The Corner

The Constitution: Binding, Not Sacred

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes,

[T]he new majority will open the next Congress with a full reading of the Constitution and establish a rule requiring that every new bill contain a statement citing the constitutional authority behind it. . . .

From its inception, the Tea Party movement has treated the nation’s great founding document not as the collection of shrewd political compromises that it is but as the equivalent of sacred scripture.

Yet as Gordon Wood, the widely admired historian of the Revolutionary era has noted, we “can recognize the extraordinary character of the Founding Fathers while also knowing that those 18th-century political leaders were not outside history. . . . They were as enmeshed in historical circumstances as we are, they had no special divine insight into politics, and their thinking was certainly not free of passion, ignorance, and foolishness.”

An examination of the Constitution that views it as something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus would be good for the country.


Calling the Constitution a “collection of shrewd political compromises” makes it sound a bit like a tax bill, but I take his point that the Constitution should not be made into an idol. (I don’t see any compelling evidence that anyone significant has done so.) But of course the tea partiers would be right to insist that legislation must be constitutionally grounded even if the Constitution were a deeply flawed document. Perfect or imperfect, it is binding law, and if it is to be amended it should be amended using one of the processes outlined in the document itself.


Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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