The United States Constitution is the very framework within which the American government functions, and yet there never seems to be any consensus on what is or isn’t “constitutional.”
The issue of constitutionality, highlighted recently with the Republican Presidential Primary race, is brought up whenever politicians want to muster up support for their campaign promises, policies or, increasingly, proposed cuts to the federal government. Certain politicians claim that because some aspect of the government isn’t cited specifically in the Constitution it is rendered unconstitutional. They ignore the idea that the constitution is a “living document” and following it strictly word for word is not only unrealistic – it’s absurd.
Let’s clear something up: The Constitution was created almost 225 years ago. Many aspects of the federal government today aren’t found in the Constitution simply because they were unimaginable to the founding fathers in the late 18th century. So when Rep. Ron Paul calls the Department of Education “unconstitutional,” he fails to recognize that the Constitution doesn’t address education not because the founders didn’t want the federal government dealing with education, but because at the time there wasn’t nationwide public education in America.
The national landscape was vastly different in 1787, that’s undeniable. To assume that the men present at the Constitutional Convention could foresee what America would become in the passing decades and centuries is ridiculous. The Constitution is the broad framework for the federal government to operate within, not the end-all-be-all.
Another issue I have with the politicians crying “unconstitutional” is that they seem to forget they are not (and should not be) the watchdogs for constitutionality. If they really want to take a look at the Constitution, I urge them to address the articles establishing the U.S. Supreme Court. It is the court’s duty to determine which aspects and policies of the government are constitutional or unconstitutional and while it may not always be right on the money, the Court exists as a balance to the other branches of government to judge their actions in accordance with the Constitution. It should be noted then that the Supreme Court tends to adhere to the “living document” approach and thus interprets the Constitution with regard to changing times.
It seems basic to me that what matters in the U.S. Constitution are the ideas it presents, not the specific words and phrases. In my opinion, the individuals who want to follow it letter by letter miss the point. The Constitution was not intended to be a closed, unchangeable document – the amendment process proves this. There was no way the Founding Fathers could anticipate the growth and development of the federal government and the Constitution was written to allow for adaption and updates, adjustments and interpretations.
The next time a politician claims one aspect of the government is unconstitutional, I would like them to really think about that assertion because if every part of the federal government not found word-for-word in the Constitution was ruled unconstitutional the government would shrink to microscopic proportions (and yes, I know Rep. Paul actually does want to shrink the government to next to nothing but he is an extreme case).
America is famous for and takes pride in its continuous change, progress and advancement. Therefore, its government – including constitutional interpretation – should reflect that.