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The United States Supreme Court the other day decided that the United States Constitution should survive 9/11.

The Court ruled [1]Links in this story may have expired by the time you read this. I have no control over other websites. 5-4 that detainees at “Gitmo” — the military base the U.S. military built in Cuba to try to avoid having to honor the Constitution — have rights under the Constitution. As one writer responded,

This is unbelievable! These people should have the same rights our victims of 911 had and all the soldiers who are trying to protect us from further attack! Just when you think this Court can’t get any more stupid, surprise!

I assume the second sentence was supposed to end in a question mark, because otherwise, it doesn’t make sense. I’m sure this writer did not believe that Gitmo detainees were supposed to have rights. And I have to agree. After all, who would have thought that the Founders of the United States of America would have wanted the Constitution to survive 9/11?

The fact is, depending on how you look at it, the Founders weren’t sure the Constitution would last 20 years. [2]“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion… We have had thirteen States independent for eleven years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half, for each State. What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion?” — Thomas Jefferson to William S. Smith, 1787. ME 6:372 They believed that power has a corrupting influence. The form of government we now have was intended to limit this danger. At the Convention where the United States Constitution was born, James Madison, Roger Sherman and Alexander Hamilton opened a debate on whether Senators should have long terms, or short terms. Madison thought it was a good idea to explain the purpose of the form of our government and said,

In order to judge the form to be given to this institution, it will be proper to take a view of the ends to be served by it. These were first to protect the people against their rulers: secondly to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be lead. A people deliberating in a temperate moment, and with the experience of other nations before them, on the plan of Government most likely to secure their happiness, would first be aware, that those charged with the public happiness, might betray their trust. An obvious precaution against this danger would be to divide the trust between different bodies of men, who might watch and check each other. [3]James Madison quoted in Length of Term in Office for Senators (June 26, 1787) in The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates: The Clashes and the Compromises that Gave Birth to our Form of Government 89 (Ralph Ketcham, ed., 1986).

The people of the United States are currently in one of those periods where we need to be protected from our transient impressions. The people of the world are currently in one of those periods where they need to be protected from the transient impressions of the people of the United States, but that’s another story.

If we believe in freedom, as we so often say that we do, we will need to keep in mind that our system was built to support freedom and we will need to support our system so that it can continue to do the job it was meant to do. Human freedom is something which needs protection. It is no accident that at the time of our nation’s birth, what we established was referred to as “The Great Experiment.”

The Constitution contains no statements within it that limit its application to American citizens, nor just to people who are located within the boundaries of the United States. Nor would such limitations make sense.

For one thing, the Constitution is a limitation upon government. This means that the government of the United States was established by, or created by, the Constitution and it has only the powers that are contained within it. There is nothing in the Constitution that indicates these limitations on the government were meant to be lifted, so long as the United States government was acting outside the geographical boundaries of our nation.

Another reason limiting the restrictions of the Constitution to the geographical boundaries of the United States makes no sense is because of the concepts of freedom upon which that Constitution was based. Before there was a Constitution, there was a Declaration of Independence. That Declaration contains these famous words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These truths are self-evident — the original draft [4]At the time of this writing, a copy of the original draft can be found at http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/rough.htm. It’s easier to read if you scroll down below the image after you go to the page. called them “sacred & undeniable.” If this is true — that these truths concerning the equality of all human beings are unalienable, sacred, undeniable and/or self-evident — then they are not dependent upon the largess of any government. They are unalienable anywhere humans exist.

That, at any rate, is what the Founders — those who wrote, discussed, argued and ultimately ratified our Constitution — believed. Without the Constitution, there is no United States of America. [5]That’s what, after all, “constitution” means: that document constituted, or created, the United States. To borrow a concept from elsewhere, those who elevate the government of the United States above the Constitution have exchanged the truth of the Constitution for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the creator (i.e., the Constitution).

The Constitution both creates and sets the limits for government. Nowhere within that Constitution are those limits described as geographically-bound.


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