Thoughts On The Constitution—I

We do hear a lot of talk today about the United States Constitution, but what I have found in my teaching and studying career are two very important things: 1. Most Americans have never even read the thing, and 2. Very few people look at the historical circumstances surrounding the document. If we are going to understand the Constitution, we’re going to have to understand the mind and thoughts of the men who wrote it. I want to write a few articles about our Constitution, looking at some crucial aspects of it that are much misunderstood today.

When I say we have to “understand the mind and thoughts of the men who wrote it,” I do not believe I am speaking an impossibility. As I write these words, I am expressing my “mind and thoughts,” and I trust nothing I write is difficult to comprehend. But the point is, it is my mind and thoughts, and the words that I write mean what I intend for them to mean and not what somebody thinks or interprets them to mean. And the same is true with the Founders of this country. What does the Constitution mean? It means exactly what the men who wrote it intended for it to mean—and nothing else. And if it is “interpreted” differently from that, then our Founders have been abused, misused, and treated unfairly. And nobody wants their words twisted to denote something they never aimed.

Here is a simple example, but it makes the point. I tell my friend Joe, “Hey, Joe, let’s go eat at Red Lobster next Tuesday. You buy…” Joe, perhaps not being of sound mind or perhaps having some ulterior motive, reasons within himself, “Ah, what he said was ‘Red Lobster next Tuesday’, but what he really meant was ‘McDonald’s on Wednesday.’” That’s ridiculous, of course, but is it any more ridiculous than to take the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” to mean that we can’t put a Christmas tree on public property or have a prayer in public schools? That is not what the Founders meant. Now, if we want to understand what they did mean, we are going to have to go back to the 18th century and determine what “establishment of religion” signified, which I shall do in the next article of this series.  It’s not hard to comprehend, it had a very clear meaning and everyone at the time understood it. And some didn’t like it. But we don’t do the study of history that we should and thus we have allowed the courts, especially the Supreme Court, to convince us that only they have the final right of interpretation of the Constitution. And the document has come to mean whatever the Supreme Court says it means regardless of the Founders' intentions. That is disingenuous at best, and a total disrespect for the men who penned that great document. And if we’re going to let the Supreme Court do all the interpreting, then why even have a Constitution? Just appoint the nine judges as dictators of the land. At least we’ll preserve them from lying to us by telling us the Constitution means something that it doesn’t and was never intended to mean.

How would you like for somebody to take something you said and completely twist it to mean what they wanted it to mean and not what you said or intended? Words mean things, folks, and as long as we aren’t with Alice in Wonderland, words mean what the speaker/writer intends for them to mean and not what the listener/reader wants them to mean. Í hear often, “well, it’s just a matter of interpretation.” No, it isn’t. It’s a matter of discovering what the speaker/writer meant. And the only way we can determine that is by the words he uses! Otherwise, language means nothing.  I've discovered that 99.9% of the time someone says "It's a matter of interpretation," it means they don't like what the words actually say and want to wrest them to mean something palatable to themselves.  That's not being honest with ourselves or anyone else.

Incidentally, the Constitution nowhere gives the Supreme Court the right to be the final arbiter of what it means. Indeed, the judicial branch is not to make law at all. In our system—in fact, in any system, if words mean things—the legislature legislates (makes law), the executive executes (defends the law), and the judicial applies the law, i.e., “here’s how the law applies in the case of John Doe v. Sam Smith.” The law has been written and defined. The courts apply it. That’s all. Obviously, that isn’t our system today, and it’s one reason why all three branches of our government are in complete and utter disarray. Nobody knows what their job is any more.

Our Founders weren’t perfect, but they knew what they were doing. And the words they put into the “supreme law of the land” were intended to mean exactly what they, not our courts, intended for them to mean. Realizing changes would probably be necessary, they gave subsequent generations the right to amend the document. But they defined that process as well, and they didn’t give the right to the courts or the federal government alone (or to the courts at all). I shall discuss this more in future numbers.