There are many in our society who feel the Constitution should only be interpreted with regard to the “original intent” of the Framers of the Constitution. Most notably the recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the entire Southern Baptist Convention of the U.S. are of this ilk.
This choice of a “guide” is merely an exercise in blowing smoke into the eyes of the American public, by claiming a source of knowledge to which they are not privy. It is beyond us, so “move along now, nothing to see here.” Then those people can make up anything they choose to represent the actual intent of the Framers.
I have just started reading “Genius of the People: The Making of the Constitution” by Charles L. Mee Jr., who states in the prologue to his book regarding the various ways of interpreting who the Framers were and why they did what they did:
“Even so, in the end, these schools of interpretation fail to convince in one common respect: they all tend to simplify the particularities in search of generalizations – and, in the process, miss the essence of what occurred at the convention. They all come down to a view that the framers of the constitution belonged more or less to one class, and they had more or less one common set of intentions – or one set of biases or goals or interests – and that their labors in the summer of 1787 can be seen as the careful codifying of that set of common intentions into a body of laws.
“And yet, when one actually looks at the day-to-day debates during that hot, humid, insect-ridden summer in Philadelphia, such a view simply won’t hold up. Far from there being one set of intentions, there were as many intentions as there were framers. What one sees, in fact, is a group of men who, despite their common background and broad class interests, had myriad diverging appetites, ideals, and interests. They set about disputing with one another, wrangling, losing patience, lashing out, attacking one another, accusing one another of ignorance and inconsistency, or worse, of lack of principle and even of treasonous intent; erupting in anger or simply packing up and leaving town altogether, never to return; warning that certain provisions only could lead eventually to civil war or bring down upon the country some even more calamitous judgment of heaven. By the end of the convention, none of the delegates, not one, was entirely happy with the constitution they had written. Some refused entirely to sign the completed work, and those who did sign signed in varying degrees of reluctance, dismay, anguish, and disgust.”
The key sentence is the last one.
“By the end of the convention, none of the delegates, not one, was entirely happy with the constitution they had written. Some refused entirely to sign the completed work, and those who did sign signed in varying degrees of reluctance, dismay, anguish, and disgust.”
The Framers had a message for us and a clear one. What they did, as opposed to what they wanted to do, was to compromise, compromise to the point that some thought they had failed, compromise to the point of quitting.
And what is it the advocates of “original intent” want least of all? What is it that conservatives think is treasonous?
The next time I heard someone claiming to being guided by “original intent,” I will reach for my wallet to make sure it is secure and sincerely request the speaker take his original intent and shove it up his ass.