The U.S. Constitution: Meeting Our Needs?

May 23, 2015

In the United States of America we venerate our Constitution. Most people know little about what it says or means. Slam it, however, and you’re a traitor or worse!

Few people, relative to all of us, take an oath to support or defend the Constitution of the United States. (The few include attorneys, government employees and office holders, and naturalized citizens; 300,000,000+ others need not say or do anything.) For reasons I can’t quite explain, having taken an oath to support the Constitution, I think I have right to questions its relevancy and validity some 225+ years after it was ratified.

There’s something downright nervy and arrogant about a suggestion that a document written so long ago serves our interests well today. (On this subject generally, read The True Genius of the U.S. Constitution by David Koyis, written on June 15, 2012. Mr. Koyis focuses on our traditions, as opposed to a document, and he also ignores amendments which have created much of the trouble we face today with our Constitution.)

I have several quarrels with the document and the structure of our government. My first problem relates to state’s rights. We live in a modern world, yet our government can only move as far and as fast the slowest of our states will allow.

Should we have a health care system which allows people to move about freely, without worries about health insurance? Sure, but not in America, where states regulate insurance companies, and where states can choose not to participate in federally funded programs to assist those with adequate resources to insure themselves.

Does dirty air and water know state boundaries? Warmer temperatures? No, but every attempt to address these problems runs into “the states.” (Since the principle associated with state’s rights is local control, one might expect support for municipal governance, right? Not so fast. Example A among many is a recent Arizona law, passed and signed by an aggressively anti-federal legislature and governor, respectively, telling cities they cannot ban the use of plastic bags in stores.)

The First Amendment comes next. In particular, I focus on the religion clauses, telling the government it cannot interest interfere with the free exercise of religion, or establish a religion. Who among us thinks we’ve got this situation handled well? Our courts get twisted into pretzel-like knots, dealing with whether, for example, school prayer constitutes the establishment of a religion, or banning it prevents people from freely exercising their faith.

Regarding speech, in 1976 the U.S. Supreme Court decided speech and money are interrelated in Buckley v. Valeo. The laws addressed by Buckley tried to cure abuses in the 1972 election cycle. Forty years later, I’d like to see a campaign with small piles of cash and office break-ins.

Then there’s the Second Amendment. No First World country—other than the United States of America—has laws on its books which prevent government from regulating the use and possession of firearms. Gun ownership is highest in the U.S. among First World countries, as are homicide and suicide rates. (I haven’t focused on the fakakta combination of 27 words. Another problem for another day.)

Next, there’s the Electoral College. Because the number of electors total Senators and Representatives, small states are over-represented. Grossly overrepresented! There are 146 million people in the smallest 41 states and the District of Columbia, and 172 million voters in the largest 10 states, yet there are enough electors in the smaller states and DC to elect a president. In 1962, in Baker v. Carr, the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed one man/one vote by requiring apportionment by number of people. (Now it’s called one person/one vote, and that’s a good thing!) Alas, because of our Constitution, a Texan voting in a presidential election really has about 85% of a vote, while someone from Vermont has 115% of a vote.

Space limits me, but a careful analysis raises many other concerns.

Now, I appreciate the counter-factual argument: Who knows where our nation would be without this document? And, both because I take my obligations as a citizen seriously, and because of that oath, I take the constitution as it is, accept it, and know that in today’s environment any changes will likely make it worse. Still, let’s not fool ourselves. In the 21st century, we’re working with a late 18th century document, and that’s a challenge.

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