“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
– Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”
The other day I was driving and listening to talk radio. A reporter had gone out to conduct “person on the street” interviews, and I heard someone say, “The Constitution is outdated and should be abolished.”
I am just as frustrated and concerned as anyone else over the seemingly endless challenges facing America. But how can anyone dismiss inalienable human rights as “outdated” and thereby unworthy of preserving, protecting, and defending?
Perhaps now, more than ever, the Constitution needs protection, and the judiciary plays an indispensable role in this process.
The Founding Fathers of our nation essentially declared in our Constitution that all human beings have certain intrinsic rights which cannot be taken away by anyone or anything, including and especially by, government. As people, we do not have to beg, pay or grovel for these rights. We own these rights the minute we are born. Our Constitution is an articulation of these self-evident liberties and serves as the spiritual foundation of our nation. It is the gold standard for all societies around the world. And it is a warning to government which would attempt to deprive us of these birth rights to back off.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
– Thomas Jefferson
Self-evident truths, inalienable rights, never become outdated. They are timeless. They should be honored and protected by all of us for present and future generations. None of us have the right to nonchalantly surrender and thus deprive our progeny of these rights.
When catastrophic events occur, we naturally become frightened and look for immediate solutions. After 9/11, for example, our government began the fight against domestic terrorism through the Homeland Security Act of 2002. As Americans, we cooperated and changed how we live our lives. However, we never surrendered our Constitutional rights. None of us gave the government carte blanche to whittle away at our freedoms. The government correctly addressed the domestic terrorism problem within the confines of the Constitution.
Every time Americans face threats to their security and way of life, there will be a tension between government response and our freedoms. It always has been, and always will be, a fact of life in this nation. Can America continue to function as a compatible union of 327 million people in which this tension is inherent? Put another way, can an individual’s rights survive against necessary government intervention?
I believe so, if the judicial branch does its job. In fact, the more government intervenes in our lives, the more we as citizens will need to insist that the courts protect the Constitution.
Since the birth of our nation, American courts have had to balance constitutional rights with the increasing passage of laws aimed at protecting a rapidly growing constituency. Free speech, the right to worship versus the right not to worship, civil rights, reproductive rights, executive powers, state’s rights versus federal rights, gun control, search and seizure. The list goes on and on.
Agree or disagree with the courts’ decisions on any of those issues, but one fact is evident – America is still standing, the symbol of freedom and human rights for the rest of the world. The process has worked, in my opinion, because judges have kept the Constitution front and center as a guiding beacon in arriving at resolutions of conflict.
I am hopeful that our executive and legislative branches of government will continue to search for rational solutions to the serious problems our country faces. And I am confident the judicial branch will continue to be a trustworthy overseer of the Constitution.
Is the Constitution outdated? No. Is it worth protecting? Of course.
A lot of things that are inconvenient in the Constitution, like the Bill of Rights, were put there for a reason. Ignoring such provisions can lead to a consolidation of power, which is great if you are the ones who are in power, and not so great for everyone else.
If nothing else, we need more enforcement of the Constitution, rather than replacing it with something else.
– Scott M. Stolz, “Is the U.S. Constitution Outdated?” Oct. 14, 2016.
Judge Daniel Ramczyk is a judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the judge individually and not those of the court.