Thursday, June 08, 2006

Did progressives rewrite the Constitution?

Thanks to our friend Karol who keeps us informed of right-wing events in New York City, I attended a debate last night about that very question. Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago's law school argued in the affirmative. William Treanor, Dean of Fordham University's law school, argued that progressives are in fact the ones who follow the Constitution's original and intended meaning.

The moderator, Francis Melton, presented the theme through two questions. "Is the United States government one of unlimited powers or one of enumerated powers?" And "What restrictions does the Constitution place on the states, if any?" He pointed to the examples of the Louisiana Purchase, which Thomas Jefferson pushed for although he felt it may have been unconstitutional, and the federal government's attempt to create "gun-free school zones" via the Interstate Commerce Clause.

When Melton introduced Professor Epstein, he mentioned Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain, at which point Epstein silently held up a copy and solicited laughs from most of the audience. Copies were available after the presentation, but unfortunately I didn't have any cash on me nor my checkbook. It would have been great to get one with Epstein's autograph.

Epstein began his opening statement by saying that he takes being called a "kook" (which Melton said some people regard Epstein as) as a term of high praise. He said that there are two ways of looking at the issue: what does the Constitution say, and what do we want out of government? We must work back to the text, Epstein said, and not the other way around. What I took that to mean is that we must look at what the Constitution says and then form a government from that, instead of forming a government and interpreting the Constitution to justify it.

As a classic liberal (which he prefers to "libertarian"), Epstein has Locke's skeptical view of government: as he put it, no one should be assumed to govern in good faith. (I'll add that James Buchanan, the economist and not the president, noted in public choice theory that public bureaucrats still act in their own self interest. Their position does not make them suddenly concerned with the public's well-being.) The Constitution hinders (my word) government by the separation of powers and a system of "competitive federalism." Should one state become too oppressive, its people can take their businesses to another state. "But," Epstein said, "land can't move, so we need protections, i.e. property rights well-defined."

Unfortunately, I took a break from this write-up to prepare some clothes for tomorrow, and now I'm far too tired to finish tonight. I'll see what I can do tomorrow at lunch. Tomorrow night I'm attending a Young Republicans event, where Larry Kudlow himself is one of two featured speakers. There will be some socializing afterward at a nearby pub, which I cannot resist, so I'm not sure how late I'll be out tomorrow.

I apologize for the light blogging in the last while. Things have been so busy, just one thing after another. Today's headache was discovering my cell phone didn't charge last night, forcing me to conserve the low battery life throughout the day. Actually, "force" isn't the right verb. I still had a perfectly voluntary choice: to use or not to use the battery. Though I had some calls to make (personal ones that I preferred not to use my work phone for), I could have elected not to make them, weighing the consequences against the benefit of conserving the battery. However, I was dealing with imperfect information, since I figured I could charge it once I got home.

When I got home, I discovered that my month-old charger is no longer working. I made a quick run to Target and bought a generic charger that's supposed to be compatible with my phone, but it's not working either. Tomorrow I'll stop by a Verizon store to determine if a "genuine" Motorola charger works, or if my phone's battery is dead. I really had wanted to call a couple of people tonight, and I'm more than peeved.

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