Is Our Constitution Out of Date?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Whether or not you buy into the idea of American exceptionalism, the U.S. constitution is an exceptional document: the way in which it was crafted, how it secured the rights of citizens, and how 94 percent of nations have modeled their own charters after it. But if you ask Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the constitution is exactly that: historically exceptional, but now a tad out of date. In a recent interview in Egypt, she stated: "I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012."

In line with her comments, a new study has found that fewer and fewer nations are modeling their constitutions after ours.

Here to explain the trend are Adam Liptak, Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times, and Carne Ross, author of "The Leaderless Revolution."

Guests:

Adam Liptak and Carne Ross

Produced by:

John Light and Kristen Meinzer

Comments [2]

Charles

The Takeaway really missed a golden opportunity with this story.

We have a Supreme Court Justice whose name is all but unknown to public radio audiences; Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia had one of the very best quotes on this very subject matter in a generation. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2011, Justice Scalia said:

"I ask them, 'Why do you think America is such a free country? What is it in out Constitution that makes us what we are?' And I guarantee you that the response I will get — and you will get this from almost any American *** the answer would be: freedom of speech; freedom of the press; no unreasonable searches and seizures; no quartering of troops in homes… those marvelous provisions of the Bill of Rights.

"But then I tell them, 'If you think a bill of rights is what sets us apart, you’re crazy.' Every banana republic in the world has a bill of rights. Every president for life has a bill of rights. The bill of rights of the former evil empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was much better than ours. I mean it. Literally, it was much better. We guarantee freedom of speech and of the press. Big deal. They guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of street demonstrations and protests, and anyone who is caught trying to suppress criticism of the government will be called to account. Whoa, that is wonderful stuff!

"Of course, it’s just words on paper, what our Framers would have called a 'parchment guarantee.' And the reason is that the real constitution of the Soviet Union — you think of the word 'constitution' — it doesn’t mean 'bill” it means “structure': [when] you say a person has a good constitution you mean a sound structure. The real constitution of the Soviet Union *** that constitution did not prevent the centralization of power in one person or in one party. And when that happens, the game is over, the Bill of Rights is just what our Framers would call a 'parchment guarantee'.”

Justice Scalia went on to declare that one of the great genius qualities of the U.S. Constitution was the separation of powers bewteen the three branches, as his own judicial and historical answer to those who decry gridlock in the federal government. Scalia might also have said that just as important to the Bill of Rights was the New York Stock Exchange, the cotton gin, land grant universities, the telephone, the Ford Model T, television broadcasting, and the microchip. Because those are among the innumerable things that separate us from the "constitutional" nations of Russia, Venezuela, Iran or the Peoples' Republic of China.

Feb. 07 2012 02:53 PM
listener

"Progressives" tend to be contemptuous of the US Constitution because the power of the state is purposefully limited and the left seek to empower the government and limit the power of the individual in the guise of serving the individual.
The Soviet Union had a constitution that made grand promises of rights and equality yet it was a police state.
"Fascinating"
That is why the Democratic Party sought to manipulate the US Constitution with slavery and segregation and now they do it with out-of-control spending. All of it is done in the name of the people when in reality it is done to control people. Of course today the media blames the nation as a whole and not the political party that engineered these past disgraces.
"That's so fascinating"

Recently our Constitutional scholar President said "Our founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes."

That is the whole point.

Feb. 07 2012 09:31 AM

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