to a speedy and public trial. Defendants in federal cases are entitled to be tried in the area in which the crime was committed, and both state and federal defendants have the right to have an impartial jury decide their guilt or innocence. The Sixth Amendment prohibits the government from prosecuting an accused person without first informing him or her of the nature of the charges against him or her. The accused has the right to "confront"--that is, to cross-examine witnesses who testify against him or her at trial. Those accused also have a right to subpoena (compel) supporting witnesses to testify in court and to have a lawyer assist in their legal defense.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Comment: The Seventh Amendment, which does not apply to the states, guarantees the right to a jury in some types of federal civil (noncriminal) trials.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Comment: The courts must allow most criminal defendants out of jail before their trial if the defendants put up a reasonable bail--a financial guarantee that they will come to the trial. If a person is convicted of a crime, the government cannot impose unreasonable fines or inflict inhumane punishments. What is "cruel and unusual" has no fixed meaning, and so decisions interpreting the clause are sometimes controversial. The Supreme Court has generally held that a punishment that is wildly disproportionate to the crime committed is cruel and unusual. The Court has also upheld the death penalty against claims that putting someone to death, regardless of what that person did, is cruel and unusual.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Comment: The Ninth Amendment declares that just because certain rights are not mentioned in the Constitution does not mean that they do not exist. Courts may not infer from the silence of the Constitution that an unlisted right is unavailable to protect individuals from the government.
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.
Comment: The Tenth Amendment restates a fundamental constitutional rule: If a particular power was not assigned to the federal government by the Constitution itself, then the states may exercise the power, unless the Constitution also prohibits the states from exercising it. The Tenth Amendment also states that people are free to act, without permission of the federal government, in areas outside the scope of the federal government's powers.
（评论文字摘自Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2004）