The United States Constitution has changed the course of the nation's history by creating a federal system of governance that guarantees strong federal powers and yet maintains the rights of the individual citizen. The Bill of Rights protects the civil liberties of the individual and ensures the vital role of state government. Supreme Court justices have often used the Bill of Rights as a legal precedent in their rulings, such as in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, which ensures that the accused have a right to legal counsel.
The US Constitution has also changed the course of the nation's history through amendments. The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in the US. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified three years later, granted citizenship rights to African Americans. Two years later, the Fifteenth Amendment gave African American men the right to vote. Later, local and state statutes inhibiting voting rights were repealed on the grounds that they infringed upon these constitutional amendments.
The Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote, thus acknowledging that the Constitution was not protecting the rights of all the citizens of the United States. The Twenty-Fourth Amendment did away with poll taxes: these taxes largely inhibited African American voters in Southern states. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment gave eighteen-year-olds the right to vote. This was ratified since it was considered unfair that young people could be drafted and yet could not vote for the leaders who would send them off to war.
Constitutional amendments have also been used as agents of political, economic, and social change. Through amendments, the American voter can select his/her own senators and pay income taxes. The federal government also controls fiscal policy through the Federal Reserve, another history-making power brought on by a constitutional amendment. The US also attempted to ban the production of alcohol via constitutional amendment, but this amendment was repealed fourteen years later when many Americans disobeyed the law and there was no political will to enforce it.
The Constitution is a living document: it is constantly referenced by lawmakers and Supreme Court justices. These lawmakers and justices use the document to make history-changing decisions in the spirit of the document with the goal of safeguarding personal liberties for all while ensuring a strong solvent national government.