Today’s quotes of the day come from SLL reader dwlievert, who cited a number of important American statesmen and their views on Constitutional construction in a comment to yesterday’s post, “The People vs. the Police State: The Struggle for Justice in the Supreme Court, by John Whitehead.” From dwlievert (aka Dave):
THE CONSTITUTION: LIVING OR DEAD?
In view of the unfolding spectacle, prompted by the untimely death of a judicial giant, then set aflame by the asinine comment of the chief Pachyderm in the Senate, I have again today heard the oft-touted admonition that our Constitution must be a “living” constitution. It must logically follow then that the one to which the Founders gave birth, to the extent it is so “living,” must therefore be pronounced as “dead and buried.”
Here is what our Founders actually did write about the birth of our Constitution and the Rule of its Law.
George Washington: “The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution, which at any time exists, ’till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole People, is sacredly obligatory upon all. If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”
Thomas Jefferson: “Our peculiar security is in possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction. … If it is, then we have no Constitution. … [T]o consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions … would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. … In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
Alexander Hamilton: “If it were to be asked, ‘What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic?’ The answer would be, ‘An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws — the first growing out of the last. … A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government. … [T]he present Constitution is the standard to which we are to cling. Under its banners, bona fide must we combat our political foes — rejecting all changes but through the channel itself provides for amendments.”
James Madison: “I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution. And if that be not the guide in expounding it, there can be no security for a consistent and stable, more than for a faithful exercise of its powers.”
I will end these perspectives with a quote from Jefferson in a letter to William Johnson in 1823. I urge that every aspiring/practicing attorney whether; 1) attending school studying the law so as to become an attorney; or 2) in the practice of his/her craft as an attorney; or 3) sitting on the Bench presiding over the administration of the Law by fellow attorneys; or finally, 4) good and common sense has been seemingly eradicated from your soul and you reside in the halls of a legislature, you should be compelled to adhere to Jefferson’s timeless admonition:
“On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
Legal scholars or practitioners who fail to adhere to the preceding are by the logic of their failure to do so, destroying the very foundation upon which they claim to base their “construction.” The abysmal track record of our legal “guild” lies at the very root of why we find ourselves experiencing the destruction of our heritage of freedom.
I must believe there is an increasing awareness of such things, an awareness that will, in due time, become unimpeachable…