Constitution — December 7, 2011 8:27 pm

The Constitution


A Transformative Reflection

The late Justice William Brennan stated that “the genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and current needs.” Justice Brennan holds a reputation for being one of the most liberal justices of the Supreme Court, and it is clear that he viewed the Constitution as a source of political advocacy and reform. Beyond structuring government, the Constitution plays a crucial role in establishing the values of American society and protecting the rights of individuals. When misalignments between the expectations created by the Constitution and societal realities become apparent, reform is necessary to realize the ideals set out by the Constitution.

A major purpose of the Constitution is to outline fundamental value choices within American society. The Constitution makes these values transcendent and beyond the power of any part of government. Examples of these fundamental values include the separation of powers, the freedom of speech, the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments, and the right to due process. The challenge in interpreting the Constitution lies in the ambiguity underlying the effort to apply these values to current situations such as the growth of executive power or the prosecution of suspected terrorists. Successive generations of Americans have accepted or modified the Founders’ interpretations of these values with respect to their own historical circumstances. The Constitution was not created to preserve an already existing system of governance but to make a new one which acknowledges values that the prior system failed to recognize. The Framers of the Constitution were responding aimed to correct the problems of the Articles of Confederation and the Reconstruction Amendments marked the end of slavery. The values established by the Constitution provide a reference point to evaluate present day constitutional issues such as the power of the Supreme Court, the election of the President, and the budget deficit.

The Constitution is primarily a structuring document, laying out the system of governance, the powers of government bodies, and the values that transcend the authority of these bodies. By defining the limits of government, the Constitution aims to protect individuals.The Bill of Rights and the Reconstruction Amendments enshrine the emphasis the Constitution places on liberty and justice for all individuals. The changes and amendments made government institutions and the Constitution reflect the evolution of social conditions and broader acknowledgement of individual rights through history. As long as citizens believe that the fundamental values of the Constitution can be redeemed from incorrect interpretations and adapted to the challenges that society faces, the Constitution remains legitimate. In this respect, regardless of how politicians view the Constitution, the Constitution acts beyond temporal political majorities.This emphasis on the individual rights has contributed to the longevity of the American Constitution as one of the oldest politically extant constitutions.

Constitutions are a ubiquitous feature of governments around the world. Beyond organizing government, governments around the world have chosen to create Constitutions to outline the values held commonly by all individuals. Participation from all major stakeholders ensured this inclusivity in South Africa, and the lack of inclusivity is the cause of the fatal flaws within Hungary’s recently proposed new constitution. The longevity and strength of a constitution is determined by the applicability of these values to all individuals in society. A constitution provides a normative framework in which individuals can judge the present status of society against the ideals which a society is meant to live up to. Through this reflection, individuals can advocate for reform to move one step closer to a realization of the ideals put forth by a constitution.

Neil Patel ’13 is the Covers Editor.

Photo Credit: Morristown Green

  • Brianroy

    There is a vast difference between “adaptability” of the US Constitution and “abuse” by ignoring it as the “Supreme Law of the Land” which it is stated in its own words to be. The relevance of the Constitution has become a “pick and choose” option of both major parties and the Corporate Media via corruption (especially graft) as if they were in a supermarket since 2007 when Obama declared his (illegal) candidacy. In fact, in response to the DNC’s upset loss of Gore 2000 and Kerry 2004, the DNC (then led by a very bitter Howard Dean, et al.) willingly and knowingly conspired in 2005-2006 to install someone the Nairobi Eastern Standard on June 27 2004,

    and the Kenyan Government confirmed in 2010 was born in Kenya.

    Thursday, 25th March, 2010
    The House met at 2.30 p.m. p. 31 …2nd paragraph
    [Mr. Orengo, Minister of Lands of the nation of Kenya, speaking]: “…how could a young man born here in Kenya, who is not even a native American,become the President of America?It is because they did away with exclusion.”

    Under US Supreme Court Decision, Obama is obligated to prove his “natural born citizen” qualification in Court with evidence via the wording:
    “The burden of establishing a delegation of powerto the United States,or the prohibition of power to the States,is upon those making the claim.”
    Bute v. Illinois, 333 U.S. 640 @653 (1948)

    That means it is upon Obama and/or his lawyers to produce Court admissible documents establishing his birth identity with location and witnesses to the birth (cf. Nguyen v. INS 533 US 53 (2001) @ 54,62)

    Instead, all we have are Press Conference releases of electronic forgeries already debunked by Dr. Ron Polland, NOT Court submissions of documentation. There has NEVER been a vetting of Obama’s documents or of his past beyond 10 years and/or the last University he taught at or attended in any National Security Clearances he went through. Even Harvard University did not have to verify his alleged attendance – grades – courses just 16 years earlier from 2007 (re: 1991) to the Department of Justice: that’s how shallow his vetting was. Obama even fails an E-Verify SS# check, because he has identity theft even that. And the man whose company stole what Obama passports there were — right out of the Department of State itself — John Brennan,
    became Obama’s counter-terrorism Deputy? How convenient.

    A legitimate debate or discussion on the US Constitution in 2012 should first start with an honest appraisal of its violations by Obama personally, and in policy and practice. Are you or the Harvard Political Review up to the challenge?

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