The Constitution argument isn’t just academic
by Sam Rohrer
There’s a reason tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians are engaged in a renewed way in the political process this year, and it’s why countless others are getting involved for the very first time. It’s because of a deep concern that freedom—freedoms outlined in plain language in the Constitution—are being redefined, misinterpreted and, in some cases, erased by political decisions in Washington.
This past weekend, my opponent and I outlined starkly different views on the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. In appearances before the same audiences, one in Harrisburg, and later in Pittsburgh, he characterized his view that the Constitution was a, quote, “living document.” He would go at length to explain that the Constitution should be interpreted in light of case law, considering the way courts have ruled on the founder’s intent. And then he said something else: “I believe that the Constitution is only as good as the people we choose to carry out its intent.”
I respectfully but unequivocally disagree on all accounts.
First, the idea that the Constitution is a living document may sound at first intriguing. Lawyers who hold this view say the Constitution evolves over time, it adapts to modern movements and societal norms. And it’s how unelected activist judges have justified erasing years of history and legal precedent only to write their own laws.
Time and again, the living constitution argument has been used to overturn the will of the people at the ballot box. In New York and Washington, the people banned physician-assisted suicide, and the courts overruled. In Missouri citizens rejected a tax hike, a court overruled. In Arkansas, the people voted for term limits, and a court struck down the law.
My view is that governors, attorneys general and elected lawmakers should take a stand against this misguided and dangerous viewpoint and adopt an originalist view of the Constitution where the founder’s intent, not years of subsequent court rulings and case law, but intent guides our understanding of its application. The Constitution is a vibrant document, oh yes. Its relevance in helping America, helping Pennsylvania, find our way back is absolutely essential.
But when my opponent argues that the Constitution is only as good as those who interpret its intent, he is simply wrong. No, the Constitution, the founders argued isn’t about whether an average citizen or an elected or appointed official has commonsense or legal training or intellectual gifts. The founders created a standard that would not be subject to the whims or intelligence or the opinion of the majority.
The Constitution exists to protect the rights of individuals when government is comprised (as the founders predicted) of people who don’t care at all about the rule of law or the Constitution. It’s there as a vanguard when people in government fall short.
You remember it was James Madison who said, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary,” and he was right. That’s why we have a Constitution. That’s why citizens are fighting so hard to keep its meaning from being interpreted by opinion.
This argument between me and my opponent will be dismissed by some as purely academic, but let me assure you, it’s not. Our opinion and understanding of the Constitution will determine nearly every decision and matter of policy affecting your life and your liberty.
There is a difference. The choice is clear.
Stand with me for the Constitution. This is the challenge for our generation.
The writer, a state Representative in Berks County, is a Republican candidate for governor. This op-ed article was adapted from remarks the writer made in a Web video.
April 21, 2010 at 11:19 am
Tags: Sam Rohrer