Commentary: Our perfectly imperfect Constitution

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramJuly 10, 2012 


Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

ROSS HAILEY — MCT/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Since the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Health Care Act -- "Obamacare," as many call it -- political operatives and pundits have been throwing around the Constitution like it was a baseball in a Little League game.

Those blowhards who regard themselves as experts on the 1787 document and its 27 amendments are good at labeling their adversaries as people who don't care about the Constitution or the country and, in fact, are out to destroy both. These "authorities" tend to be self-defined conservatives who dish out harsh criticism for anyone, including members of the high court, who disagrees with their position.

When judges or Supreme Court justices decide cases contrary to what the so-called constitutionalists think is right (no pun intended), then they are called "activists" or "obstructionists" who want to make law as opposed to interpreting it.

They want members of the judicial branch to be "strict constructionists," meaning their interpretation must be extremely limited to the Constitution's narrow edicts and the framers' specific language. To do otherwise would be an abomination.

Of course, there are many people who use the Constitution like they use Scripture: They quote passages and then define them as meaning whatever they want; whatever supports their position on a given issue.

Now there is outrage from the right not only because the Supreme Court upheld the healthcare law, but because Chief Justice John Roberts -- a George W. Bush appointee -- was the swing vote, siding with the four liberals on the court.

Roberts is considered a traitor by those conservatives who considered him one of them, who really wanted him to decide the case based on political ideology. He's accused of betraying the Constitution by rewriting law rather than strictly determining the constitutionality of it.

The folks who hate the healthcare law, and the man for whom it was nicknamed, are truly in a state of shock and disbelief that one of their own could have sided with the enemies in ravaging the nation's most sacred document and, at the same time, bringing dishonor to the court.

Well, I've said before that, just as the framers of the Constitution were imperfect, so was that hallowed manuscript they created. Those Founding Fathers' greatest gift was drafting a document that would be adaptable to the changing times that were sure to come and indeed keep coming.

The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, in commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Constitution, noted that its meaning was not "forever 'fixed' at the Philadelphia Convention."

He went on to say, "Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound.

"To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights we hold as fundamental today."

As for the Supreme Court, we know there have been times in history when, often driven by the politics and the mores of the times, the justices were dead wrong. I'll note Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), just to name two. I'm sure many others would add Bush v. Gore (2000) to that list.

And there certainly have been numerous times when the courts finally got it right, namely Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Lawrence v. Texas (the sodomy case in 2003) and Roper v. Simmons, which in 2005 stopped the execution of those who were juveniles at the time of their offenses.

The truth is, we love the court when it rules our way and despise it when it doesn't.

To all you constitutional experts and Supreme Court analysts who are upset over the court's latest major ruling, I say to you what I told many of my friends after the Bush v. Gore decision: It's done. Get over it. And let us move on -- until the next big emotional fight.

After all, there is a national election in four months.

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