November 18, 1996

Distinguished panel yields questionable results

By Steve Scroggins


The members of the panel all settled uncomfortably into their seats, each casting a suspicious eye on the other participants.

"Thank you for coming," I said, "I asked you here to give me ideas for a column. Iíd like to focus our discussion on matters of politics and the Constitution. Two questions: Should we amend the Constitution to allow states to govern abortion? Should we amend it to prohibit capital punishment as former Justice Brennan has suggested? Keep in mind that the Constitution specifically mentions Ďcapitalí crimes and deprivation of life after due process, but it does not mention abortion."

"I think they should be safe, legal, and rare," said Bubba.

"Executions are rare and legal but never safe," I said, "And abortions are---well---legal. We digress; the point is that the Constitution indirectly authorizes capital punishment yet Justice Brennan suggests its elimination. The Constitution is silent on abortion yet the court converted it to a Ďconstitutional rightí in Roe v. Wade."

James Bryce tapped his glass with a spoon. "We have seen the American Constitution has changed, is changing, and by laws of its existence must continue to change in its substance and practical working even when its words remain the same."

"The Constitution, on this hypothesis," said Thomas Jefferson, "Is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist into any form they please."

"Can we agree the judiciary has grabbed too much power?" I asked, seeing mostly nods around the room, a few dissenters. "The Constitutionís meaning is fixed. The legislature should propose amendments to the states when changes are needed. Are we really a nation of laws? Or a nation of general concepts? With this Ďliving documentí concept, we must trust that the Justices are wise and honorable people...or at least that they have a good Magic 8-Ball."

"In questions of power," Thomas Jefferson said, "Let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

"Shoot," said Bubba, "If my old lady canít chain me from mischief, no chunk of paper will. Besides, wasnít the Constitution adopted to secure domestic hostility?"

"The whole aim of practical politics," said H.L. Mencken, "Is to keep the populace alarmed---and hence clamorous to be led to safety---by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

"But what about the health care crisis, the minimum-wage crisis and the environmental crisis?" Bubba scoffed.

"Politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians," said Charles de Gaulle.

"Politics is not a game, itís a serious business," said Winston Churchill.

"Ninety percent of the game is half mental," added Yogi Bera.

"Gentlemen," I said, "Letís discuss the First Amendment. Some contend that the Second Amendment guarantees only the right to own muzzle-loading muskets----the technology known at the Constitutionís writing----"

"No, no!" Bubba shouted, "The Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep bare arms."

"As I was saying, by that logic, the First Amendment protects only the print and not the electronic media such as radio, TV and the Internet."

Thomas Jefferson frowned, somewhat puzzled, then said, "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."

"Liberty," added John Adams, "can not be preserved without a general knowledge among the people."

"Four hostile newspapers," said Napoleon Bonaparte, "Are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets."

"With the Information Superhighway, the error of big government is over," Bubba said.

"This isnít working," I said, "Iíll go surf the net for ideas."

"Surf the net?" Thomas Jefferson asked.

"Itís a system that puts the libraries and newspapers around the world at your fingertips. Youíd really dig it, Tom."

"The system requires a shovel?"

Author's note: The quotations above came from Internet quotation sites except for me, Bubba and Internet discussions. Quote-Links

 Copyright 1996 Steve Scroggins - All rights reserved.

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