Practicality vs. Principle

Posted: August 2, 2009 in Politics
Tags: , , ,

I ran across an interesting blog article by Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com a couple of days ago:

Practicalities v. principles:  the prime Beltway affliction

I am pretty much a ‘Constitution says what it means and means what it says’ kind of guy, so I pretty much agree with this article.  I have always disagreed with the idea that the Constitution is a “living document”, and instead believe that the Constitution can only be changed through the addition or removal of amendments, not by the whims of interpretation of judges.  I am frustrated by arguments that our forefathers could not have foreseen the realities of today’s society, and therefore The Constitution must be reinterpreted.  Yes, it is true that our forefathers could not have foreseen today’s realities, but they did foresee that the realities of the 18th century could change, which is exactly why they included a mechanism to change The Constitution in the first place.  Of course, they did make it where you cannot change the Constitution all willy-nilly, which I believe is as it should be, since we are talking about our core rights.

A good example of such reinterpretations revolve around the 2nd Amendment.  The amendment states:  “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” If you read statements made in that day, as well as understand the situation in which the framers of the Constitution were coming from, it is pretty clear that when they said that the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, that’s what they meant.  The opening clause of the sentence is simply a prefatory clause, the reason the amendment was created.  However, this clause has been reinterpreted by many as a precondition.  And for those that see it as a precondition, they say that since we have the National Guard, a well regulated militia is no longer necessary and therefore the 2nd amendment effectively no longer applies.

The reality is that this reinterpretation is more practical than changing the Constitution.  It is true that the framers certainly could not have foreseen modern weaponry.  And who knows , had today’s weaponry existed back in the 18th century, if the 2nd amendment would have been written the same way.  But the proper way to deal with such changes is to amend the Constitution, not to pretend that somehow the words mean something different now than they did back then.  If you can really just interpret the Constitution any ol’ way that you want, why even include a methodology to change it?  Furthermore, why should such a document exist in the first place, since if the meaning can continuously change, then it really has no meaning at all.

It is exactly that mentality that is used when Presidents decide to ignore the Constitution (I am sure in their minds, they are simply making their own interpretations of the document for the good of the country).  This is a dangerous mentality because this is the document that sets forth our basic rights.  Without that, we are really guaranteed nothing.  The vast majority of policy decisions is left to be decided by debate and pratical considerations.  It really should be more than enough wiggle-room for policymakers.  But if it is not, then let’s change things the right way.  That’s getting 2/3rd’s of both Congressional Houses to pass and 3/4th’s of the states to ratify a new amendment.

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