CONSTITUTIONAL CONVERSATIONS

The Republic is Waving Its Arms (cont)

                                    by

  1. E. Boyd, Esq., “Miss Constitution”

Last week I posited that WE THE PEOPLE are lost and are looking for help to understand what is happening to our society and what we need to do about it.  It is beginning to feel, for many, as though the social order is breaking down.

Can the United States Constitution help us understand the reality we face and the solutions we need?  Miss Constitution thinks it can.

Some perfectly intelligent and even brilliant commentators and scholars sometimes overcomplicate the document.  Is it a “living” document meaning that it draws meaning from evolving standards as Justice Brennan would have it?  Is it able to be amended outside of Article V, the amendment process in the document itself, as certain Yale scholars would have it?  Is it modern enough for the impact of social media as asked by an engineer for a local Pennsylvania TV station last week?

The answer is that the Constitution of the United States represents the national rules of the game. So, “no” the rules are not evolving standards; “no” the rules do not allow you to bypass them; and “yes” the document can handle any new invention as long as the application of the invention stays within the rules of the game.

If we were playing football, the Constitution creates the dimensions of the field; it creates the number of yards required for a first down; it creates the width and depth of the goal posts; it creates certain fair-play rules monitored by referees.  Over time, the look of the uniforms may change; the number of teams may increase; inventors may create better helmets and safer equipment, but you still have to go ten yards to make a first down.  Those teams who seem to perpetually lose, or those teams who think they have a right to win, often want to change the rules to make sure of the outcome.  Sometimes they simply try and go around the rules and put a camera in the locker room of the opponent or steal a play book or deflate the ball or do any number of things instead of just playing the game by the rules.  Miss Constitution is ever amused by these attempts but has become alarmed that some of them are actually taken seriously.

I recently attended a type of political think tank in which a former high-level elected public servant outlined a way devised by he and his ideological colleagues to end the Electoral College without going through the cumbersome but important Amendment process.  They are forming a pact regarding electoral voting that amounts to a conspiracy to bypass important provisions of the Constitution in Presidential elections.  A pact like this would violate the oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.  This is the same thing as a camera in the locker room of the opponent.  (For information on the importance of the Electoral College please see an earlier column.)

Here are the broad rules the Constitution outlines for our country:

  1. The Sovereign (ultimate power) is “The People” who elect persons to represent their interests as a citizen of a State and as individuals – a Republican form of government.
  2. Government power is divided between states and the national government and is often shared power. That power is checked by individual rights against government power.  People have rights; governments have power; there is no such thing as state’s rights, only state power.
  3. The national government is primarily stewards of the nation’s finances and its security. While the national government my regulate commerce and our monetary system they do not otherwise run businesses or mange the private sector engine of our economic system.  State governments are primarily stewards of the health, welfare, and education of their citizens and persons within their jurisdiction.
  4. All public servants whether elected or appointed agree to follow the rules of the game.
  5. All government must “stay in its lane” so as not to overwhelm the individual. Government actors are the servants of the people and the people their masters.

If our society feels like it is unravelling here’s what the Constitution tells us.  It tells us, through the Preamble, or mission statement, that the main values in our society are personal liberty and justice.  Personal liberty is not license it is choosing one’s own path within the rules of the game.  Justice is not an outcome but an impartial process applied to all equally.  If we, ourselves, remember the rules and demand that our servants remember and play by the rules we will be on our way out of the wilderness.

WE THE PEOPLE are also helped by the other bundles of law that govern us.  The Constitution is not our only help.  If we remember natural law, the God-given rights that attend us outside of any government; if we remember moral law, what is right and what is wrong by universal standards agreed to over time immemorial; if we remember unwritten law, the courtesy and good-will we owe all people; and we let our public servants know they are to do the same thing we will no longer be lost.  We must teach these things to our children.

Miss Constitution would also hope that WE THE PEOPLE would pay more attention and be more grateful for the magnificent statecraft and other bundles of law that we are so privileged to live under.

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