“Á la carte” is French for “from the menu”. It means that one chooses various items from the menu rather than being offered a complete meal chosen by the chef. It seems to me that the writers of the U.S. Constitution provided us a complete meal for governance, but we all seem to pick and choose what we want from the Constitution and ignore much of the rest, even going so far as to go against the intent of the writers.
Let’s start at the beginning: “We the people…” Just who are “the people”? The word “people” is used just twice in the original constitution: in the opening and in Article I, Section 2. In the latter “the People of the several States” choose the Representatives. The “electors”, presumably of the people, are defined by state law. Interesting, the Constitution doesn’t prohibit women from voting. But considering that states had laws allowing only men to vote, then the Constitution indirectly prohibits women from voting.
Another prominent noun is “person”, again without gender stipulation. All of the uses assume a single human individual, free or otherwise. For census purposes the qualification “free” is added. So, although the States didn’t allow women the vote, did they allow free Blacks and Indians taxed to vote? The Constitution is mute on this.
The sticking point nowadays is the use of “people” and “persons” in the Bill of Rights. The “people” can peaceably assemble, bear arms, “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects”, retain rights not enumerated, and have powers not in the Constitution or “prohibited by the States.”
We seem to have a real “á la carte” on these amendments.
Some think peaceably assemble means they can have marches or demonstrations that block entire streets. Others think that a small group of people, especially Blacks, is not a peaceable assembly. The Twin Cities has a case that assumes one person sitting on a publicly-accessible chair is not peaceable assembly.
Bearing arms has been a contentious issue for ages, but most Supreme Court cases until at least 1939 interpreted it as militia-related and not personal. After all, it is a right of the people, not of persons. Now there are persons who insist that they have a right to have a gun wherever they feel like. Interesting, that there were lots of sheriffs and marshals who made gun toters check in their guns while in town.
Many Southern States conveniently overlooked and resisted the Federal authority to override state laws regarding “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Election for … Representatives.” See Article I, Section 4.
Many complain about federal regulation, but Article I, Section 8, leaves two questions wide open. “The Congress have have the power to lay and collect Taxes…and provide for the … general Welfare of the United States.” Are a highway system, an air traffic control system, and clean air and water “general Welfare”? There seem to be many who think clean air and water are over-regulation. Some of these same people want to have an extensive highway network to move themselves or goods, but they don’t want Congress to “lay and collect Taxes” for them.
One of the current ironies is that the Postmaster General is trying to overturn Congress’ responsibility “to Establish Post Offices”. Is getting a Netflix DVD the next day a Constitutional right? It is ironic that the Postmaster General’s actions are an attempt to promote corporate interests over public interest but that one large competitor to the Postal Service depends on USPS for the “last mile”. UPS sends many small packages for the “last mile” via USPS. Can you imagine UPS stopping every two blocks or so to distribute a package that fits in the mail box?
Some corporate interests are working overtime to redefine “limited time” for “exclusive Right to “Writings and Discoveries” They hope to retain film and book rights forever long, long after the creators have died. I can see a family retaining the rights but not for generation after generation. I remember that some decades ago the Verdi family lost the rights to royalties for Verdi’s operas and other works.
Has Congress abandoned the spirit of no appropriation for Armies should be for longer than two years? This was written because the writers of the Constitution disliked standing armies. Not only do we have a standing army but a globe-straddling army. I am glad that all the signers of the Constitution are not buried in the same place; the spinning in graves would be deafening.
Their backup plan was the state Militias which “may be employed in the Service of the United States.” Many may complain about the multiple deployments of the National Guards, but they are Constitutional.
On the other hand, Congress was “To provide and maintain a Navy”. It apparently doesn’t have the appropriation limitations that the Armies have. After all, the Navy has to support Congress’ power to “punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas”. Does this also apply above the high seas?
All of the above is mostly my opinion and interpretation of the Constitution. I tried to frame most of it as questions rather than fixed-in-stone assertions. Unfortunately, there are those who believe they can deduce the Founder’s intent by reading the Constitution. Sorry, but consider all the words written in the Federalist Papers to “sell” the Constitution. Also consider how few Supreme Court cases are decided by unanimous opinions. These are judges who have spent life-times studying the Constitution.
Mel has long been fascinated by rules and regulations, and like many others, tries to interpret them to his advantage.
Also posted to the Reader Weekly, 2014-10-02.
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