To most Americans, the U.S. Constitution is the foundation of our democracy, a clear manifestation of American values, and the reason for much of our success as a nation. Not so the New York Times. In a recent article, the Grey Lady appears bored with our aging charter, pining for the sexier constitutions of newer democracies, which promise everything from affirmative action to the right to food:
The rights guaranteed by the American Constitution are parsimonious by international standards, and they are frozen in amber. As Sanford Levinson wrote in 2006 in “Our Undemocratic Constitution,” “the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today.” (Yugoslavia used to hold that title, but Yugoslavia did not work out.)
It’s not clear what the Times is suggesting here: does it think our constitution is so rigid that it won’t last?The U.S. Constitution, long praised for its brevity, apparently cannot compete with the zillions of minor rights and mandates afforded by the lengthy and nearly impenetrable European Convention on Human Rights or Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Perhaps America should follow their lead?This is horrible advice. The U.S. Constitution’s parsimony is its greatest asset. Rather than attempting to anticipate every conceivable situation, the Constitution provides broad, comprehensible guidelines for government power and lets politics handle the rest. The leeway for adaptation and interpretation inherent in our Constitution has served us well in adapting to unforeseeable changes; its old age is a sign of its success, not a shortcoming.The Times’ deep antipathy towards the constitution is certainly alarming, but not entirely unexpected. The paper has taken some odd positions in the past, and will doubtless continue to in the future. But the real meat of this article, the really surprising confession, is buried deep within:
In a television interview during a visit to Egypt last week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court seemed to agree. “I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012,” she said. She recommended, instead, the South African Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the European Convention on Human Rights.
This looks pretty shocking on its face: One of the justices of the Supreme Court admits she doesn’t have much regard for the document she is charged with interpreting and defending.Let’s hope the Times story, clearly written by someone with foggy constitutional ideas, doesn’t do justice to the full complexity of Justice Ginsberg’s thought. Even a very bright light can look dim when glimpsed through a dirty window.But it does suggest a question that should be required in the confirmation hearings of all future candidates for US Supreme Court seats: “What do you think is wrong with the US Constitution and how should it be changed?”Via Meadia guess: nobody who confessed to the views expressed by this Times piece would get confirmed. Ever.Americans generally think our Constitution is better than these complicated, untested laundry lists of rights and laws that fill the world today, and want that document interpreted by people who understand the strengths that have made it so durable.