Saturday, November 03, 2007

About the Constitution

A lot of Americans seem to misunderstand what the Constitution says. Some call it a "living" document, meaning that they can interpret it in any way they wish. Not so. Dr. Walter Williams has written a column titled "Congressional Constitutional Contempt" in which he explains some of the main ideas that are actually in the Constitution. The column can be found at Jewish World Review.

To start with, Dr. Williams tells us the oath that members of Congress take when they enter office.
Here's the oath of office administered to members of the House and Senate: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me G-d." A similar oath is sworn to by the president and federal judges.
It is quite specific about supporting and defending the Constitution. He also tells us about the efforts of Rep. Shadegg (R-AZ) to enforce this oath.
In each new Congress since 1995, Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., has introduced the Enumerated Powers Act (HR 1359). The Act, which has yet to be enacted into law, reads: "Each Act of Congress shall contain a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act. The failure to comply with this section shall give rise to a point of order in either House of Congress. The availability of this point of order does not affect any other available relief."

Simply put, if enacted, the Enumerated Powers Act would require Congress to specify the basis of authority in the U.S. Constitution for the enactment of laws and other congressional actions. HR 1359 has 28 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.

When Shadegg introduced the Enumerated Powers Act, he explained that the Constitution gives the federal government great, but limited, powers. Its framers granted Congress, as the central mechanism for protecting liberty, specific rather than general powers. The Constitution gives Congress 18 specific enumerated powers, spelled out mostly in Article 1, Section 8. The framers reinforced that enumeration by the 10th Amendment, which reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people."
I have to wonder why this Act has never become law. It is perfectly consistent with what Congress should be doing. After giving some quotes from our founding fathers regarding their intentions and how these intentions fit with what Rep. Shadegg is trying to do, Dr. Williams says:
Congressmen, openly refusing to live up to their oath of office, exhibit their deep contempt for our Constitution. The question I've not been able to answer satisfactorily is whether that contempt simply mirrors a similar contempt held by most of the American people. I'm sure that if founders such as James Madison, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson were campaigning for the 2008 presidential elections, expressing their vision of the federal government's role, today's Americans would run them out of town on a rail. Does that hostility reflect constitutional ignorance whereby the average American thinks the Constitution authorizes Congress to do anything upon which they can get a majority vote or anything that's a good idea? Or, are Americans contemptuous of the constitutional limitations placed on the federal government?
If only Americans would actually study the Constitution and know what it says, they could elect public officials who would truly support and defend the Constitution. The improvement in America and the preservation of her liberties would be great.

If you do not have a copy of the Constitution, you can read it here at Patriot Post. And on their Historic Documents page, you can read the amendments to the Constitution and other historic documents. Very important reading.

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At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Pop said...

I don't think most American have a clue what is in the Constitution. Ask them what type of government we have and I'm reasonably sure 80% would give wou a wrong answer.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Mary A said...

Sadly, you are probably right, Pop. I wish the schools taught civics and history in a better, more accurate way. That would help at least somewhat.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Titus Todd said...

Great thoughts on the constitution. The problem is, too many who waive the constitution as their political banner who run for office have some problems.

For example, I could never vote for Ron Paul. He has his own interpretation of the constitution that makes us isolationists. We can work and be involved in the world community (and I think we must as we are not an island unto ourselves) without sacrificing our sovereignty. We cannot ignore the world and survive as a nation. The constitution does not state we should ignore the rest of the world.

I do not think the constitution is a living document but that does not keep it from interpretation and that is why we are in our current mess. Politicians bend and twist what is there to meet their purpose. Thus, I think the Enumeration of Powers Act would probably have had little effect on what is done in Congress.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Mary A said...

Hi, Titus! You make some good points. And you may very well be right that the Enumeration of Powers Act would have little real effect in Congress. It's a frustrating situation.


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