I cannot think of a more important document when it comes to politics, our rights, and what the United States stands for than the United States Constitution. For the past year or two I’ve tried to commit to reading through the Constitution on Independence Day. It’s not a particularly long document and yet it covers so many topics. Article 1, Section 4 requires that “the Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year” which is a requirement I don’t think Congress has had a hard time meeting; I can hardly imagine our Congress meeting once a year these days as legislating has seemingly become a year-round task. Other parts show the basic rights we as Americans stand for: “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” (4th amendment). Overall, the Constitution is an amazing document in many ways.
What is said in the Constitution takes precedence over any other laws passed in the United States. There are ways to modify the Constitution if need be, but otherwise there are strict rules imposed on our legislatures as for what they can and cannot dictate about our lives. Nowadays it seems the Congress thinks it can pass whatever laws it likes; representatives regularly ignore the Constitution or cite the “general welfare” clause, but often times in citing the general welfare clause they ignore other parts of the Constitution and even in some cases huge concepts behind the Constitution (in particular, a limited federal government).
The rule of law is a very important thing. Rule of law allows for a judicial system to deal with crimes and is the vehicle for a just society. I think oftentimes people underestimate the importance of living under the rule of law but it’s a huge mechanism that helps society function efficiently and I think without it that life wouldn’t be as pleasant as it is. With that having been said, it’s very disturbing when branches of the federal government break the laws set forth in the Constitution. The Constitution, I would argue, is more important than any other body of laws in the United States, and so for a representative to disregard those laws is a huge threat to the rule of law. Once the most important laws in a society are regularly and inconsequentially broken, it’s easy for the whole system to come crumbling down.
There are many reasons people reference the Constitution during political discussions (perhaps they are referring to the legality of an action, or are citing the Constitution as a historical piece) but I think more often than not they are referencing the principles outlined in the Constitution as well as highlighting the need for a Constitution-like, central document that helps outline what our country does and does not stand for.
First let me discuss the principles outlined in the Constitution. I see them as two-fold: restrictions on the federal government and universal human rights. Much of the Constitution outlines how our federal government should be set up and run. It allows for the House, Senate, executive branch and the judicial branch. It describes the powers they have, how they should operate, etc. The Constitution also clearly outlines what the powers of the federal government are, in the 18 enumerated powers found in Article 1, Section 8. On the flip side of the powers of the federal government, are the rights of the people that are outlined in the bill of rights. The rights outlined in the bill of rights are basic rights that are not given from the government, but rather natural rights that we have as human beings. These are generally the more commonly known parts of the Constitution: freedom of speech, the right to assemble, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, right to due process, the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, etc.
In addition to the principles outlined in the Constitution, is the principle of having a binding document that outlines our rules of law in our society. The Constitution serves as a framework for the rules governing the country in which we live. It is important to have a document that encapsulates what the United States is supposed to be: a republic with a limited federal government and basic rights of people that are not to be violated.
We fought the Revolutionary War for the principles outlined in the Constitution. It is our history and it helps define the way we wish to live our lives. I find the lack of understanding by many of our officials of the Constitution as a great threat to all the things that help make the United States the great place that it has been.