Our Constitution has come under attack lately. What was one of our nation’s founding documents has been criticized by pundits on both the right and the left. It’s old, outdated, “just a piece of parchment.” It was written “by old white men from centuries ago” and doesn’t reflect our modern world. Critics say that we live in a different nation than the one that existed during the Founding Era, that the nation is more complicated and thus the Constitution is less relevant.
This is, in my opinion, utter nonsense! Every right that is invoked in our nation’s laws was first laid out in the U.S. Constitution. Just because the specific issues have changed doesn’t mean that the Constitution can’t evolve to reflect them, but the Constitution must be strictly followed as it exists at any given time. We’re privileged to live in a country where these rights are spelt out and defined for us in a clear way. Some of the amendments and other language is vague. It’s SUPPOSED to be that way, because the Founders knew they weren’t all-knowing, and the changing times might dictate different interpretations. Laws and amendments are difficult to pass. Again, this is quite deliberate, in that the Founders didn’t want our nation’s legal framework to be at the mercy of political winds that blow every four years. But those who feel that the Constitution is now irrelevant because “we live in different times” have no idea what the Constitution was intended for in the first place. Here’s an analogy:
Imagine a house that was built in 1787 (and inhabited by private residents ever since). No doubt that this house would go through upgrades over the years. Indoor plumbing and stoves would be added, the house would be wired for telephone, then electricity. Refrigeration and possibly central air conditioning would be installed, and eventually the house would be wired for cable or satellite TV and possibly a wi-fi hotspot. In that same time, the house will need maintenance, changes in carpets, furniture, and need to be painted several times. So the amenities, hardware, appliances and decor have changed with the times, but the original foundation and framework still remain. Thus it is with the Constitution. Our nation’s laws are the paint, wallpaper, carpeting and furniture. The Constitution can remain flexible yet still form the basis for our system of government. Rules and laws can change with the times, but the Constitution is not the sum total of Federal legislation (often I wish that it was), it’s merely the framework that under-girds our nation’s laws (or at least it did before the Liberal Progressive movement started stomping all over it).
We still can change the Constitution to reflect changes in our country. It’s been in done 27 times (effectively 25 if you don’t count XVIII and XXI), they’re called AMENDMENTS. For example, when the nation was founded, slavery was legal and voting rights were available to only a portion of the citizenry. Did we tear up the Constitution and start over after the Civil War? No! We added amendments XIII-XV to free the slaves, make the freed slaves citizens, and give blacks the right to vote. Amendment XIX gave women the right to vote, and finally Amendment XXVI lowered the voting age to 18.
So strict constructionism does NOT mean that the Constitution cannot be changed. Times may have changed, but our problems have not. Then and now, we face threats from foreign powers. Then and now, Americans needed protection from those foreign and domestic who would seek to deprive us of life, liberty, or property. Then and now, there are questions about the government’s power to regulate and tax. The names, faces have changed, but our issues generally remain the same as they did 229 years ago. So should the framework of our nation’s laws.