Kopp Column: Our Government Is Operating As Though It Has No Constitution


Do you believe in a literal interpretation? Of what, you ask. Your grocery list? Your bank account? Your instructions to your children? The Bible? The Constitution?

Division in the world’s big three faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) can be traced to how members of each division view their holy writ (The Torah, The Bible, The Koran). The same is true of Americans and the people they elect – how literally is the Constitution to be interpreted? Divisions can be traced to less-than-literal interpretations.

Before applying it to modern life, it first must be determined what was meant when the words were penned. In other words, what is the historical, cultural and grammatical context of the Constitution? If one does not believe in the literal historical, cultural and grammatical context of the Constitution, then whatever was written could mean a variety of things. The meanings could be endless because there are an infinite variety of shadings, colorings, twists and bents one could make the words that were written. “Originalism” is the most reliable means of reading the document. It prevents divisiveness caused by different schools of Constitutional Interpretation.

Some of the most intense debates I’ve ever witnessed or participated in were not in debate classes, but in Constitutional Law classes. Set up to divide the class between different schools of Constitutional interpretation (Originalism, pragmatism, natural law, strict constructionism), the debate became very divisive with divisions spilling in to other coursework. A literal strict interpretation of the Constitution prevents and avoids contention, confusion and chaos.

Some who do not believe in a strict literal interpretation of the Constriction are those who also say it is not relevant to this day and age. An example of someone who believes the Constitution is not relevant to today’s America is then-Senator Barack Obama. In a 2001 radio interview, U.S. Senator Barack Obama seemed to downplay the validity of the U.S. Constitution by describing it as incomplete:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtG2YZ0ZJYQ&w=480&h=360]

Another group believes the Constitution is not a living document. To make the Constitution a living document is to make it a document of will and not law. It says what the reader wills it to say.

One reason some do not like to interpret the Constitution literally is it is a limiting document, not a granting document. It limits what the government can or cannot do and then leaves it up to the states to make it applicable to the local culture of each state.

It seems that those people who believe the Constitution can be interpreted in a variety of ways, or that it is a living document or that it does not apply to modern times are people who do not seek a union, but rather a division, and they use the framework of the U.S. Government to attempt to divide the country. The results of their division are noted: A house divided will not stand.

We are becoming very close to what Thomas Paine wrote,

“A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government and a government without a constitution is power without right.”

Our government today is acting as though it has no Constitution. If every law passed and every edict written by a president who tosses around executive orders like confetti were to cite their basis in the Constitution, we’d have fewer laws, more responsible citizens and a more sure form of government. We would have less division between political parties.

What is an example of something in the Constitution you believe should not be interpreted literally?