In a December 30th New York Times OpEd, Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman calls to abolish the U.S. Constitution. He refers to its provisions as “archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil.” In his piece, he argues that blind obedience to the Constitution is the major reason for the impasse Congress faces in attempting to fix America’s economic and fiscal chaos. “Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.” Why in the world, he argues, should we follow the dictates of rich white men who knew nothing of our current situation and instituted constitutional protections for slavery?
He gives the example of a ruling before Christmas that the House couldn’t take up a plan by Senate Democrats to extend tax cuts on households making $250,000 or less because the Constitution requires that revenue measures originate in the lower chamber. He also gives numerous examples of past presidents and Supreme Court justices who acted contrary to the Constitution when it suited their purpose. John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts violated the First Amendment, as did Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was unconstitutional at the time he issued (and only became legal after the 13th amendment was ratified. As was Roosevelt’s New Deal and the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v Board of Education decision.
He apparently feels the civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights – freedom of speech and religion, equal protection of the law and protections against governmental deprivation of life, liberty or property – still apply. However he feels it’s okay to follow these requirements “out of respect,” rather than obligation. It’s a pity Obama doesn’t agree, given that he has suspended most of these rights.
Interesting that Seidman doesn’t want to open the debate to the length of the President’s term or whether Congress should consist of two houses. In my view, these are the two most dysfunctional aspects of the Constitution with respect to enacting reforms desired by people, as opposed to corporations. After living in New Zealand for ten years, I can see many ways in which a parliamentary democracy elected by proportional representative is more democratic. The notorious legislative stalemate that plagues the US would be impossible here. Governments that can’t pass legislation are forced to resign. At present this is the type of government found in most industrialized countries. Our Constitutional fathers, fearful lest the House of Representatives become too “democratic,” wrote about creating a Senate to block popular reforms initiated by the “lower” house. To this day, neither Senators nor the President are chosen on the basis of one-man-one-vote.