Saturday, September 17, 2016

September 17, Constitution Day

Our Founding fathers crated the three most significant, secular documents in the history of civilization: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. A Second Miracle in Philadelphia occurred on September 17, 1987. 40 Americans signed he Constitution. Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776. We celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks, parades, BBQ’s, speeches, games, and a paid holiday. Independence was won with the 13 original colonies technically becoming 13 independent states. They drafted the Articles of Confederation, essentially a treaty for a loose confederation of states. The Articles failed. The government was underfunded. It lacked taxation powers. No military capability existed to defend the country. It had no power to promote commerce between the states. No judiciary existed. Every state had one vote with changes needing an unanimous vote. A new meeting was called in Philadelphia with representatives of the 13 states to amend the Articles. They soon recognized that amending the Articles would not work. The Articles had to be scrapped, to be replace by a whole new Constitution. These men succeeded in crafting an amazing, revolutionary document in the history of civilization. “We the people,” the first words of the Constitution, says it all. The Preamble, as in the words of Abraham Lincoln, is “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” The Constitution was not for a king or queen, a sultan, tsar, emir, pope, archbishop, ayatollah, or a God. It is for the people. The Constitution signifies that the United States will be governed by the Rule of Law rather than by the Rule of Man The government is serve the people, not for the people to serve the government. Thus, the United States government is a government of specific, enumerated powers. Its main powers are the Commerce, Property, Spending, and Taxation Clauses along with the Necessary and Proper Clause. States are restricted by the Supremacy Clause. States surrendered much of their individual sovereignty for the greater good of a unified nation. Five states, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, had earlier surrendered their western land claims during the Articles of Confederation. States can no longer restrain commerce among the states - one of the major goals 2 centuries later in creating the European Union. The Constitution contains the Equal Footing Clause whereby any new state enters the Union as an equal state with the original 13 colonies. The drafters were wary of placing too much power in any branch of government. Thus, we have a balance of powers between the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. Problems of population differences between the states were solved by creating a bi-cameral legislature. Every state has 2 senators in the Senate while representation in the House of Representatives is proportional to population. The Constitution did not solve all problems. The slavery issue almost derailed the Constitution process. Even many of the leading Southerners recognized that slavery was an abomination, but the economy of the southern states depended on slavery. The final draft has three clauses relating to slavery, but never once do the words “slave” or “slavery” appear in the final document. The infamous 3/5 Clause provides that free men count as one, but others only 3/5 for purposes of the House of representatives. Incidentally, free Blacks counted as one. Clause 9 of Article I forbad restrictions on the slave trade until 1808, but didn’t use the word “slave.” Clause 2 of Article IV, the fugitive slave provision, gave no protection to the fugitives, again without using the “slave” word. These were the tradeoffs and concessions needed for the Southern States to acquiesce. The United States of America would not have come into existence without them. A major problem is that only about 5% of the population, white property owning males could vote in 1787 Perhaps the most important provision in the Constitution is Article V, which allows for amendments to the Constitution. The Amendments facilitated the road to equality. The 13th Amendment ended slavery, the 19th gave women the vote, and the 24th, ended the Poll Tax in federal elections. The first ten amendments constitute the Bill of Rights, as significant as the Magna Carta in laying out rights. Debates during the drafting and ratification of the Constitution illustrated the need for the Constitution to provide specific protections for the people. The Bill of Rights, as a separate document, was ratified four years after the Constitution. Two significant amendments illustrate the desire of the framers for a limited government. The Ninth Amendment, the oft-forgotten Ninth Amendment, simply states: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The Tenth Amendment similarly provides “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” So where are the fireworks, BBQ’s, parades, speeches, and the paid holiday? Perhaps the Constitution has lost some of its luster We have a President, a former Constitutional Law Professor, who has expressed that the Constitution has fundamental flaws, and acts as if the Constitution does not exist. The Constitution’s protection lies in the hands of the federal judiciary, especially nine Supreme Court Justices. We have a Supreme Court which has progressively expanded the powers of the United States government since the days of the New Deal, thereby eviscerating the rights of the people. Justice Kennedy often looks to the social justice of Western Europe for his Constitutional wisdom. Justice Sotomayor is motivated by social justice. Justice Ginsburg in 2012 advised Egypt not to look to the old United States Constitution, but instead to the South African Constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights in drafting their new government. Chief Justice Roberts twisted the Constitution to uphold ObamaCare and vastly expand even further the power of the federal government over the people. The Constitution is not a perfect document, but it has served us well for 239 years. It is up to the American people to preserve it.

No comments: