Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Can Words On Parchment Constrain Executive Overreach?

“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The Declaration of Independence used these words to legitimize our founding as a nation. Fifteen simple words, but they embodied a world-shattering idea. Kings supposedly derived their authority from God, but the Declaration declared that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These subversive words flipped the divine right of kings on its head. Instead of kings, God endowed all of mankind with natural rights.

Words can be powerful.

That is, unless they’re ignored. The Constitution is the “supreme law of the land,” but many don’t accept that enumerated powers limit government action. Elected officials “solemnly swear … to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” but many view the words as cant uttered during a swearing-in ritual. Lesser laws are based on a reasonable man’s interpretation of the language, but many regard the “supreme law of the land” as a living document that can mean whatever we need it to mean on any particular day.