Thursday, July 14, 2005

Lawyers and judges who haven't read the Constitution

A dear old friend works in the court system (I won't give clues as to his name, location or his precise occupation), and he's began informally polling lawyers and judges if they've actually read the U.S. Constitution. It's an unscientific poll, but the initial results are eye-opening.

Of the 25 he's asked thus far, only three have ever read the entire Constitution. Think of the extent of this tragedy: when most of these lawyers make arguments on what the Constitution says, when most of these judges make rulings on what the Constitution says, it's not based on their reading of the Constitution, but on what they wish it said. The lawyers and judges can spend countless hours poring over case law, trying to find a precedent, but they can't take an hour to carefully read our Constitution.

We shouldn't therefore be surprised to get rulings like this, where even Antonin Scalia took international law into account. Or this ruling, this one or this. The rulings against private property, and against the clear right of states to regulate their own commerce, were made possible because certain judges clearly don't give a damn about the Constitution -- and now we have anecdotal evidence they may have never read the actual document itself.

We'd do well to recall what Jefferson (reportedly) said:

"Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction."

"On every question of construction, let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed."

Update: I inadvertently wrote Anthony Kennedy instead of Scalia. That's been corrected.

Another update: my friend Charlie had a piercing question that I forgot to include. Presumably lawyers have to take classes in Constitutional law, so just what do they read there?


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