Gerald Lester’s analysis of the First and 10th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution in his recent letter was absolute proof that you can make any point you choose as long as you leave out most of the actual facts.
Lester traces the history of the two amendments in question all the way up to 1834. News flash to all conservative “constitutionalists” — this is 2014. The post-Civil War 14th Amendment changed our world by guaranteeing all citizens due process and equal protection. Those guarantees reflect the fundamental fairness that is entrenched in the character of all right-thinking and patriotic Americans.
For many years, our courts have ruled that the Bill of Rights protects us from both federal AND state violation of our fundamental rights. Individual rights have been held to trump “state’s interest” in many circumstances, including mixed-race marriages, illegal searches and seizures, trial by jury, representation by an attorney in criminal matters, etc.
Of what value would a “right” be if it could be easily overridden by a different authority?
Here is my point in a nutshell: Constitutional law is complicated. If you merely quote the actual text of the Constitution, you are only seeing the tip of the tip of the iceberg. The scope and effect of our Constitution also is determined by the interpretation of its words by our courts and elected officials. Every act of the Legislature or the chief executive is a product of their understanding of what the document means — sometimes rather than what it says.
The history of the United States can be viewed as a series of struggles between one way of thinking and its opposite. Currently, one fight that we are witnessing is the conflict between two groups of people — one that thinks that the Constitution is stuck in 1789 and another that believes that the Constitution is a living document that must be interpreted in the light of current values.
The first of these groups asks, “What would James Madison have done back in the 18th century?” The second asks, “What would James Madison do if he were alive today?”
Your interpretation of the Constitution depends upon which question you think makes more sense.