Thursday, January 24, 2013

Who Owns the Constitution?

Linguists, historians, first year law students, and Supreme Court justices all agree that there are many ways to determine the meaning of an old document such as the U.S. Constitution. You could try to give the words their “plain meaning”, using a dictionary to supplement generally understood terms. But people don't agree on what is generally understood, and the definitions in dictionaries change over time just as the usages of words change.

You could consult dictionaries published at the time the document was written. But dictionaries contain alternate meanings for words, and some dictionaries have meanings that are inconsistent with other dictionaries. How would you know which dictionary to choose and which meaning the authors intended?

You could read other things the authors of the Constitution wrote to try to discern what they meant. But the Constitution was written by a number of people who disagreed on many things, especially on what the Constitution should say and mean.

You could look at how others have interpreted the document. But over the hundreds of years the Constitution has been around, judges and other people have interpreted it lots of contradictory ways.

You could give up on interpreting the Constitution altogether and let some expert tell you what it means. This is a very popular approach, especially with judges who claim to base their decisions on a strict construction of the constitution. The problem is, who do we let decide? Often, judges rely upon people with recognized expertise, like university professors who have researched the Constitution and its history. But the experts often don't agree with each other, and they are as susceptible to error and bias as anyone else. You can find an expert who supports pretty much every possible theory of what the Founding Fathers meant.

People who don't agree with a particular interpretation of the Constitution may point out that times have changed and that the Constitution, which was written before modern technology reshaped our lives, must be made relevant to today's world or it will cease to be useful in guiding our government and our people. On the other hand, people who agree with an interpretation of the Constitution may argue that while technology may have changed, fundamental principles do not. The same people who rely on either of these arguments may use the other argument when it suits them. We see this when people who decry judicial activism in protest of a decision they dislike applaud the same kind of activism when it results in a decision that is to their liking.

Ultimately, it is not only impossible to know what the Constitution was originally supposed to mean, it is irrelevant. What we need to keep in mind is what the Constitution was supposed to do. It was written to be the framework for a nation that would be governed differently from the way many other nations at the time were governed. It was meant to establish a relationship between the government apparatus and the people.

It was not meant to be the law. Instead, it provided a mechanism for making, interpreting, implementing, and enforcing laws. It was not meant to be immutable, so it set out a procedure by which it could be amended. And it was not meant to be the property only of scholars, historians, linguists, judges, or experts. It belongs to all of us, so ultimately we, the people, acting as a nation and not just as individuals, say what it means and what we need it to mean.


  1. And what changes would you want?

  2. The gun owners own the Constitution.

    1. At least the government doesn't own it.

  3. People who blame guns for causing death are a special kind of stupid.

  4. Any man who uses his right to free speech in order to have another one of his rights taken away is a fool

  5. Call it an 'OLD" document to make it useless, that is the tactic. You people are sickening. The "OLD" document like the Bible has been removed from general discourse. Maybe if the lunatics had, "THOU SHALL NOT KILL" pounded into their brains instead of "Heather has two mommies," we would not have these demasculated mass killers on heavy psych meds.

  6. Wow.

    I don't believe that any post has ever rendered me speechless.

    That one did.

  7. "Ultimately, it is not only impossible to know what the Constitution was originally supposed to mean, it is irrelevant."

    And yet we have ridiculously more information from the people involved in crafting our Constitution, than we do about your own blog post above. We know more about the Constitution than we do about what you said above.

    Think about that for all of 10 seconds. Here, perhaps it'll help you if I just apply your remarks about a document about which we know a LOT, to the remarks of a feller about whom most of your readers know relatively little: "Ultimately, it is not only impossible to know what Lee Goodman means, it is irrelevant."

    Irrelevant. What an awesome way to think about your blog post -- which is certainly more obscure and less well-understood than our Constitution.

    Seriously though, dude, it's so childish to pose the radical skepticism gambit. When people start arguing in a way that defeats your ridiculous ignorance of the Constitution, you round up the toys and go home. "Well if *I* can't have the upper hand in a discussion of the Constitution, then so much worse for that irrelevant Constitution."


  8. You're a special breed of traitorous bastard.

  9. The United States Constitution is not and cannot be irrelevant as its foundational concepts are natural law, Biblical law, common law, and the Magna Carta.

    You need to go back to school.

  10. So, now you are going to spew the same crap as Louis Michael Seidman... So that's the radical left's new angle?

    Funny how ordinary Americans understand that the Constitution is the law for the government, and you "educated" fools cannot.

    "The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes." James Madison, Federalist 46

    If you do not know what an "agent" or "trustee" is in the legal sense, you are an ignorant boob who needs to keep his mouth shut.

    However, I sense that you full well know what you are doing - and it is insurrection against the United States.

  11. You are my enemy, and I would see you defeated.

  12. Lee, you can't be serious!
    You're losing it man. You should consider moving to North Korea.

  13. Mr. Goodman.

    I watched the online video of your lecture at the anti-gun forum, and was disheartened by your statements, which showed naivete and a lack of understanding when it comes to human nature. That's an assessment, not an insult. I'm not writing to attack you, I'm writing to try and change your mind.

    Your contention seemed to be that we should abandon the Second Amendment because although tyranny was a threat at the time of the Constitution, it is no longer a threat. I would disagree with you, 100%, and here's why.
    Tyranny is not a time-specific phenomenon. It is a human phenomenon. I could give you examples of tyranny from 1000 years ago, 100 years ago, and today. It was a threat before you and I were born, and it will continue to be a threat long after we're both dead.
    The right to bear arms is important because without it, none of the other rights are guaranteed. Did you know that the Chinese constitution guarantees free speech and freedom of religion? The people are deprived of these things ironically guaranteed them under their constitution because they have no way of safeguarding those liberties.

    You argue that we should give away freedom enshrined upon us by the Bill of Rights. This constitutes a transfer of power. A transfer of power from the people to their government. I am sure you were moved to action because of the massacre at Sandy Hook, the work of a deranged lunatic who should have been in an asylum. You want to prevent this kind of thing from happening, so you sign on to the anti-gun agenda, but Mr. Goodman, there is one fact that you are forgetting here. The greatest mass murders, atrocities, and massacres throughout history have not been committed by psychopaths who got a hold of guns. They weren't committed by criminals, and certainly not by legal gun owners. They were committed by governments.
    28 people were killed by Adam Lanza in Connecticut. 200,000 were killed by the government of Uganda during the regime of Idi Amin. Now, might that number have been greatly decreased had Ugandans not been disarmed by their government shortly before the killing began?
    You might say the same for the Tutsi population of Rwanda, the Jews in Nazi Germany, and the political opponents of the Soviet regime in Russia.
    History is full of tyrants, Mr. Goodman. You might be living next door to a future tyrant and not even know it. The United States is 16 trillion dollars in debt. Financial ruin for this country could come about very easily and very swiftly in the next decade, just as it did in Greece. In Greece today, a movement of open national socialists called the Golden Dawn have almost 15% support and rising. How confident should Greeks be that they won't be under tyranny soon?

    Tyranny is always a threat. Whether you personally wish to arm yourself in preparation for this possibility, is your choice, just as it is my choice as a citizen to arm myself.
    The Founders were very smart men, much smarter than you might give them credit for. The Bill of Rights is eternal, for as long as America exists. It is there to protect you. I would encourage you to read the constitution. Really read it. Study the patriots who gave you your freedom. You might find yourself agreeing with them.

    I hope you try to understand where the other side is coming from. All the best

    1. You can't reason with the narrow minded. Concealed carry is coming to the only state without it. Nothing this man says or does will change that. He doesn't value his own life enough to want to protect it. Criminals are carrying guns right now. They are not waiting for permits. Only honest law abiding citizens are waiting. Soon...