Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to study the Constitution

The study of the Constitution can seem daunting to those who want to gain a greater understanding of this unique document. To begin with, there are eight historic periods that shaped our Constitution. 
  1. Constitutional Convention
  2. Public debate on Constitution as reflected in the Federalist and Antifederalist Papers
  3. State Ratification Conventions
  4. First Congress and Bill of Rights
  5. George Washington precedents
  6. Supreme Court Rulings
  7. Amendments beyond the Bill of Rights
  8. Executive encroachment with emphasis on Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, and Obama

As a constitutional conservative, I recommend starting with the convention and the Framers. Besides, it’s always a good idea to start at the beginning.

preserve and protect

There are countless history books on the Constitutional convention. In these books, the convention is usually presented in one of two ways: chronologically or by subject.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Atlantic Joins the Chorus: Constitution Defunct

Alex Seitz-Wald

“America, we've got some bad news: Our Constitution isn't going to make it.” That is the lead sentence in The Atlantic article: “The U.S. Needs a New Constitution—Here's How to Write It,” by  Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon's political reporter. Seitz-Wald quotes none other than Thomas Jefferson to justify his claim that “it's time to think about moving on.” Jefferson had famously written that Constitutions should be rewritten every nineteen years. Jefferson certainly qualifies as a founding father, but he had nothing to do with the Constitution. He was in Paris in the summer of 1787 and returned miffed that he had been left out. None of the actual delegates wanted to repeat the convention experience, and all believed they had written a constitution for what George Mason called “millions yet unborn.”

Seitz-Wald  writes, “If men (and, finally, women) as wise as Jefferson and Madison set about the task of writing a constitution in 2013, it would look little like the one we have now.” I suspect those wise men and women would all be required to think in lockstep with Mr. Seitz-Wald.  Again, not true of the 1787 delegates who possessed myriad ideas and perspectives.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Time Magazine: “Does It Still Matter?”

“Let us not make it a blank paper by construction. ... If it is, then we have no Constitution.” Thomas Jefferson
“Can it be of less consequence that the meaning of a Constitution should be fixed and known, than a meaning of a law should be so?” James Madison

The cover of the 10th Annual Time Magazine History Issue from a couple years ago shows the Constitution being shredded under the title, “Does it still matter?”

Richard Stengel, Time’s managing Editor, opens his essay with these words, “Here are a few things the framers did not know about. World War II. DNA. Sexting. Airplanes. The atom. Television. Medicare. Collateralized debt obligations. The germ theory of disease. Miniskirts. The internal combustion engine. Computers. Antibiotics. Lady Gaga."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Commentary: Is the Constitution’s purpose to advance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Conor Friedersdorf published an article that reflects the thinking that has gotten us so far away from constitutional government.

The title of the article is illustrative: “Preserving Liberty Is More Important Than Making a Fetish of the Constitution: Though important, the document isn't an end in itself—advancing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the end.” The title could have as easily read, “The Constitution should never stand in the way of lofty goals.”

James Madison
Conor Friedersdorf

(I trust my liberty to the guy on the right.)

As a writer, I’m familiar with the effect of selecting emotion-laden words. For example, the article would have been different if titled, “Preserving Liberty Is More Important than Adhering to the Constitution.” The change from fetish to adhere makes the argument clear and allows the opposing side a measure of respect. Now, readers would dig into the article to find out whether adherence to the Constitution is dangerous to liberty.

(By the way, at the risk of being accused of “making a fetish of the Constitution,” it annoys me when someone uses a quote from the Declaration of Independence to make an argument about the Constitution.)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution

A reference Book for Every American Home

Many Americans have taken to carrying a copy of the Constitution. No one will want to lug around The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, but the book is an indispensable reference companion. The first words in the book read, “The Heritage Guide to the Constitution is intended to provide a brief and accurate explanation of each clause of the Constitution as envisioned by the Framers and as applied in contemporary law.” It achieves this goal admirably.

As you would expect from the Heritage Foundation, this is an Originalist reference book, and the editors have done an excellent job of explaining the Constitution as envisioned by the Framers. But it also explains the Constitution as applied in contemporary law, which means the book describes how courts have interpreted the Constitution.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Commentary—As California Goes, so Goes the Nation?

If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted. — Noah Webster

My wife and I are vacationing in Southern California. The warm and sunny weather has made a perfect respite from the storms lashing our home in Nebraska. We both grew up in California, but moved out-of-state twenty-five years ago. We weren’t fed up with the place. A quarter century ago California was still livable. Actually, California is still livable, as long as you have piles of cash and a fondness for government.

Beltway elites like to fixate on a couple botched 2010 Senate races, but in truth that election was a rout for progressives. Republicans captured an additional 63 seats in the House of Representatives to win the majority, the largest midterm seat change in seventy years. Republicans gained 6 seats in the Senate, but not enough to gain control. Republicans won a record 680 additional seats in state legislatures. Five states saw both chambers switch from Democrat to Republican. In four additional states, Republicans flipped one of the chambers to give them control of both chambers. In three more states, Republicans increased their control in both houses, and in four states they picked up one chamber to split control of the legislature. Republicans also saw a net increase of six governorships to gain a national majority.