Editorial: Yes, it matters
For a piece of paper that’s celebrating its 223rd birthday on Friday, the U.S. Constitution has shown a great deal of staying power and modern relevance. Everyone seems to be in love with the Constitution these days, from arch-conservatives to bleeding-heart liberals.
Political movements have wrapped themselves in its words. The banner at the top of the website for the upcoming 2010 Virginia Tea Party Convention proudly proclaims "The Constitution Still Matters."
A philosophical opposite and long-time bane of some conservatives, the American Civil Liberties Union, defines itself as "our nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country." Tea Party groups and the ACLU are both fond of handing out copies of the Constitution—a rare instance of accord.
At the same time, the opposites often claim to be the protectors of the Constitution. Everyone seems to accuse Congress, or the Supreme Court, or the president, of disregarding it and violating it.
Organizations have continually linked the Constitution with good citizenship. "I challenge anyone who has not yet registered to vote to celebrate Constitution Day by doing so," Virginia League of Women Voters President Olga Hernandez said last week. "With all the important issues facing Virginia and our country, it is upon all of us to get involved and keep our democracy strong and truly representative of the people."
The Constitution itself is a rather dry document, setting up the ground rules for our government—the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches, the limits of states’ powers, etc.—basically, the nuts and bolts of the republic. But for many, the heart and soul of the Constitution is in its first 10 amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights. That document is a couple of years younger, but it is what people mean when they speak of their constitutional rights.
It’s the Bill of Rights that protects the nuts who burn (or threaten to burn) Qurans and American flags. And while it protects the rights of people to symbolically burn books, it also ensures that the ideas in those books remain free from censorship. It protects those who don’t like the president, don’t like the war in Afghanistan, and a myriad of other operations of the government.
It protects the rights of citizens to keep firearms, and of accused persons to a fair trial. It protects the rights of churches to protest military funerals. It protects those who want to march against war, or against health care laws.
In the past 223 years, "We the people" have seen fit to amend the Constitution a mere 27 times (17 if you don’t count the Bill of Rights). That’s a pretty impressive record. No wonder it’s such a popular piece of paper.