In his Dec. 30 New York Times opinion piece, “Let’s give up on the Constitution,” Georgetown constitutional law professor Louis Michael Seidman argues that we ought to “try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.” It’s hard to say which is worse: how bad his advice is, or what his essay reveals about the state of higher education in America today.
Sure, no constitution designed by committee and subject to ratification by a large and diverse population ever will be perfect. But the U.S. Constitution is the best attempt in history to solve the permanent human political problem: creating a government by consent with enough power to protect the unalienable, equal, individual rights of the governed, but not so powerful that it threatens or injures those rights.
The demand for “original intent” isn’t code for WWFD? (What Would the Founders Do?). Rather, it’s recognition that a government of limited purposes — protecting the natural freedom of those who consent to live under such government — should be a government of limited power. The Constitution wisely separates and limits government power, thereby protecting a vast realm of individual freedom from government harassment, if only we follow it.
Interestingly, Seidman doesn’t offer an alternative constitution. He simply advises us to ignore the one we have. Yet he only wants us to ignore constitutional provisions he thinks inconvenient. While trashing the Constitution, he admits that “freedom of speech and religion, equal protection of the laws and protections against governmental deprivation of life, liberty or property” merit some kind of legal or constitutional sanction. He also thinks we need not meddle with “how long the president’s term should last or whether Congress should consist of two houses.” But why?
If the Constitution represents “bondage,” why not ignore all constitutional provisions, including the structure of government, the combination of majority rule with protections for individual rights and regular elections? Perhaps the distinguished constitutional law professor would have Americans gather in the streets and settle political controversies through mob rule?
Seidman has proven himself unworthy of the noble subject Georgetown hired him to teach. He’s also proven that in terms of political wisdom, the noise echoing inside our halls of higher education pales compared to the serious thought of the men of 1787. Let’s ignore such foolishness. Let’s turn instead to more sober advice. When it comes to those with political power, Thomas Jefferson rightly argued, let us “bind (them) down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
We should not give up on the Constitution. But perhaps we should give up on some, like professor Seidman, who claim to teach it.
Thomas Krannawitter is director of the Defenders of the Declaration program of Leadership Program of the Rockies.