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January 06, 2011

Ancient Document Written In Foreign Language By Some Dead White Guys Being Read In House Of Representatives

If you're watching the reading of the Constitution in the House, you may want to follow along so you can see what these strange, undecipherable words look like.

us_constitution.jpg

Is this a stunt? Yes, of course. That's the beauty of it. Stunts attract attention. This is attracting attention not just to the Constitution itself but the very different philosophies some in each party have when it comes to interpreting the Constitution and its role in our government.

I say "some" because let's be honest, lots of Republicans gave plenty of lip service to the Constitution but honored it more in the breach than anything. And let's also be honest, if Republicans/conservatives are serious about getting back to constitutional first principles, it's going to be a long term process of educating and persuading a lot of people. Remember how Joe Miller got tripped up on the idea that unemployment insurance was unconstitutional? Forget the merits of the statement, that's simply a bridge too far right now for most Americans.

Now for your moment of RINO Zen....while I support a much more limited understanding of the Constitution than is currently fashionable, I think too many conservatives fall back on "just do what the Constitution says". The Constitution is not a mathematical formula you just plug variables into and get the answer. Applying it to specific problems requires some degree of interpretation. Consider something so basic as the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

No one seriously argues that "freedom of speech" means you can libel or slander someone. So we all accept that there are limits, even when the document itself doesn't speak to them, we are just arguing over what they are, where they are and how they are to be reached.

By the same token, just because any constitution is going to require some degree of interpretation in its application, that doesn't mean judges and the political branches can read whatever they want into the Constitution and have no limitations on their actions either. And despite what liberals say or think, the Constitution doesn't need judges to breathe life into it. If what you want to do isn't allowed by the Constitution as is, there's a legitimate amendment process and it doesn't involve judges.

Our challenge as conservatives and constitutionalists is to layout a coherent view of how the Constitution should be understood and applied. Since the ultimate arbiters of what is constitutionally legitimate or not is the people as a whole, this is as much a political argument as a legal one.

November's elections and today's reading of the Constitution and the debate it's sparking is a step in the right direction for those of us who prefer a more modest, text based interpretation. You can tell that's the case by the reaction of liberals to today's event. You'd think they were vampires and Republicans just pulled out a cross or something. Perhaps if we keep holding the Constitution up to them, they'll burst into flames. It's worth a shot.


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posted by DrewM. at 10:54 AM

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