By Krista Kafer firstname.lastname@example.org It’s time to celebrate! This Friday, September 16, is Constitution Day -- commemorating the signing of the Constitution of the United States 218 years ago. Last year, Congress designated September 17 as Constitution Day, but since that's a Saturday this year, it will be celebrated a day early so schools can make the most of it.
And so they should. Ignorance of the nation’s foundational law has given politicians and judges a free pass to do what they shouldn’t while failing to do what they should. This ignorance exists at the highest levels of government -- as the rhetoric over Hurricane Katrina and Supreme Court nominations attests. Or is it ignorance?
Either way, a little education is in order. Where tomes have been written, a mere blog is insufficient to capture the essence of such a weighty subject. So here are but a few points about the principles of natural rights and federalism that have direct bearing on the week’s hottest issues.
To begin to understand of the Constitution one must start with the Declaration of Independence. This document, the first of the nation’s organic laws, illuminates the founders’ principles of legitimate government:
All men are created equal. No one has the right to rule another. People are not born “with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately,” to use Jefferson’s words.
The point of government is to protect each person’s God given rights of life, liberty, and property. These are natural rights – the right to yourself, the right to your property, which includes your beliefs, labor, and your stuff, and your right to be free.
Government’s power to protect these rights is derived by just consent of governed.
The Declaration describes a just government as one established by the consent of equals to protect their natural rights against internal or external encroachment. The Constitution, signed eleven years later, constructs a system of government based on these principles. It is the “how to” to the Declaration’s “what is” good government.
The Constitution provides for a federal system of power delegation. Such a system embodies the concept of subsidiarity – that is the lowest qualified authority should do the job. Federalism prevents the potentially dangerous concentration of power as well as the formation of large, bungling bureaucracies that attempt to solve local problems from a great distance.
To do this, the Constitution gives certain powers to the federal government such as the power to raise an army or make treaties. Those powers not delegated to the federal government are “are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” State and local prerogatives, often referred to as police powers, “include everything essential to the public safety, health, and morals” to borrow from an 1894 Court decision.
In other words you call your elected dogcatcher (local government) to get a feral cat out of your shed. If the duly elected dogcatcher fails to show up, you do not blame the President of the United States.
The Constitution also provides for a separation of powers in federal government between those who write the law (the legislature), those who execute the law (the executive), and those who interpret the law (the judiciary). When Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them,” he indicated that he saw the Court’s role as limited to interpretation.
Some believe the Court should establish policy through creative interpretation of the law. They are less interested in the original intent of the founders. They view the Constitution as a “living document” that can be bent to fit the political will of the day. The forefathers were not perfect men but the Constitution they wrote rests upon a clear understanding of the truth of natural law and a profound understanding of the need for limited government. To reinterpret their words is to abandon them and the truth for which they stand.
The statement “[T]hey are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. . . .” comes not from Roe v. Wade but from Justice Taney’s opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford which denied the guarantee of natural rights to black Americans in 1857.
Denial of human equality was part and parcel of pro-slavery ideology in the nineteenth century. It is central to any ideology that seeks to disenfranchise a segment of humankind on the basis of race, sex, age, wellness, or state of development It should not be so in America.
This Constitution Day, I hope the words of this great document and its companion the Declaration of Independence, will find their way back into the hearts of my countrymen. That would be a moment for celebration.
For more information about the Constitution, check out www.claremont.org/, www.heritage.org/Research/LegalIssues/index.cfm, or www.fed-soc.org/. Also, check out The Federalist Papers which provide an in depth consideration of each point of the Constitution. They persuaded the toughest skeptics of the day.