Friday, November 09, 2007

A Living Constitution?

Recently there has been several letters to The Wall Street Journal concerning the notion of a 'Living Constitution'. The idea is that times change and the founders didn't expect us to be tied down to concepts from the past. The 9th amendment was mentioned as explicit proof that the founders intended the Constitution to be a living document.

On one level I agree with the argument. Certainly the 9th amendment allows for the people to retain rights which weren't explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. In fact, that was the primary purpose of this amendment. However, whenever I hear people talking about a 'living' Constitution, most of the arguments seem to be in favor of expanding government power, not individual freedom. New interpretations are given on specific limitations on government set forth in the various articles. We've seen government expand as the courts give unique interpretations to the commerce clause, the 'general welfare' clause, etc.

The key thing that most people seem to ignore is that the only reason the Constitution exists is to create a government and grant it certain powers. The founders knew that governments have been the greatest impediment to freedom throughout history and they sought to create a document which would strictly limit the power of the government. The last thing they would have wanted to create was some sort of 'living' document where new interpretations could expand the power of government without the explicit will of the people. The only way government power was to be expanded (or contracted, for that matter) was through the amendment process, which they made difficult for a reason.

It's vitally important to remember why the Constitution exists. It's not to grant rights to the people. It's to grant power to the government. As such, it needs to be as tightly focused as possible. For freedom to reign, we must continue, as Jefferson wrote, to bind the government to the chains of the Constitution. What point are chains if they are made out of bungy cord?