November 15, 2005

November 15, 2005 | Commentary on

Our Great Charter of Liberty

With the confirmation of John Roberts as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to fill the seat vacated by retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, we're hearing a lot about "original intent" when it comes to interpreting the U.S. Constitution.

If you're like most people, you must be thinking: What a daunting task. After all, this magnificent document has served as the framework of our republic for more than 200 years. It has been our legal compass in good times and bad. It has seen us through war and peace and every state in between. Forged when we were a small, relatively weak, farm-based nation, the Constitution has been our juridical "North Star" even as we grew to become an industrial powerhouse that more or less guarantees the safety of the globe.

In short, this is no ordinary document. And without a time machine, how do we divine the "original intent" of the Founding Fathers?

Try The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, ( Believe me, it's the next best thing to having a face-to-face discussion with James Madison himself.

This is a book that examines the entire Constitution -- every phrase, every line. It's authored not by one eminent legal scholar, but by more than 100. Experts in each clause are on hand to explain why a particular point was added by the Founders, how it's been interpreted over the years, and what it means today. Plus, under each clause, you get suggestions for further research and a listing of significant court cases in that clause's history.

The experts break down the Constitution in extraordinary detail, from the Preamble through all 26 amendments, drawing on authoritative sources such as The Federalist Papers and Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story's 1833 classic "Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States."

Why did the Founders create the Electoral College? Which Supreme Court justice, appointed by George Washington, did Thomas Jefferson try to have impeached, in a case that today is understood to bar the removal of a judge on political grounds? How did the voting age wind up at 18? You'll know the answers to these questions, and many more, after reading this book.

Though comprehensive, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution is arranged in an accessible format that makes it an indispensable reference book -- not only for students, but for anybody curious about the reasoning that went into the creation of our great nation. Editors David Forte, a former chief counsel to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, and Matthew Spalding, director of The Heritage Foundation's B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies, have created the single most comprehensive and important reference on the Constitution ever written.

Three years in the making, this unprecedented volume was developed under the supervision of former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, who revived interest in originalism when he served under President Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Meese explains the need for this book in his introduction:

"There remains in the country a vibrant and healthy debate among the members of the Supreme Court … and between the Court and academics, politicians, columnists and commentators, and the people generally, on whether the Court has correctly understood and applied the fundamental law of the Constitution. We have seen through our history that when the Supreme Court greatly misconstrues the Constitution, generations of mischief may follow. The result is that … the Supreme Court may come to revisit some of its doctrines and try, once again, to adjust its pronouncements to the commands of the Constitution."

The Constitution itself makes this trial-and-error process possible, a process that has helped safeguard human liberty throughout our history. We can't hope to preserve our precious birthright of freedom and self-government without knowledge -- which is where The Heritage Guide to the Constitution comes in. As Mr. Meese puts it:

"The Constitution … is our fundamental law because it represents the settled and deliberate will of the people, against which the actions of government officials must be squared. In the end, the continued success and viability of our democratic Republic depends on our fidelity to, and the faithful exposition and interpretation of, this Constitution, our great charter of liberty."

At a time when "progressive" judges stand ready to put their own spin on the Constitution, under the ruse of it being a "living document" that can be stretched to mean almost anything, it's reassuring to have a judicial anchor like the Heritage Guide. I predict favorable rulings from sea to shining sea.

Rebecca Hagelin is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation and the author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture that's Gone Stark Raving Mad.

About the Author

Rebecca Hagelin Senior Communications Fellow

First appeared on WorldNetDaily