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Opening Arguments

We, the subjects

So sad. The greatest political document in the history of the world is getting less respect these days:

The Constitution has seen better days.

In 1987, on the Constitution’s bicentennial, Time magazine calculated that “of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”

A quarter-century later, the picture looks very different. “The U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere,” according to a new study by David S. Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia.

The study, to be published in June in The New York University Law Review, bristles with data. Its authors coded and analyzed the provisions of 729 constitutions adopted by 188 countries from 1946 to 2006, and they considered 237 variables regarding various rights and ways to enforce them.

“Among the world’s democracies,” Professors Law and Versteeg concluded, “constitutional similarity to the United States has clearly gone into free fall. Over the 1960s and 1970s, democratic constitutions as a whole became more similar to the U.S. Constitution, only to reverse course in the 1980s and 1990s.”

“The turn of the twenty-first century, however, saw the beginning of a steep plunge that continues through the most recent years for which we have data, to the point that the constitutions of the world’s democracies are, on average, less similar to the U.S. Constitution now than they were at the end of World War II.”

Not too shocking, I guess, since there's so little respect for the Constitution in certain quarters in this country. Progressive jurists and other politicians think it should be interpreted according to current conditions and prevailing opinion. Even the president thinks the document is flawed because it offers only "negative" rights -- i.e., freedom from government coercisions -- instead of "positive" rights -- e.g., the right to healthy food in the school cafeteria.

That's the reason for the Constitution falling out of favor as a blueprint for other countries. As the story notes, the document is "terse and old" and "guarantees relatively few rights." The rights "guaranteed by the American Constitution are parsimonious by international standards and frozen in amber." But those parsimonious, terse and frozen-in-amber rights are the basic ones that guarantee the freedom that can only come from a properly limited government, and freedom is the whole point of this nation. The proliferation of "rights" in more modern constitutions are really just privileges granted by the government. The more of them there are, the less freedom there is. Don't these chuckleheads get that?

No. Listen to this Supreme Court justice, for goodness sake:

In a television interview during a visit to Egypt last week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court seemed to agree. “I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012,” she said. She recommended, instead, the South African Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the European Convention on Human Rights.

God, it is absolutely terrifying to realize that someone who thinks our constitution should be modeled after the European Convention on Human Rights is actually sitting on the Supreme Court. And if President Obama gets a second term, the court will likely end up with a majority who think like that. There's a hiddenn campaign issue for you.

But the food in school cafeterias is getting more nutritious, so I guess we can call it even, huh?


Harl Delos
Wed, 02/08/2012 - 6:46am

In high school government class, we read the constitution of the USSR.  The teacher remarked that it was quite a good constitution although, he pointed out, it didn't really reflect how their government worked.

I commented that it might be interesting to see how well it worked if we used our constitution, it being showroom fresh and untouched by human hands.  We were, at the time, involved in an undeclared war, but when are we otherwise?

I got to spend some time in the office, waiting for the principal, who advised me that it has always been dangerous to express political opinion and doubly so if expressing a well-understood truth.