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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

The Constitution in the “Cross Hairs.”

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has indicated he is resigning effective before the next Supreme Court term in October. Thus, President Obama will nominate Steven’s successor. Since Obama is far to the left politically, he is likely to nominate someone who thinks the same way, i.e. that the Constitution is a ” living document,” and therefore fair game for judicial activism.
I was struck by a clear and concise article by Stephen J. Markman, Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court in Imprimus, a publication of Hillsdale College, Vol. 39, Number 4, April, 2010. The article was adopted from a speech Justice Markman gave on February 25, 2010 sponsored by Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship. In his article he outlines the controversies that are certain to emerge as the process of naming a new justice moves forward.
I am posting a few excerpts from the article, The Coming Constitutional Debate, and will link to the entire article. This is reprinted in part by permission from Imprimus, a publication of Hillsdale College. The following are these excerpts:

“Proponents of a “21st century constitution” or “living constitution” aim to transform our nation’s supreme law beyond recognition—and with a minimum of public attention and debate. Indeed, if there is an overarching theme to what they wish to achieve, it is the diminishment of the democratic and representative processes of American government. It is the replacement of a system of republican government, in which the constitution is largely focused upon the architecture of government in order to minimize the likelihood of abuse of power, with a system of judicial government, in which substantive policy outcomes are increasingly determined by federal judges. Rather than merely defining broad rules of the game for the legislative and executive branches of government, the new constitution would compel specific outcomes.
“Yes, the forms of the Founders’ Constitution would remain—a bicameral legislature, periodic elections, state governments—but the important decisions would increasingly be undertaken by courts, especially by federal courts. It will be the California referendum process writ national, a process by which the decisions of millions of voters on matters such as racial quotas, social services funding, and immigration policy have been routinely overturned by single judges acting in the name of the Constitution—not the Framers’ Constitution, but a “constitution for our times,” a “living constitution,” resembling, sadly, the constitutions of failed and despotic nations across the globe.”

“For the 21st century constitutionalist, perhaps the greatest virtue of redefining the privileges or immunities clause is the prospect of transforming the Constitution from a guarantor of “negative liberties” into a charter of “affirmative government,” guaranteeing an array of “positive” rights. As President Obama has observed in a radio interview in criticism of the legacy of the Warren Court of the 1950s and 1960s, “[It] never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and . . . more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. . . . [T]he Warren Court . . . wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution. . . that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.”
“President Obama is correct. The Framers’ Constitution defines individual rights in terms of what the government cannot do to you. For example, the government cannot inflict cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore the individual has a constitutional right not to be subject to such punishment; the government cannot engage in unreasonable searches and seizures, and therefore the individual has a constitutional right not to be subject to such searches and seizures, and so forth. By contrast, the Framers’ Constitution does not guarantee rights to material goods such as housing, education, food, clothing, jobs, or health care—rights that place a related obligation upon the state to obtain the resources from other citizens to pay for them.
“Proponents of a 21st century constitution have many grievances with the individual rights premises of our Constitution as written—such as the largely procedural focus of the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, with its old-fashioned conception of such rights as those to “life, liberty, and property”; the negative cast of the specifically-defined rights in the Bill of Rights; and the limited application of the equal rights clause to things that have been enacted by legislatures (as opposed to things that they should have been required to enact). Each of these “limitations” poses significant barriers to what 21st century constitutionalists hope to achieve in reconfiguring America. This explains their interest in employing the privileges or immunities clause, which seems to them open-ended and susceptible to definition by judges at their own discretion.
“As various advocates of a 21st century constitution have urged, a privilege or immunity might be interpreted to allow the invention of a host of new “rights,” and thus be construed to guarantee social or economic equality. However pleasing this might sound to some people, there should be no mistake: adopting this interpretation will supplant representative decision-making with the decision-making of unelected, unaccountable, and life-tenured judges. Should the privileges or immunities clause be used in this way, as a charter of positive rights, ours will become an America in which citizens are constitutionally entitled to their neighbors’ possessions; in which economic redistribution has become as ingrained a principle as federalism and the separation of powers; in which the great constitutional issues of the day will focus on whether porridge should be subsidized and housing allowances reimbursed at 89 or 94 percent of the last fiscal year level; and in which a succession of new “rights” will be parceled out as people are deemed worthy of them by berobed lawyers in the judiciary.”

“It is with the intention of generating debate, and of providing a roadmap to help us better navigate the constitutional forks-in-the-road that will soon be facing our nation, that I offer these thoughts. While there has never been a time in our history in which there was not serious constitutional debate among our people, I would submit that there have been few times in which this debate was more fundamental in defining the American experiment.”

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