By Sen. Doug Whitsett (Distr. 28)
for the Independent
The Jackson County Republican women have an ongoing project to place a copy of the United States Constitution in the hands of all Jackson County public and private school students. This year they invited Senator Alan Bates and me to participate in more than two hours of conversation concerning the Constitution with senior students and faculty at the Eagle Point High School.
I told the students that what I admired most about the Framers and their efforts to create a Constitution was their foresight. The Framers thoughtfully developed a document that has endured for nearly 225 years. It is still just as relevant today as it was when ratified by the states in 1788.
The Constitution is a wonderful example of how much the selection and use of words matter. The Framers carefully developed language that delineated the core principles of exactly the government that they wished to establish. The entire document, including the first ten amendments, can easily be printed on twelve pages. Yet it is so complete, and so concise, that the people have found it necessary to functionally change the document only fifteen times. The first ten of the 27 amendments were included in the original document. The 18th amendment establishing prohibition and the 21st amendment abolishing prohibition cancel one another.
We discussed at length how the Constitution describes the proper role of government. It provides that public laws and federal policies will be enacted only by elected representatives. Those representatives must have been selected by the voting citizens of the states and districts they are to represent. It limits the authority of the federal government to only those powers that the people being governed have consented to give to the federal government. It is designed to insure those limitations by a system of checks and balances in the delegation of government authority between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government.
We debated at length what we consider to be the most precious right described in the Bill of Rights. I believe that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is critical. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble and seek redress of grievances, protections against unreasonable search and seizures, the right to a trial by a jury of our peers, the right to own and use private property as well as many other reserved rights are also vital.
From my perspective, the Fifth Amendment right to own and use private property is essential because it provides the financial means for the citizens to maintain and defend all the other rights reserved to the people. Our reserved rights cannot be maintained against an oppressive central government without the financial means to access the courts and to carry out a strong defense of those constitutional rights.
The students ask what I think is the most important change to the Constitution by the amendment process. There have certainly been several critically important amendments.
The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment provided all citizens equal protection under the law and the 15th amendment provided that no citizen of the United States can have the right to vote denied on account of race, color or condition of previous servitude.
Incredibly, it required another half century to ratify the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote in 1920. That change essentially doubled the number of people allowed to participate in government. It rightfully elevated women to an equal status with men in establishing and carrying out policies that govern all men and women.
We discussed how the 17th Amendment functionally changed our government from a representative republic to a democracy. Previous to that 1913 change, U. S. Senators were elected by the legislatures of the states they were to represent. The purpose was to have legislators that were elected by the people select the most qualified person to represent the state in the congressional upper chamber. The amendment bypassed this constitutional provision of a republic by creating the election of U.S. Senators by popular vote.
What I hoped to help the students clearly understand was that the Framers’ primary purpose was to create a government that the people to be governed could control. To that end, their first concern was to limit the authority of government and the rule that it was to have over our lives. While the Constitution they wrote does confer certain powers to the federal government, it specifically reserves to the people and to the states ALL powers not specifically conveyed to that federal government.
Congress and the Courts have unquestionably used the “commerce” and “necessary and proper” clauses found in Article I to circumvent those constitutional limits. Broad interpretation of those two clauses has resulted in the expansion of federal government authority and powers far beyond what I believe the Framers had in mind.
Our government of the people and by the people was designed by the Framers to serve the people. Their greatest fear was to establish a government that ruled the people and that the people had cause to fear. From my perspective, their fears were well founded.