The New York Times, the paper of record with “all the news that’s fit to print”1 (except when it’s favorable to conservatives), has published an article by Louis Michael Seidman, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University and the author of the forthcoming book On Constitutional Disobedience.
The Constitution of the United States was written on four sheets of parchment. If you count the Preamble and all 27 Amendments (there were originally only ten), it comes out to 20 typed pages. If you don’t count the signatures and amendments, you’ll have a document of 11 typed pages.
No single Amendment is a full page. Many are only a single sentence in length. The First Amendment covers a multitude of freedoms: religion, press, assembly, speech, and the right to petition the government. It does it with only 45 words. Those original four sheets, about 4500 words, were good enough to serve as a document to govern a nation.
Professor Seidman doesn’t like the brevity of the Constitution. He prefers 2700 pages of healthcare legislation and the multiple thousands of pages of bureaucratic double-talk. That way, there is more opportunity to make new laws out of thin air. The law professor’s claim is that the “Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system.” No it hasn’t. The problem is with the way we ignore the Constitution.
Professor Seidman published his article denouncing the Constitution in a newspaper. He doesn’t seem to have picked up on the irony. Denouncing the king’s law could get you in a lot of trouble, maybe a quick trip before the firing squad or the hangman’s rope. The First Amendment protects his criticism of king and country. He still wants to keep freedom of the press, “out of respect, not obligation.” I’m not able to wrap my mind around that one.
The Constitution is not a stagnant document. There is an amendment process. The Framers understood the need for change.
I do agree with Professor Seidman on at least one point.
“No sooner was the Constitution in place than our leaders began ignoring it. John Adams supported the Alien and Sedition Acts, which violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. Thomas Jefferson thought every constitution should expire after a single generation. He believed the most consequential act of his presidency — the purchase of the Louisiana Territory — exceeded his constitutional powers.”
And that’s the real problem. What does the good professor think will happen with a new Constitution? Our leaders will ignore it as well.
The Constitution is not the problem; it’s the people who take an oath to uphold it and the majority of people who put them into office so they will ignore it to favor them.
What I would like to see is getting back to a bare-bones reading of the Constitution and the re-establishment of the sovereign powers of the states. Re-limit the Federal government. That’s why the Constitution is such a short document. It was never intended to do what politicians actually do.
- The paper’s motto, printed in the upper left-hand corner of the front page, [↩]