Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Constitution of the United States - Is It Time for a Change

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was recently quoted as saying "I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in year 2012.  I might look at the constitution of South Africa.  That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, have an independent judiciary.  It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done."

The complaints that have been raised about our venerable document is that it has become outdated and almost impossible to change.  As a result the concept of a "living Constitution" has been formulated, that is a Constitution that must undergo some type of Darwinian evolution - which evolution is the interpretation present-day courts assign to it.

Justice Antonin Scalia has commented that there can be no evolution without some agreement as to what the "guiding principle of the evolution" is to be.  In his opinion "as soon as the discussion goes beyond the issue of whether the Constitution is static, the evolutionists divide into as many camps as there are individual views of the good, the true, and the beautiful.......which means that evolutionism is simply not a practicable constitutional philosophy."

Is a document completed in 1789, with the first 10 amendments (The Bill of Rights) added in 1791, to be the basis of our way of governing and our way of living in the 21st century?. Since that time (221 years) there have been only 17 additional amendments.  Isn't it true that what is constitutional and what is not constitutional remains so very vague today?  Does the 14th amendment which includes the phrase "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" truly have any real relationship (other than evolutionary) to a right to have an abortion?

Yes, the Founders created a system of laws, but not long after the Founders completed their work, successive lawmakers had no qualms about altering the document.  Amendments concerning abolishment of slavery, rights of citizenship and rights to vote were passed 1865-1870.  No further amendments were added for the next 43 years!  There were two amendments  appended since 1913 that could be considered to be concerned with citizen rights - the abolition of the poll tax, and women's suffrage.  The remainder deal with procedural issues, such as presidential terms,  presidential succession, prohibition, income tax, voting age reduced to 18, popular election of senators, et. al.

Could there not be room for a new, more up to date, Bill of Rights that would take into account the many factors that have influenced the world today, whether technical, scientific, evolutionary, and/or sociologic.  Thomas Jefferson believed that a country’s constitution should be rewritten every 19 years (the approximate span of a generation.) Instead, the U.S. Constitution, which Jefferson did not help to write (he was in Paris serving as U.S. minister to France when the Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia), has prevailed since 1789.  He felt "the dead should not rule the living."

Was he right?

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