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What Constitutionalism Means

From National Review:

Soon after Texas governor Rick Perry announced his presidential campaign, a few websites, mostly liberal, compiled a list of the constitutional amendments he has at various times touted. He has spoken favorably about amendments to end the lifetime tenure of federal judges, to allow supermajorities of Congress to overturn Supreme Court decisions, to repeal the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments (which established, respectively, the income tax and the direct election of senators), to limit federal spending, to define marriage in American law as the union of a man and a woman, and to prohibit abortion.

Liberals responded, either explicitly or implicitly, with a comment that was partly a question and partly a taunt: Why are conservatives, who place so much emphasis on fidelity to the Constitution, so keen on changing it? It is a point they have also made during recent debates over the proposed balanced-budget amendment.

The premise is correct. Over the last generation, conservatives have been much more likely than liberals to propose formal amendments to the Constitution. The failed campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s was the last time liberals attempted to use the amendment process outlined in Article V of the Constitution. Conservatives, on the other hand, have promoted not only the amendments that Governor Perry has mentioned but additional measures allowing Congress to ban flag-burning, allowing schools to organize prayers, and letting a supermajority of state governments overturn federal laws.

But that disparity does not reveal a defect in conservatives’ constitutionalism. What the liberals’ reaction to that disparity reveals is how little they understand constitutionalism, or at least what conservatives mean by it.

Read the rest at National Review.


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