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Amendment,

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  • House Joint Resolution 1, presenting what would become the 19th Amendment, passed June 4, 1919; ratified by the states Aug. 18, 1920; became law Aug. 26, 1920.

    There are no pronouns in the Nineteenth Amendment

    The Nineteenth Amendment reads, 

    The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

    It was ratified 100 years ago, on Aug. 18, 1920 – in time for more than eight million women to vote in the presidential election that year. 

    There are no pronouns in the Nineteenth Amendment. There are two reasons for this:

    1. The amendment, originally proposed in 1878, mirrors the language of the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, which extended voting rights to African Americans, and which has no pronouns.
    2. Pronouns are ambiguous, especially gender pronouns, especially in the law.
  • The First Amendment, from North Carolina's copy of the original Bill of Rights

    Will the Supreme Court soon be policing your speech?

    Last week Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito delivered a politically-charged speech to the conservative Federalist Society. He denounced same-sex marriage, bemoaned the loss of religious freedom in America, complained that the Covid-19 pandemic gave government unprecedented control over our lives, and lashed out at experts influencing public policy. Justice Alito also reminded his sympathetic audience of the dangers to the First Amendment posed by the “growing hostility to the expression of unfashionable views” on campus or in the office. His one example: “You can’t say that marriage is the union between one man and one woman.”

    In June, Alito dissented from a Court opinion upholding the rights of gay and transgender employees. In a section of his dissent headed “Freedom of Speech,” he attacked laws and regulations targeting language discrimination, citing what he considered two blatant First Amendment violations: a New York City’s human rights law that makes ignoring someone’s pronoun a punishable offense; and unspecified college regulations that require the use of singular they or coined gender pronouns like xe, zie, and hir. These rules encourage the use of inclusive language, but Alito implied he would welcome litigation asserting the First Amendment defense, “You can’t make me say your pronouns.”

  • Trump’s words on January 6 were a clear and present danger

    The defense in Donald Trump’s second impeachment rested in large part on the assertion that his fiery words to protestors on January 6 were protected by the First Amendment. Republican senators used free speech—along with other pretexts—to ignore Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors. But they were wrong. Trump’s incitement was not protected speech. His words posed an unambiguous, clear and present danger.

  • The right's new slogan: My free speech, not yours

    Conservatives are attacking what they call “cancel culture” for violating their First Amendment right to free speech, so much so that the theme for the ultra-conservative CPAC conference in Orlando last February was “America Uncanceled.” 

    Everywhere you turn, conservatives are wrapping themselves in the Constitution as readily as they wrap themselves in the flag, but they do so selectively and hypocritically. My right to pray, not yours. My right to bear arms, not yours. My right to vote, not yours. And of course their culture war slogan, “My free speech, not yours.”

  • Corpus linguistics, public meaning, and the Second Amendment

    Conservative jurists claim to focus on the text and nothing but the text as they seek to discover the original public meaning of the Second Amendment. But it’s not clear that the amendment ever had a single shared meaning, or if it did, whether that meaning is recoverable. That’s true of any text, not just legal ones. The best we can hope for when investigating an older text is to examine how it was discussed around the time it was written and to use historical sources to glean the meaning of any difficult or ambiguous words or phrases. And even so, there’s no guarantee that a reasonable reader in 1791 would interpret the Second Amendment the same way as their equally-reasonable neighbor. When the Supreme Court said in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that it had determined the original public meaning of the Second Amendment, its reading, like any linguistic interpretation, involved both an examination of the text and a certain amount of guesswork. . . .

    Corpus linguistics, which some hail as better than dictionaries for legal interpretation, allows us to access and analyze large swaths of digitized text. Take this example  . . .