Current Observations Home Current Observations Home Current Observations Home

A Follow-Up to Constitution Day

Monday, September 18, 2006

In many ways, the United States Constitution can be likened to a mirror. Everyday, we hold up for comparison the actions of our government to check them for constitutionality. It's a good tool, but more importantly, it's important to understand why we do it. The short answer, of course, is to prevent usurpation and oppression of our liberties and freedoms by government officials. The Constitution was written to create a limited federal government. It laid out the basic framework for that government, and also put into place boundaries it to keep it in check. From the beginning it was understood that the people would always be in control our government, not the other way around. Those days are gone.
While reading A Very Inconvenient Document, an article at by Vin Suprynowicz, it occurred to me that we have a serious problem. Let me explain. In his article, Mr. Suprynowicz explains that U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., got a law passed in 2004 that demands "every American school and college that receives federal money must teach about the Constitution on Sept. 17 (the date the document was adopted, in 1787), or the closest school day available."
There's really nothing wrong with this goal. I think that children should learn about the document that will play a crucial role in how they live their lives as American citizens. In my opinion, I don't think the children coming out of our public school system know near enough about our founding documents or system of government. Any legislation which promotes a better understanding is not necessarily evil, leaving aside the argument of whether the government should be in the education business in the first place.
Down towards the end of Mr. Suprynowicz's article, he remarks:
It would be wonderful to see the U.S. Constitution taught in the public schools. I will believe such a course of education is underway when someone can show me a list of study questions being presented to today's students, including:
  • Article I Section 8 grants to Congress alone the power "to declare war." Did President Bush seek and declare a congressional "Declaration of War" against Iraq? If not, did he violate the Constitution when he sent troops to attack that nation?
  • Article I Section 8 says the Congress can exercise "exclusive Legislation in all cases" over the District of Columbia, and may "exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be ..." May it exercise such exclusive authority over Yucca Mountain -- building a nuclear waste dump there without state permission, for example -- even though it can show no bill of sale, nor written consent of the Nevada Legislature to allow it to purchase that land? Where in the Constitution does that authority arise?
  • Article I Section 10 says "No state shall ... make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts." What was the founders' experience with fiat paper currency that led to the insertion of that clause? Does the widespread acceptance of "federal reserve notes," not convertible into gold and silver, violate this provision? Why or why not?
  • The Second Amendment says the right of the people to keep and bear arms "shall not be infringed." Do background checks, waiting periods, $200 taxes, and requirements that a machine-gun purchase be approved by your local chief of police constitute "infringements" of these rights? Where in the Constitution are such restrictions authorized?
  • The Fourth Amendment says a house cannot be searched without a warrant "particularly describing ... the person or things to be seized." Yet police routinely seize firearms found during searches, even when no firearms are specifically listed on the search warrant. Is this constitutional? Can the courts waive such restrictions without going through the amendment process stipulated in Article V?
  • A constitutional amendment (the 18th, since repealed) was required to outlaw alcohol nationwide. When was the constitutional amendment ratified which authorizes the similar outlawing of marijuana, cocaine, and opium? What is its number?
  • The 13th amendment says "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Are compulsory schooling or military conscription consistent with this provision? 
One can easily conclude that what we have here are seven clear examples of where our government has exceeded it's constitutional authority. This begs the question: If government is free to ignore the Constitution, are we then free to ignore the government? At what point do we, as a society, decide that fixing this mess is no longer an option and that a complete scrapping is in order?


Blogger Mark said...

Whether we are free to ignore the government is a big question. If the actions of government are unconstitutional, then they are null and void and have no effect, according to the courts.

But the "big" part of the question is that no one alive today (or even at the time of its adoption) has been or was asked to give his assent to the Constitution. If I wasn't asked to agree to it, how can I be required to obey it?

Randy Barnett has written about this extensively ("Restoring the Lost Constitution"). His view is that the only things we can be required to do "in conscience" are those things that do not infringe on the rights of other people.

2:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger |



Who Links