Sunday, January 23, 2011

Interpreting the Constitution and Maintaining Common Liberty

A discussion came up recently where it was pointed out that I was just a mere blogger whose opinion didn't matter when it comes to the Constitution of the United States of America. This has actually come up quite often over the course of the last few years as I often use that document when I'm trying to make a point in one of my articles. In this particular case someone took offense at my use of the term unconstitutional law. He wanted to know who I was to be interpreting whether a law was unconstitutional or not, and said that I likely had never even read the document I so admired as most people using such terms had not. After all, I'm just a lowly blogger with no real influence in the real world. The conversation then degenerated into a discussion of whose job it was to interpret the Constitution with the Supreme Court being the most prominent organization over other branches of government.

First off, let me say that I did graduate from the University of Illinois with a BA in Rhetoric, so I do have a little more understanding of the English language than some, not that that matters. I've also read the Constitution several times, not that that matters. I've had an interest in law and if things had gone differently in my younger days I might have attended law school, which I was accepted to, but things did not work out that way. But again, that really doesn't matter. Laws are meant to be understood by all and anyone who speaks the language should be able to understand the law. In fact, it occurs to me that perhaps the laws have become so convoluted in an attempt to frustrate the common folk and create a privileged class who have certain advantages over hard working people because they possess knowledge that others don't. This is, in my humble opinion, exactly the kind of situation some of the founders of this nation were trying to prevent when they wrote the founding documents. They wanted all men from all socio-economic strata to have equal opportunity to better their lives.

Who am I to interpret the Constitution? I'm a sovereign individual. What does that mean? That means I believe I should be making decisions on how to live my life, not government. That means I own myself, the state does not own me nor the product of my labor. It means I owe fealty to no one except myself and my family. It can be a hard concept to wrap one's mind around after being indoctrinated in state schools, but I believe this nation was created to give us all a chance to become sovereign individuals.

There are two things to consider, in my opinion, when interpreting law. The first is the letter of the law and the second is the spirit of the law. It is the latter that is more important, if you ask me. The letter of the law can be misinterpreted, warped and unjustly applied. The spirit of the law, when considered, is usually a purer form of how the law was meant to be applied. I would say the vast majority of people want justice and would not purposefully create laws meant to harm others. When harm is done because of law, that law is unjust and its spirit needs to be reconsidered.

Why shouldn't I interpret the Constitution? Why shouldn't you? Your opinion is just as valid as anyone else's. Indeed, there are many cases in our nation's illustrious history where the Supreme Court got it wrong. I think there are many who would agree with me. Cases before the civil war involving slaves and black people are good examples. The court certainly didn't seem capable of peacefully arbitrating that situation. We are all only human, after all, including Supreme Court justices.

More atrocious still is the multitude of laws that never make it to the Supreme Court. Lysander Spooner never got a chance to fully litigate his grievances with the government regarding his postal company because of lack of funds. As a result, we as a nation lost what may have been a vital resource when it comes to competition in the field of postal delivery. Something like the seatbelt law will never be challenged at the Supreme Court level because it is cost prohibitive. I personally think that seatbelt laws take away one's right to determine for one's self what level of risk taking one wishes to engage in. Such a case will never be taken to such a level because who wants to spend tens of thousands of dollars or more challenging a law when a fifty to a hundred dollar extortion fee paid to the state will get one off the hook?

This is why the common man should be interpreting the Constitution. How is one to find justice in a system controlled by the rich and powerful if one counts on those very same rich and powerful to interpret the very documents that control the justice system? There is a remedy for this conundrum. It's called jury nullification. It is the duty, in my opinion, of every person who serves on a jury to judge the validity and fairness of a law as well as whether or not the person on trial broke the law, contrary to what many judges (who are usually pretty well to do in their community) will instruct them. It is the juror's job to interpret the Constitution and determine if the individual rights of the person on trial were violated. It is therefore your job and my job, as we are all potential jurors.

If one challenges the power the common man has, one only has to remember that it was this power, the power of the jury box as opposed to the ballot box or the bullet box, that was largely responsible for bringing an end to alcohol prohibition. Juries across the nation were finding their friends and neighbors innocent of violating liquor bans despite being caught red handed consuming alcohol. They used this power to repeal a constitutional amendment! The Constitution itself had prohibited alcohol with the passage of the 18th amendment, yet the common folk managed to declare such a prohibition unconstitutional and get the amendment repealed without the help of the Supreme Court. Such power could be used now to help end other prohibitions if only more people were better educated about such matters and more freedom oriented people were willing to become active in applying such remedies to our modern day society.

The Constitution, in my opinion, was not meant as a document to control the actions of ordinary people living in the landmass known as the United States of America, it was drawn up as a document meant to control politicians who would try to become tyrants over the inhabitants of the same United States. If it has failed, it is only because the masses have become lazy or apathetic in their dealings with the federal government. They have allowed themselves to become slavish. They have allowed those in power to push them around. They have unquestioningly allowed others to rule over them. They have allowed those "in authority" to interpret the Constitution and accepted such interpretations rather than standing up and shouting "No! I disagree." This has gone on for so long that it may seem the muscles of disobedience have atrophied, but if a few of us just start exercising those muscles once again, we may find that they are, indeed, still usable. This may help on the road to peacefully taking back the freedoms that we have so carelessly allowed government to abuse.

The spirit of the Constitution is one of freedom and liberty. When laws violate that spirit they are, in my humble opinion, unconstitutional. When laws are written that have no victim they are, in my humble opinion, unconstitutional. When laws are written that steal hard earned money from honest, hard working people they are, in my humble opinion, unconstitutional. When laws are written that intrude upon the private lives of common folk without warrant they are, in my humble opinion, unconstitutional. When laws are written that censor opinion, political or any other kind, they are, in my humble opinion, unconstitutional. When laws are written that attempt to restrict thought, such as thought crime laws, they are, in my humble opinion, unconstitutional. I am speaking out and saying so and you are free to agree or disagree.

In short, we should all interpret the Constitution. We should not allow those in power to do the interpreting for us. We should not depend on them to safeguard and protect the liberty of the common folk, for they have already shown they are not willing to do so. They will sacrifice your liberty for their power. They will sacrifice principle for greed. It is up to you to maintain your own individual rights and freedoms, and you do so by protecting the rights of freedoms of others whenever and wherever you can. The powers that be seem frightened of this concept. They don't seem to want to be your servants, but they do want to be your masters. I will continue to call laws unconstitutional as I see fit. I question anyone who accepts another's interpretation of such laws as constitutional simply on the grounds that he was appointed by another fallible human being to sit on the Supreme Court. Until and unless we declare our own thoughts and feelings, we will be at the mercy of the power elite who interpret that which we will not.

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