September 17, 2012
By Brian Darling
Happy birthday, Constitution!
Today marks the 225th anniversary of the signing of this unique and prescient document. Every American should take a moment to reflect on what a treasure we have in America.
Our constitutional republic has survived for over two centuries. The Framers of the Constitution believed in a separation of powers, so that no government—and certainly no particular branch of government—would become so mighty, so imperial, as to threaten the God-given freedom of the People.
And so they created a House of Representatives to represent the people in proportion to the population of a state. They created a Senate to represent the interests of the states. They vested executive power in the President. And they created an independent judicial branch.
Power was very much on the minds of the framers, as was the matter of rights. The Constitution confers a lot of positive rights on the people, such as the right to a jury trial for suits at common law where the value in controversy exceed $20. Yet, at its core, the Constitution is even more concerned with affirming “natural rights”—God-given rights to which all human beings are entitled simple and precisely because they are human beings. One of those God-given rights is the right to self-defense, embodied in the Second Amendment as the right to “keep and bear Arms.”
That right has faced some severe challenges in recent years.. In 2008, the United States Supreme Court ruled in D.C. v. Heller that the Second Amendment is, indeed, an individual right. Two years later, the Court held in McDonald v. Chicago that the Second Amendment applies to the individual states. Both cases were decided on a 5-4 vote. Put another way, Americans are just one Supreme Court justice away from losing those rights.
The Supreme Court line-up has changed since the 2010 ruling, but the 5-4 balance remains. One of the dissenter, John Paul Stevens, has retired. But President Obama nominated Elena Kagan to take his place, and Kagan has a long history of anti-gun activism. Indeed, she was one of the most prominent anti-Second Amendment activists in the Clinton Administration.
The make-up of the next Supreme Court may well hinge on the outcome of the elections this November. Should any of the five conservative jurists on the Court retire or leave, a re-elected President Obama would almost certainly replace him with yet another judge in the mold of his two picks thus far--Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Both are liberals hostile to Second Amendment rights. With Second Amendment cases currently winding their way through district and circuit courts of appeals, future sessions of the Supreme Court will yield critical decisions in this area.
Of course, Second Amendment cases aren’t the only issues that will find themselves on the court docket. The future make-up of the court may well determine whether gay marriage is discovered to be a Constitutional right.
The margins in many Supreme Court decisions are razor thin. Clearly, the current line-up already contains a majority willing to expand the interpretation of the taxing power so far that it could validate ObamaCare. And four justices in the NFIB v Sebelius (ObamaCare) case were willing to view that law’s requirement that individuals be forced to buy government-approved health insurances as a proper exercise of the government’s power to regulate commerce.
A newfound willingness to allow the federal government to order citizens to participate in commerce and buy specific services they may not want or need is worrisome indeed. So, too, is the growing proclivity of liberal judges to use of foreign law to interpret the U.S. Constitution.
Certainly, we cannot take it for granted that the Constitution will always be faithfully interpreted to support the freedoms and proper role of the federal government. As we celebrate the U.S. Constitution today, many conservatives worry that the next 225 years may not be as kind to the idea of a limited federal government committed to protecting the natural rights of all citizens.
First appeared in Townhall.com.
Senior Fellow for Government Studies
Read More >>
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute,
with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in
February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free
enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national
defense. Read More
© 2014, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973