Checking In On the Constitution

Much has been made recently as to what is or is not “Constitutional.”  I suspect many of those people invoking it have never read the entire document.  In particular, I wonder about those that say that our Founding Fathers got it right and that we should not change anything about it.  You can read it for yourselves at the website for the national archives.

Of course the Founding Fathers knew that they did not get everything right and intentionally left some areas ambiguous (for better or worse today) in order to allow for interpretation as technology, life styles, and other elements of society inevitably changed.

There are other areas that they just plain got wrong and that others in our nation felt compelled to change or correct.  Some minor things like:

  • Article I Section 2 excluding Indians as people and counting slaves (!) as three-fifths of a person.
  • Article I Section 3 where Senators were elected by the state legislatures, not by the people themselves.
  • Article II Section 1 which outlines the method for electing the President and Vice-President which among other things has the number two vote-getter as the Vice President regardless of party.
  • Article IV Section 2 which holds that a “laborer” (slave) escaping one state shall be returned to their owner in another state.
  • Amendments XI, XII, XII, XIV (which itself was further changed by the 26th Amendment), XVI, XVII, XX, XXV, and XXVI all modified original parts of the Constitution.
  • Amendment XVIII (Prohibition) which itself was repealed by the 21st Amendment.  (Meanwhile Sarah Palin does not seem to know how our government works.  At a recent anti-Obamacare rally she used Prohibition as an example of getting rid of a law since now “you can get a beer with your pizza” and so, her logic went, even if it is the law of the land, we can get rid of Obamacare.  She was either ignorant or intentionally misleading in that she failed to mention that it took another amendment to the Constitution to do away with it.  In other words, through regular order using a defined process.  It was not removed because the Tea Party took the government hostage over the debt ceiling, which she implied was a similar action to repealing Prohibition.)
  • Amendment XIX ratified in 1920 (less then 95 years ago) that gave women the right to vote for the first time in our country.
  • Amendment XXVII is interesting in and of itself as it was originally proposed on 25 September 1789 and was ratified on 7 May 1992.  No, that is not a misprint.  It is also the amendment referenced when people call for Congress to give up their pay during a government shutdown and they say they cannot because of the Constitution.

Indeed, the Bill of Rights came to be because the original thirteen states wanted to amend the original Constitution.  There are others, but you get the idea.

There is a process for changing the Constitution and it has been used and will, I suspect, be used again in the future.  I would argue that we should do so cautiously and without giving in to a particularly loud minority with political clout (see Amendment XVIII).  However, to say that it is inviolate does not show much understanding of our Constitution.  It also sells our Founding Fathers short in that they did not unanimously agree among themselves on all of its contents and indeed, understood that it would be modified over time.

When people invoke the Constitution, I wish they would take the time to make sure that they know what they are talking about.

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