The Amendment That Ascertains
Power to This Independence Day
Dispensing all pomp and circumstance, national birthdays have a way of turning into numbing occasions for grandstanding patriotism and overindulgent gluttony. It’s no different in the U.S., even as Independence Day marks a moment of rebellion and self-sacrifice.
That being settled, flags and parades are alright, but it can’t hurt to focus a bit on the constitutional side of that storied statement signed by the 13 colonies, which Congress adopted 237 years ago today, and whether it still holds sway as the highest law of the land.
As such, after almost two and half centuries, it’s held up pretty well. As the nation went through its growing pains, it managed to extend the original liberal slant of its founding documents, even as it amended them, while also adding some truly lofty goals as far as individual rights are concerned.
The paradox about those high standards is that they’ve made the U.S. Constitution both an example of steely idealism committed to a set of amendments, and also a pragmatic tool, vulnerable to be waged against the very principles it vows to defend. Take 2013, for instance.
Despite having elected its first African-American as President, and enjoyed a full century of world economic and military domination, without having to steal land or do away with its institutions, the past few decades have presented serious challenges to its tradition of constitutionality and the rule of the law.
It brings no joy to mention this today, but after two long, unjust wars, thousands of American and foreign lives lost, billions of dollars wasted into the buildup of a scary military complex, the U.S. is more than ever perceived globally as a bully, with no respect to its own legal precepts. How did it come to this?
(BOUNCED) CHECKS & IMBALANCES
The framers of the Constitution ‘did not want to rely on the promises of good motivations or good intents from the government,’ says Professor of Law Jonathan Turley in an interview to John Cusack. ‘They created a system where no branch had enough authority to govern alone, a system of shared and balanced powers.’
Turley blasts efforts by President Obama and his administration to prevent the prosecution of CIA operatives accused of torture during the Bush era as a flagrant infringement of international law. ‘Soon after 9/11, government officials started to talk about how the Constitution is making us weaker, how we can’t function by giving people due process.’
The administration’s most recent self-inflicted black eye has been caused, of course, by revelations that the NSA has been spying on Americans and even foreign dignitaries for years. But as it happened with rumors of a Continue reading