Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 3:49 am | Fair 66º


David Harsanyi: Bill of ... Whatever You Want

We interpret and manipulate the Constitution to serve our purposes

Like many of you, I’m a huge fan of the separation of church and state. I only wish we could extend that separation to those who follow godless faiths, as well — you know, environmentalists, economists, Unitarians ... .

David Harsanyi
David Harsanyi

In any event, this election cycle has seen a renewed deference to the U.S. Constitution, and it’s really exciting — though a bit confusing.

Take Christine O’Donnell’s ham-handed (but completely accurate) statement that “separation of church and state” is not in the First Amendment. Or better yet, watch the chilling footage of Ken Buck asserting that he disagrees “strongly with the concept of separation of church and state.”

I’m assured that this kind of talk is distressingly sophomoric and pathetically uninformed.

You may have thought that the establishment clause only limits government from imposing a religion on the nation and that advocates from both sides have subsequently argued about the extents and limits of its meaning for the past few hundred years. You would be mistaken.

Once precedent is set, you’re no more than a drooling imbecile for bringing it up. Except when you’re forced to do what’s right.

So when President James Madison’s spirit descended from the heavens and imbued the U.S. Supreme Court with the insight to know exactly when abortion is acceptable and the judgment to carve out a new right to privacy, it would soon be scripture. Roe v. Wade consecrated abortion forever as a constitutional right.

Yet when the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the Second Amendment isn’t just a figment of right-wing historical delusion but an individual right to possess firearms — it’s the second one, for goodness’ sake — Democrats had no qualms decrying the ruling, challenging and fighting the Constitution.

And when the Supreme Court ruled that government could no longer ban political books or censor political movies and extended the right of free speech to all Americans (in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), the president had no problem badgering the Supreme Court during his State of the Union speech, and the rest of the left showed us that esteem for the First Amendment has severe limitations.

Why? Because Citizens United v. FEC is the embodiment of judicial wickedness, and Roe v. Wade is about decency. One ruling is decided and off-limits; the other must be overturned. That’s how deference to the Constitution works.

Executive orders are constitutionally suspect when Republican presidents use them, and enemy combatants should never be deprived of constitutional protections.

But “deeming” and reconciling legislation that ignores the powers delegated to the states — not to mention forces citizens to purchase approved products — is just groovy. Try talking about the 10th Amendment and you’ll soon find yourself in the reactionary camp.

The Constitution is living and breathing, but only until we get the kind of decisions we like. After that time and on those issues, the Constitution will immediately be transformed into a rigid document not to be trifled with.

I’ll never forget an interview with then-golden boy John Edwards — a lawyer and senator who swore to defend the Constitution — in which questions about rights and privileges were posed.

Question: A college education? Edwards: A right. Q: Health care? E: Right. Q: A livable wage? E: Right. Q: Owning a handgun? E: Privilege.

So by “Constitution,” we don’t always mean the actual Constitution. As many of you know, those things are for waving around at rallies. Our Constitution can be anything we want it to be.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

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