Founders: Words Have Meaning

Posted by on Jan 05 2011 |, Necessary and Proper, Originalism, PPC, U.S. Constitution

How prescient we must be at the Independence Institute. Yesterday our Constitutional law expert and Senior Fellow Professor Rob Natelson did a podcast on how to interpret the constitution that was based on his most recent blogpost at our Constitution Studies website. The podcast explained how our constitution is a legal document written mostly by lawyers. As such, the words and phrases in the document have very specific meaning – mostly 18th century legal meaning. When the framers wrote the word “commerce” for example, that actually meant something specific to them. Today the word means very little. Why? Because when you stretch a word to mean virtually anything and everything under the sun, the word is rendered useless and means nothing. Meaning is also derived from context. The framers wrote in the context of separating from the crown and creating a document to protect the individual from the state. This context, along with the 18th century legal context, is lost on most people attempting to interpret the constitution.

Now onto the prescient part. David Harsanyi wrote an entertaining op-ed today in the Denver Post explaining that the constitution “has become too complex for many of us to decipher, and thus irrelevant.” He’s being tongue-in-cheek of course, but the point is well taken. Many people feel that way. It’s why most any legislation can be both supported and unsupported by our founding document. When words have no meaning and context, just about anything can be justified and “authorized” by our constitution. Case in point: ObamaCare.

So you see, that’s just how good we are here at the Independence Institute. We do podcasts on op-ed’s that haven’t even come out yet. Hmmm… I wonder what might happen if we do a podcast on the lottery numbers that haven’t come out yet…

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