“It is unreasonable to confine ourselves strictly to the text of the Constitution. We should interpret the Constitution broadly, to allow the federal government to exercise powers we need it to exercise, even if they aren’t actually listed in that document”.
What is wrong with this statement? How would Thomas Jefferson respond to this?
First we need to make it clear that the whole reason why there was an American Revolution was so that Americans could have self-government. It was even incorporated into the Constitution as the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the U.S. by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people”. As Thomas Jefferson said this is the “cornerstone” of the Constitution. If the Americans died in order to have this, then they died in vain if we don’t respect this.
Now, there is a claim that says the Constitution has to change with the times; therefore, judges should interpret the Constitution not by trying to figure out its original meaning, but by adapting it to the standards of the day. Clearly, the amendment process exists for this. This is what Thomas Jefferson said: “I had rather ask an enlargement of power from the nation, where it is found necessary, than to assume it by a construction which would make our powers boundless. Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.”
What does this mean? The word “construction”, refers to interpretation. So, let’s say that we want the federal government to do something that is not listed in article 1, section 8 of the constitution. How is that supposed to be handled? What Jefferson says is that he prefers to ask for an enlargement of power, ask the people, the nation to grant the government that power; get the approval of the people to grant the amendment to the constitution. Instead of saying we want that power for the government, and just go ahead and interpret the constitution in a way that it includes that power. If you don’t ask for the power, then the power is simply magically included, this makes the government unlimited with power. Oh but, it’s a great pain in the head to go to the trouble of asking the people, the nation! Thomas answers and says you might as well not have a constitution, what point is there to have one? If you do that, all you have is a blank piece of paper, the constitution is what secures our liberties, and it spells out what the government can and can’t do.
The statement is clearly wrong, and it steals away the point of the constitution, and of those who died for our liberty!
What does a “living constitution” stand for? Before the colonists arrived to America, as we know, they lived among a British government. The British didn’t have a written constitution, so basically their constitution was based on tradition. Whatever their tradition was, that was their law. The colonists said that whatever the government did that violated the longstanding tradition was unconstitutional, but the British government said that whatever the government did that the Parliament agreed on was constitutional. This meant that the constitution could not serve as a defense of the colonists liberties. For example, if all of a sudden the Parliament approved for everyone to eat beans and rice every single day, then that was constitutional. So, as you can see, there was no way the colonists could protect themselves.
Kevin Gutzman said that the “living, breathing” constitution is actually a dead constitution. I totally agree on this thought, there is no such thing as a constitution if you’re not going to live by it.
When the colonists traveled to America, and the American Revolution happened, it was a war against a “living constitution”. Colonists wanted their rights and liberties protected, and they did it throughout a written constitution. The real question is, are we respecting it?