Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Moses & The Constitution

Today's Constitution is a realistic document of freedom only because of several corrective amendments. Those amendments speak to a sense of decency and fairness that I and other Blacks cherish. – Thurgood Marshall

The one thing that troubles me about many on the right and the left is both sides belief that the Constitution is untouchable and engraved in stone. The American Constitution despite the proclamations of tea-baggers was not written by the hand of God Almighty, instead it was written by a group of 18th century men with the limited knowledge of the world and history that they had. I will grant strict constructionists the fact that many of the concepts they enshrined in the constitution were ahead of their time, but let’s not forget all of the concepts that they neglected in the document or perverted due to their prejudices. All “men” were created equal so long as they were men, white, and property owners.

I believe that instead of looking at the constitution as absolute and complete we need to view it as a living, breathing document. A document whose basic tenets we hold untouchable but one where we also recognize that it can be amended to include those situations that men of the 18th century would never have imagined would exist. How could we expect them too, unless we believe that it was written by the hand of God a position which I personally do not subscribe to? Students of history can attest to the fact that the complexion of our country has changed dramatically and continues to change. There are those who want to cling to the America of the 18th century in the false hope that the sands of time can be stopped by the sheer will of stubbornness and ignorance.

What does it mean to be a strict constructionist? Does it mean that you believe that the constitution was complete as originally written or does it mean it was complete after certain amendments? I have never been sure what exactly these people believe. As a member of one of the groups who were originally left out of the constitution I find it difficult to accept the completeness of the original document. We are not the society we were in the 1700’s and we will never be again. Our society and our country are evolving and if we believe that our constitution will not have to evolve then we are laying the foundation for our demise into irrelevancy. I find it interesting that those who label themselves strict constructionists are usually those who were included in the original document and therefore believe that there is no reason to make it more inclusive.

"With regard to that we may add that when we are dealing with words that also are a constituent act, like the Constitution of the United States, we must realize that they have called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters. It was enough for them to realize or to hope that they had created an organism; it has taken a century and has cost their successors much sweat and blood to prove that they created a nation. The case before us must be considered in the light of out whole experience and not merely in that of what was said a hundred years ago. The treaty in question does not contravene any prohibitory words to be found in the Constitution. The only question is whether [252 U.S. 416, 434] it is forbidden by some invisible radiation from the general terms of the Tenth Amendment. We must consider what this country has become in deciding what that amendment has reserved." – Oliver Wendell Holmes

I believe that the constitution has been incorrectly interpreted in decisions like Dred Scott, the Santa Clara County decision, and even today with the recent decision to allow corporations unlimited campaign funding. These decisions have one thing in common and that is they were decided using strict constructionist views. The courts rather than applying the standards of the period they were in chose to retain the standards of the original framers complete with their prejudices and ignorance. As the President continues to fill vacancies on the court, as groups like the tea party continue to call for strict constructionist reading of the constitution, as states continue to enact draconian legislation, and as the threat of terrorism continues to loom over us it is important that as nation we define what we stand for. Do we stand for a society that is inclusive and believes in the value of all people or will we continue to claim this right only for those who look like we do?

The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy - Charles de Montesquieu

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