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Hurricane Katrina and the Bill of Rights

This lesson will focus on the varied constitutional issues that surface in a time of crisis. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, every right protected in the Bill of Rights could potentially be abridged. In this lesson, students will explore resources that demonstrate potential constitutional violations and think critically about how other rights might be infringed upon.

Critical Thinking Exercise

Look at each Amendment included in the Bill of Rights. For each Amendment answer the question posed below.

First Amendment

  • Does the press have the right to access the disaster area?
  • Do the media have a right to publish pictures of the hurricane’s victims?

Second Amendment

  • Can local authorities constitutionally confiscate firearms at storm shelters?

Third Amendment

  • Would it be unconstitutional if federal or state troops had to be quartered in private residences in New Orleans?

Fourth Amendment

  • Is forced evacuation a violation of the people’s right to be “secure in their houses, papers and effects?”
  • Is it constitutional for authorities to forcibly remove a citizen from his or her home because of the danger caused by the storm?

Fifth Amendment

  • Is it possible that habeas corpus might be suspended in the wake of this natural disaster? What are the constitutional implications of suspending habeas corpus?
  • Can damaged or destroyed property be seized using the government’s power of eminent domain? What would be just compensation for apparently worthless land?
  • Are residents forcibly evacuated from New Orleans being deprived without due process of their Fifth Amendment right to “liberty and property?”

Sixth Amendment

  • Many trials in devastated areas of Louisiana and Mississippi will have to be postponed. Is this a violation of the right to a speedy trial?

Seventh Amendment

  • How will the local and state government handle the large volume of civil cases that will arise because of Hurricane Katrina?

Eighth Amendment

  • Without power, clean water, or sewage treatment, is it “cruel and unusual” to hold prisoners in jail?
  • If prison populations must be moved, could overcrowding of other area jails be considered “cruel and unusual”?

Ninth Amendment

  • By publishing pictures of hurricane victims, is the press violating the right to privacy of family members?
  • By making certain areas off-limits, is the government infringing the public’s right to travel freely?

Tenth Amendment

  • Which level of government is responsible for the disaster recovery efforts?
  • Which authorities are responsible for removing individuals from the disaster stricken area?
  • Is it the responsibility of the federal government to rebuild the areas of the Gulf Coast that were affected by the hurricane? What about the state and local government?


Discuss other constitutional issues related to Hurricane Katrina. Some issues might include:

  • The role of the President in sending active military to New Orleans to quell insurrections and maintain a “republican form of government” as outlined in Article IV.
  • Role of the Executive branch in managing relief efforts versus the role of the Congress in funding the relief efforts.