Constitution of the United States

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What is the importance of the Sixth Amendment?  

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The 6th Amendment, as with all amendments to the Constitution, is a way of protecting individuals against the violation of their inalienable rights by those in positions of authority. It also shows that the understanding of such rights within the Constitutional framework is formal, rather than substantive. In other words, it is concerned with spelling out what those rights are, as opposed to how they should be implemented.

The case of the 6th Amendment provides us with a particularly neat illustration of the formal/substantive distinction in relation to how natural rights are conceived. On the face of it, the guarantees it sets out are extensive, particularly when compared to other countries at the time. The fundamental principle is one we take entirely for granted today: the accused in every criminal prosecution has the right to an attorney for their defense. Otherwise, there can be no question of a fair trial. No one could seriously deny that this is indeed a very important formal right,...

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