[Everyone who is an American citizen should know the basics of the Constitution, a given. Yet few learn it anywhere, even in school or college. It should be as required in the United States as science and math, more so. There are even those who raise their arm to the square pledging their alliance to upholding it (naturalized citizens, police officers, lawyers, politicians, military personnel), who know little of its content. Why? Probably because the books written on the Constitution are dry, boring, detailing even that which is no longer relevant. This is where I come in. In my book, The People’s Constitution: Academics and Lawyers go Elsewhere, I lay it down in a brief, hopefully interesting manor that the average Joe and Jane can understand. Personally, I’m no Constitutional lawyer, why I had a friend of mine who is look at the book when I was done. Here’s the first few pages to give you a taste of what’s critical for all Americans to know. Hope you find it useful. ]
Why I’ve Written This, What You’re Getting, and What You’re Not Getting
OK, I am going tell you right off the bat why I wrote this book. A basic understanding of the U.S. Constitution is as essential for ALL Americans as it is for us to get out and buy the latest game system. OK, maybe not in theory, but in actuality, YES! Why? Well, more Americans know of, desire, and play games than have a basic understanding of Constitutional law.
Why are games so popular while Constitutional ignorance abounds? Well, outside the obvious—video games are a heck of a lot of fun—most people may want to know about the U.S. Constitution, but have you ever sat down to read it? Let me tell you now that without some type of down-to-the-layperson’s level interpretation there is going to be little to no understanding. PERIOD!
Well . . . it’s law, silly? Have you ever read any law code? (OK, it’s more general than law code, but it is law. You get the point.) Here’s an example. Try to stay awake while reading. But don’t fret, a living, breathing human is just on the other side. I will be right back with my inane comments. Here is a little light reading from Title 18: Part II, Chapter 208, § 3161, section (d) (1). Enjoy.
(1) If any indictment or information is dismissed upon motion of the defendant, or any charge contained in a complaint filed against an individual is dismissed or otherwise dropped, and thereafter a complaint is filed against such defendant or individual charging him with the same offense or an offense based on the same conduct or arising from the same criminal episode, or an information or indictment is filed charging such defendant with the same offense or an offense based on the same conduct or arising from the same criminal episode, the provisions of subsections (b) and (c) of this section shall be applicable with respect to such subsequent complaint, indictment, or information, as the case may be . . .
Really, who goes to school to actually, and truthfully mind you, use a God-given human mind to not only understand this stuff but have also been convinced that they did the right thing by going to school to ingest this stuff for years? Look me in the eye, lawyer person, and tell me the truth.
Ah, ha! I knew you couldn’t!
Regardless of the number of people lying to themselves because they became a lawyer simply for the prestige, the exposure, or, in some cases, the money, this law stuff is downright nasty. More specifically, some of the most boring stuff this side of your high school history teacher.
Therefore, I am here to the rescue.
And what’s good about me is that I’m just some average non-lawyer, non-politician, non-whatever who doesn’t care to protect his image by talking down law and its being boring, or convoluted, or mistreated by those in power in government at the federal and state level. Actually, I have read those books that explain the seven articles and twenty-seven amendments of the Constitution, and many never give you the layperson lowdown of the nasty or under-belly of law, government, and its adherents.
No problem here. By telling you a lot of truths and not holding back on some of the foolishness of humankind in regards to law, the Constitution, and our illustrious government, I am not going to lose tenure, my job, or my seat in the Senate. So there, you Constitutional commentary-ers.
In addition, I am not going into a lot of boring detail or history of the Constitution because I am lucky if I can get just a few people to understand the basics using everyday non-legalese language and minimal historical minutia. If you want extensive history about stuff that is moot or no longer applies to us Americans today, you will have to go to one of those books written by a Harvard law professor or historian with endless credits and half the alphabet after her name. Not here. Sorry.
As an American who has little time to spend on things outside of work, family, a little leisure and play, I just want the basics. For it certainly is important to know the basics, so that when making political decisions, when voting for a political figures, we all have a little better idea of what is out there regarding our God-given or Constitutional rights. We do not want to go back to monarchs and despots, for sure. Equally important is keeping our politicians on the up and up with our basic understanding of Constitutional rights and obligations. For we certainly do have them.
However, just to let you see why this stuff is important, consider the mere fact that you as an individual do not have a Constitutional right to vote. That is right. Moreover, that your right to privacy is protected only so far. In addition, that a great number of Constitutional rights are at the federal level only, not at the state level, meaning, that many of your Constitutional rights are null and void by state constitutions. A lot of time the Constitution says “Here’s your rights, but only if We (federal) are involved.” State? What say ye?
OK, now you know why I have written this book. My approach. Why you should read it. And what you need to do right now. That’s right. Read!
Go to it. I will see you inside.
The US Constitution: Introductory Summary
The US Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It provides the framework-key word here-for the organizing of the US Government. It does not lay down laws in specifics, but was left open ended enough for interpretation and, ultimately, changes or amendments. For there are many things that the founding fathers could not and did not foresee that required changes.
But the Constitution was and is not found to be perfect. Justice Thurgood Marshal stated that the US Constitution was “defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.”
And even though it still has not been perfected, it is reaching toward perfection, and even from the outset with great chance for perfection coming from imperfect composers, a minor miracle occurred: “For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection it does” (Benjamin Franklin).
Perfection is not something that comes easy, nor should it be in regarding the legal ramifications of a document that protects the rights and freedoms of hundreds of millions of citizens. One can observe the strength of the document and the will of the people to maintain its integrity in the sheer volume of rejected amendments. Over the years, there have been hundreds and hundreds of proposed amendments. For example, from the 101st to 106th sessions of Congress over 800 amendments were proposed. As any captain knows, to maintain the integrity of the hull of his craft is primary in keeping the ship afloat. So far, the craft has yet to reach perfection, but the hull’s integrity is on the up ‘n up.
However, what specifically does the US Constitution entail? What is it all about above and beyond getting too lost in the details and sometimes moot points or arcane language? This we will get into as we go through the seven articles, their sections, and the twenty-seven amendments over the coming months, but for now, let us take a general overview of the Constitution.
The US Constitution defines the three main branches of the government: the legislative branch consisting of Congress; the executive, with the president at the head; and the judicial or Supreme Court. These branches are said to provide checks and balances and a “separation of power”‘ or those powers given; however, others believe that this power is not so separate that there is an overlapping of powers: “The constitutional convention of 1787 is supposed to have created a government of separated powers.’ It did nothing of the sort. Rather, it created a government of separated institutions sharing powers” (political scientists Richard Neustadt).
More than anything, however, can be found the importance of the human element above and beyond any words one may find on paper: “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the heart of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no laws, no court can save it” (Judge Learned Hand). One can see the limitations of this document if the minds and hearts of a majority of the men and women who use it become corrupt in the extreme.
The Constitution has inherent “checks and balances” beyond what many may understand: “you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself” (James Madison). This document is meant to be a guideline, but it is up to the majority of those superior in insight, moral and ethical appeal to do what is best to protect and serve all; but even more importantly, those in the minority whose inalienable rights may be infringed upon must be looked after, for if the few can not be served then the many have no right being borne up by Constitutional law. But it is the human element in the equation that is the most interesting, important, and often times, humbling.
“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself” (Mark Twain).
And our humanity shines imperfect in the very statement that set the stage for aiding us in reaching toward mass-character perfection: “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…”
This written by a man who owned slaves and signed by many in the same situation. This written by a man full of contradiction, a man like you and I, imperfect yet working toward betterment, working with a vision of perfection in mind—that which motivates but can never be obtained by mere mortals. Who else but a man of contradiction would say of Thomas Paine’s simple prose in Common Sense: “No writer has exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style: in perspicuity of expression, happiness of elucidation, and in simple, unassuming language.” –Thomas Jefferson
But who can raise his or her hand and not claim contradiction, that which is so difficult to see by its possessor yet seen plain as day by friends and acquaintances. As humans, this is our inheritance, but it is something that we have worked to amend from the start of these United States:
Many found themselves deselected: the slaves of Massachusetts petitioning for their “unalienable rights to freedom” in 1777; white men without property seeking the vote; The Cherokee Nation believing that American Indians should be protected under the Constitution; women arguing that they too were a part of “We the People.” As stated above, the biggest human contradiction came from the founding penman himself, Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, owner of men not free physically or politically. Nevertheless, it is the document that began it all and has—as its composers and ancestors—matured over time, working toward an inherent ideal through the imperfect natures of the men and woman who mold and shape this work of political and ethical art. Please follow along in this year of the vote (2008) as we take a compulsory look at this most liberating of documents known to humankind.