For political junkies there was an interesting challenge to progressive thought on Face the Nation on Sunday, May 19th. To understand the challenge, we must first understand that since about the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century (1875-to present) there has been a political argument going on between Constitutionalists and Constitutional Realists. Is the Constitution a static Code of Law or a Living Breathing Document open to each generations interpretation of the role of government in their lives? Constitutional Realism is considered a progressive understanding of government. Choosing which way you view our Constitution is important because it defines the way individuals and governments interact.
- A Constitutionalist reads the document as a very narrow legal writing which establishes limits on what our Federal Government can and cannot do.
- A Constitutional Realist sees the document as open to wide interpretations based on current trends.
- A Constitutionalist says the law does not change unless it is changed formally by the prescribed legislative process of amendment.
- A Constitutional Realist believes the law can be changed by interpretation based on influences of current politics, current social views and/or other world governments.
Now lets take a look at the the AP Scandal. The CEO of the Associated Press, Gary Pruitt claimed on Face the Nation that the Justice Department (part of the Administrative branch of the federal government) had overreached in their search and seizure of two months of AP reporters’ telephone and email records from a third party server without notification. He believes not being notified denied them their right to challenge the seizure. Mr. Pruitt suggests that the Justice Department was “acting on its own as being the judge, jury, and executioner.” He also believes the Justice Department’s conduct abridged the freedom of the press guaranteed in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.
Bob Schieffer suggests during the interview that this is a question of democracy vs. totalitarianism. A Constitutionalist would argue with Mr. Schieffer that our Constitution was designed to protect us from all forms of totalitarianism especially those imposed by democracies. The founders understood that democracies could be bent to the whims of the times and become tyrannical. Mr. Pruitt alludes to this fundamental understanding of the Constitution and the framers’ intentions to protect citizens from government overreach.
On the Sunday morning talk shows the old argument between these two political views came to this: Is the law the law, or do we change our understanding of the law because we are living in dangerous times?
Pruitt told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the government has no business monitoring the AP’s newsgathering activities: “And if they restrict that apparatus … the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know and that’s not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment.”
W. Cleon Skousen wrote in The 5000 Year Leap (National Center for Constitutional Studies, 2006) page 165: “The Founders looked upon “government” as a volatile instrument of explosive power which must necessarily be harnessed within the confines of a strictly interpreted constitution.” Or as George Washington put it “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
Mr. Pruitt is correct, the framers intended for the government to be in shackles, not the people.
~Lorraine NewmanIntent of the Framers
For an interesting read on the history of progressive thought and the constitution: Herman Belz: A Living Constitution of Fundamental Law?