Friday, 8 July 2011

Constitutional Success

Lorianne Updike Toler

How does one measure the success of a constitution?

It is one thing for a constitution to be popularly accepted upon its inception, even by a majority of the people.  But a good constitution stands the test of time, thereby creating long-term economic, cultural, and political stability.

In speaking on the topic this last week at the Landsdowne Club, I argued this point: constitutions should be judged by its active acceptance by the people over time.  In short, by its longevity.

By this measure of success, the British, American, and Norwegian constitutions are by far the most successful.  Yet if one is looking to write a constitution, the American is the best, most successful example, as the Brit's constitution is not written, and the Norwegian was patterned after ours.

Take two recent articles and the furor they have produced: Time Magazine's cover editorial by x-Constitution Center head Richard Stengel, One Document, Under Siege, wherein he discusses modern-day constitutional issues, and E.J. Dionne's July 4th editorial, What Our Declaration Really Said, wherein Dionne excoriates the Tea Party for misrepresenting the Constitution.  The latter has attracted no fewer than 3,000 comments and both have spawned endless email forwards and blog posts like this.  Regardless of the merit or non-merits of the arguments made (not to mention the hopefully innocent inaccurate and cursory legal and historical arguments throughout), these editorials and the responses they  elicited speak to a fundamental attachment to the American Constitution by parties and individuals of all political stripes.

Several elements of the American Constitution are admittedly antiquated, including the prohibition against "corruptions of blood" (sounds gruesome, but simply means that criminal punishments cannot injure multiple generations).  Yet not only is the basic structure of government laid out by its strictures still in operation, it is integral to the identity of many, many Americans.

If constitutional success is measured by the length of the people's embrace, the U.S. Constitution can be measured a smashing success.

What do *you* think?

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