Understanding the Constitution

Sadly, most Americans today are ignorant of the Constitution.  Most have never even read the four-page document.  This is not necessarily their fault, since the Constitution has not been taught in public schools for a very long time.  There are summaries and interpretations presented briefly to students, but that has little if anything to do with the Constitution.  Neither do law schools across this country teach the Constitution.  They teach Constitutional Law instead, which according to Professor Lino Graglia of the University of Texas School of Law "has virtually nothing to do with the Constitution."  Constitutional law is focused on case law, or individual court cases that were decided in individual situations.  None of those court cases, even cases at the US Supreme Court, affect or alter the Constitution in any way.  The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and means what it says.  No court decision, no legislative bill, and no executive edict can change, interpret, or override the Constitution.  The Constitution lays out an amendment process for changing the Constitution and that is, aside from a Constitutional Convention, the only legal means to do so.

The Constitution was written to be short and simple, and it was written for every literate citizen to read and understand.  It was specifically not written in legalese, and not designed for lawyers and judges alone to interpret; it was written so that every citizen could read and follow it.  In Article 6 of the Constitution, it requires that every elected position of government- federal, state, and local take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  Nowhere in that oath, and nowhere in the Constitution is there an asterisk that says *as defined by the US Supreme Court.  Every single citizen and every single law enforcement officer and every single government official should read, understand, and uphold the Constitution as they understand it.  Period.  That was the original intent of the founders and why the oath is required in the Constitution itself.  

There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that says that the US Supreme Court (or any court) has the authority to unilaterally determine what laws are or are not constitutional.  The US Supreme Court, unilaterally and without constitutional authority to do so, decided they should be the sole arbiters of constitutionality in the 1803 case Marbury v. Madison.  Rather than reading their copy of the Constitution, many people both in and out of government just blindly accepted this dramatic usurpation of power.  Not all did though.  Thomas Jefferson said "to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so... The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal."  Jefferson cautioned that judicial review would make the Constitution nothing but "a mere thing of wax in the hands of the Judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please."  Abraham Lincoln said "The candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal."  Court's opinions are just that.  They are opinions which can be considered by individuals, by states, and by the legislative and executive branches, but they are not binding upon those entities.

When it comes to constitutionality, there are multiple safeguards in place to protect citizens from an unconstitutional law.  Legislators should hold themselves accountable to uphold the Constitution and the oath they took, as should the President, and in the case of the states, the Governors.  If they all vote for and sign a law into force, they are each certifying that that they believe the law to be constitutional, per the oath that each of them took.  Once the law goes into effect, there are other safeguards.  Every law enforcement officer takes the oath as well, and thus has the duty to follow the Constitution, and not enforce anything they personally deem to be in violation of the Constitution.  If an officer believes a law to be constitutional, and that law was violated and the evidence exists to prove it, they can charge an individual with a crime.  Then the local prosecutor can decide to prosecute based on that evidence or not, and based on their judgement of the law as constitutional.  If the case goes to trial, the judge can act or not based on their belief of the law as constitutional, as can the jury.  When a jury does not believe that a law is just or constitutional, they have the right and duty to cast their vote as "not guilty."  This is called jury nullification, and is specifically protected by the Constitution.   Only after all of those tests are successfully passed can one be found guilty of violating a law.  Unfortunately, over the course of our history, these safeguards have been tossed aside and are no longer taught.  People have been taught instead to ignore their oath of office, and defer exclusively to an un-elected group of oligarchs called the US Supreme Court.  "Well, the Supreme Court says it's constitutional..." is the refrain often cited by law enforcement officers and judges and elected officials.  "Not my job" to decide if a law is constitutional, they claim.  This is completely contrary to the Constitution and contrary to the oath they took to uphold the Constitution.

James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, made clear in his writings that "the powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.  Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite."  This flies in the face of the absurd assertions by some that the "general welfare clause" or the "interstate commerce clause" grant nearly universal regulatory authority to the federal government.  Such an assertion is completely contrary to the understanding of the founders.  The authority of the federal government is clearly enumerated in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution.  Still, in an effort to further assuage the concerns of the anti-federalists, a Bill of Rights added ten amendments to the Constitution to specifically prohibit the federal government from intervening in any way in those areas where no such authority was ever granted by the people or the states to the federal government, and to specifically articulate and recognize such rights as we were endowed with by our Creator, as per the Declaration of Independence.  Thus, it is the responsibility of every citizen to ensure that no federal overreach is allowed to stand that is not consistent with that authority granted to the federal government in Article 1 Section 8, and especially those powers explicitly prohibited to the federal government via the Bill of Rights.

Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the early nineteenth century and remarked that "Every citizen is taught... the history of his country and the leading features of its Constitution... It is extremely rare to find a man imperfectly acquainted with all these things, and a person wholly ignorant of them is sort of a phenomenon."  Unfortunately, today, the inverse of that is true.  Most people are ignorant of the Constitution and it is extremely rare to find a man even vaguely acquainted with these things.  This must reverse if we are to rein in the overreach of the federal government.


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