The Essential Constitution

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: A product of the greater Western intellectual inheritance, the U.S. Constitution was created by the American people acting through state conventions for the purpose of securing their safety and happiness. It is a written document that lays out a government of limited powers and sets up mechanisms to prevent overreach through the separation of powers and federalism. Judges should interpret the Constitution by investigating the intentions of the people who framed and ratified the document.

A product of Western Civilization’s intellectual tradition, the U.S. Constitution created a government of limited powers for the safety and happiness of all individuals who fall under its authority. It divides power through federalism, a vertical separation between the state and federal governments, and the separation of powers, which divides power between three branches of government – the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Through the work of James Madison, commonly known as the Father of the Constitution, and other delegates such as Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Alexander Hamilton, and others, the Constitution was passed due to a compromise in which membership in the House of Representatives was based on proportional representation and in the Senate was based on equal representation from each state.

Attached to the Constitution is the Bill of Rights, which lists rights that every person has and that cannot be taken away without due process of law. The Constitution can be amended only through a concurrence by three-fourths of the state legislatures or a convention of states, the latter a method that has never been attempted in American history.

In interpreting the Constitution, judges should keep in mind that it is a written document with clear overall guidelines, that its authority can be revoked only by the people who created it through state ratifying conventions, and that the original intention of the people who gave their authority to ratify it should guide constitutional interpretation.

Threats to the Constitution include a “living constitutionalism” interpretative approach (the cause of modern judicial activism), attempts to pack the Supreme Court to obtain specific rulings, and the growth of the modern administrative state.

Finally, the report debunks constitutional myths, including the contention that Congress may legislate on any subject, that the original Constitution was pro-slavery and counted blacks as three-fifths of a human being, and that women did not vote prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Read the full report here.