Posts Tagged ‘the Constitution’

Monday Medley

What we read while not being Mirandized…

  • How a meeting between Dickens and Dostoevsky that never happened became a part of scholarship.

Monday Medley

What we read while eating a goddamn snack on Revis Island:

The U.S. Census

As a general rule, the Founding Fathers get way too much credit. The Declaration of Independence was basically plagiarized from John Locke; a lot of the Constitution is downright awful, either from a moral standpoint or a procedural one. Let’s not even get started on the Bill of Rights…

One thing the Founders do not get enough credit for, though, is the Census. In Clause 3 of Article I the Constitution mandates: “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

It’s not flashy or glamorous, but it’s hard to understate its importance. People so often recall the grand philosophical ideas espoused by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, et al., and as a result we tend to think of them more as political philosophers than as actual policy makers. This is understandable, but not really accurate. What the Founders were doing, after all, was establishing a country. So while Josh may be thrilled that the Founders decided to prohibit government regulation of speech, I’m more impressed by whomever stood up and said, “It would probably be really helpful if we counted each other every ten years or so.” Continue reading

Do We Really Need Checks and Balances?

Conventional wisdom dictates that, if the Founding Fathers did something, then it must be right (unless it involves having sex with your slaves). As Josh has been outlining, though, this may not be the case.

Checks and balances are particularly revered as one the Constitution’s best features (unlike those parts we give the Founders a mulligan on). They are considered both brilliantly realist and especially democratic. Checks and balances are said to maintain a government “of the people” while simultaneously preventing demagoguery and a concentration of power. As Madison says in Federalist No. 51: “Ambition should be made to counteract ambition…. You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Problems only arise when you want the government to, you know, do something. Like fix health care. Continue reading

Ranking the Bill of Rights, Number 10: The Second Amendment

Luckily, the Bill of Rights is more limited than history. So, rather than ranking 173 historical happenings, I can get away with ranking a much more manageable ten amendments, which constitute the United States’ Bill of Rights.

Coming in last place is the Second Amendment which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Seriously, Framers? That’s the best you can give us? The Second Amendment is—by far—the most poorly worded and punctuated amendment. The opening noun clause “a well regulated Militia” is neither the subject nor the object of the sentence. The opening phrase isn’t even necessarily part of the substance of the amendment, but rather a justification for the amendment. But, if the justification no longer holds—if a well regulated militia is not so necessary for a free state—does the declarative clause lose its meaning? Antonin Scalia maintained that it did not in the Heller case, claiming that the first clause is a prefatory clause, a non-exclusive reason for having the right to keep and bear arms. Moreover, there is significant ambiguity as to what constitutes “Arms” and at what point a right (which is arguably collective despite Scalia’s ruling) is infringed. And, what the heck is that comma after “Arms” doing there?

Continue reading