How Many Bills of Rights do we Need?

Dean Chambers

February 7, 2001

How many so-called Bills of Rights would we need if we simply respected and honored THE Bill of Rights? It has become quite fashionable in current politics to seek, as a remedy for some set of real or perceived problems, a "Bill of Rights." So those who have grievances against health maintenance organizations and other managed health care plans seek a "Patients' Bill of Rights." Those who criticize the current state of customer service in the airline industry as seeking a consumers' "Bill of Rights" to remedy those problems. Are we really talking about rights or privileges in these instances? And if there are any recognizable rights involved, are those rights better protected by getting the government involved in these issues or by getting the government out of the way so a solution can be reached in these areas?

While the term "Bill of Rights" has clearly become over-used, let's remember for a moment what THE Bill of Rights is all about. The framers of our Constitution sought ratification of that document in the states but had to answer to the criticism that it created a centralized federal government that would have too much authority. The Anti-Federalists demands a Bill of Rights to protect the liberty of the citizens. In exchange for an agreement to do this, the Constitution received enough support to gain ratification. And the first Congress passed the first ten Amendments to the Constitution that we have since known as The Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights had a simple purpose - to protect the individual from government actions that would violate basic liberties reserved for the individual. In that way, the document is really a bill of prohibitions - limitations on what actions the government can take against individuals. Basic liberties involving free speech, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to be innocent until proven guilty by jury trial, etc. were all recognized by The Bill of Rights.

In contemporary political debate we see increasing pressure to curtail the rights recognized in the Bill of Rights while at the same extend a whole host of previously unheard of "rights" under the guise of the latest proposed "Bills of Rights." While there are constant demands to enact laws to limit guns rights, censor speech that some consider offensive, and allow law enforcement to sometime overlook the procedural protections of the Fourth Amendment to bust crooks, we see demands that government mandate certain privileges for customers of HMOs and airlines and other products and services.

The legitimate grievances between patients, physicians, and the bureaucrats who run HMOs should be decided among them or in the courts if that is necessary. To the extent that government regulates the health care industry they've made it more expensive, lowered the quality, and has in many ways caused the kinds of constraints under which the HMOs operate to stay in business. The same is true in the airline industry. The government has regulated and aided in the creation of large, out-of-touch, bureaucratic corporate entities that provide these services. It should surprise no one when the quality of the products and services they provide declines and customer dissatisfaction increases. But turning to the government for a one-sized-fits all imposed "solution" in the form of a "Bill of Rights" is at best a Band-Aid solution that will fail to remedy the problems and at worst a cruel hoax that will only worsen the problems.

The biggest shortcoming in these various industries is the fundamental lack of consumer choice. And passing a "Bill of Rights" which is really a bill of increased regulations would do nothing to improve customer service and product quality. It would simply buy a good conscience for politicians who will go home to constituents and say "we did something about it." Years later the problem will still exist and the next class of politicians will be asked to do something about it again.

If the politicians would instead respect and abide by The Bill of Rights to our Constitution and let the people solve their problems through the private sector we'd all be a lot better off. If we simply respected the original Bill of Rights we wouldn't need any other Bills of Rights.

Copyright Dean Chambers

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9 feb 2001