The role of the Constitution is, and always has been, to restrain Government.
Whether guiding the newly formed government of a colonial nation of 13 States or struggling to stem the tide of an ever encroaching centralized bureaucracy of the current 50, the role is the same, restraint. America was the first and is still the only nation in the history of the world to be formed around an idea. Not a shared cultural background or shared religious background. Simply the shared desire to be liberated from tyranny. Stop for a moment and consider that. All the nations of the world that currently exist, just under 200 of them, only one was formed on the idea of freedom. It’s fairly amazing so many citizens of that great nation would willingly forfeit that freedom. If we lose sight of the purpose of the constitution, we forsake the values that created it.
50 years of neglecting to teach our young people Civics has resulted in a society rife with ignorance. A recent (May 2015) study by Newseum in Washington DC found that only 19% of American adults know the First Amendment guarantees the right of free practice of religion. Even worse, according to the same study, only 10% knew it guarantees freedom of the press. If so few know the facts, what minuscule percentage understand the purpose of those rights. According to the Cato institute, less than one third of Americans can name the three branches of government. If you own a factory and don’t know what it produces, you are in trouble.
How can a nation “Of the People, By the People, and For the People” function if two thirds of those people don’t have a basic understanding of how or why that nation was formed and is intended to carry on?
The answer is simple, we must refocus on teaching our children and ourselves Civics. How our government functions. It is not partisan to teach a student the machinations of our great society. Opposing sports teams may vie against one another, but they both know and play by the same rules. In order to fix this problem, we have to play the long game. It has been a long slow decay in our nation’s comprehension of the Constitution, it will have to be a long slow climb back. I would argue the role of the constitution, restraint, is more important now than ever before.
To those who would claim the constitution is outdated and outmoded, I would say, read it. If you read the constitution, you will see the representatives who adopted it saw from the beginning that it would be fixed while the nation it governed would be dynamic. It was by no accident they included a process for amending (read: changing) the document. Fortunately it was understood how important it must be for those changes to be earnest and not a whim or passing fancy. Originally, by declaring blacks less than a whole man, the constitution did not forbid slavery. As a people, by such overwhelming numbers, and through a war and reconstruction, we chose to abolish slavery. Our representatives, serving the people, amended the constitution to truly protect all men. Almost a century after it was adopted and according to the process proscribed within, the constitution was changed to meet the needs of the time.
To those who believe the Constitution is a living document meant to be interpreted ever more loosely, I would say, read it. The constitution is meant to be flexible, but not pliable. It is not meant to be re-interpreted. This has become a very fashionable notion in the last few decades, that by judicial activism, we can read the same words and come up with a new answer. A careful reading of Article III will reveal, “The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution.” Under this Constitution. The role of the judicial is not to interpret the constitution as a legal document based upon some other code moral or otherwise. The role of the judicial branch is to determine whether laws passed and the execution of said laws adhere to the constitution. The constitution is the legal framework of our republic. A republic is a society governed by law. As you wouldn’t want the framework of your house to be too flexible, neither should you want the framework of your nation.