Each of the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, has historically been considered essential to the preservation of individual rights. The Fifth Amendment directly addresses the issue of “due process of law,” stating,
No person shall be...deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The importance of the Fifth Amendment to the preservation of individual liberty has been debated continuously since its ratification, with Supreme Court decisions consistently reaffirming its importance. Interpretations, as with each of the ten original amendments, have left some uncertainty regarding the its scope or applicability. Its underlying intent, however, was and remains clear: government cannot arbitrarily deprive an individual of freedom or seize that individual’s property without having first followed specified steps intended to ensure that the individual’s rights have been properly protected. Because of continuing concerns about the preservation of individual rights in this regard, Congress, in the years immediately following the end of the Civil War, and with continued animosity from Southern states regarding the issues of slavery and indentured servitude, passed and worked through ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states,
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [Emphasis added]
The origins of both these amendments to the Constitution reside in the Magna Carta, one of the most important documents in history for the restraints it placed on executive power—in its case specific to the power of the English monarch King John. No longer would a king or queen, at least in England, enjoy unquestioned power over its subjects, although the practical application of these restraints varied over the subsequent centuries. The Founding Fathers of the newly established United States of America, however, incorporated those restraints in the Constitution they drafted precisely because they were seeking independence from a distant monarch, King George III, but also because they were determined to construct a legal regime that would preclude the emergence in the new nation of governments that enjoyed absolute power over the citizenry.
The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ restraints on government powers are integral to the Constitution’s broader mission of ensuring the establishment and survival of a democratic form of government—one that protected the individual citizen in any dispute between that citizen and the government created to serve them. No citizen can be placed in indefinite detention or have their property seized unless or until a legally established and transparent process has been entertained, during which the individual has been able to defend themselves before an impartial judiciary. The due process clauses of the Constitution are synonymous with the concept of individual rights.