It has been popular over the last century to defend populist causes with a fluid interpretation of the Constitution. Attempts to find support for everything from abortion to welfare have been based on a “loose” interpretation of our founding document. This is actually as old as the document itself. Thomas Jefferson demanded a strict interpretation until he became president and loosened up for the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. For decades the largest constitutional battle was over a national bank. With our long history of the Federal Reserve and FDIC insurance we find this surprising, but the battle over this was of great constitutional significance. The problem was that the Constitution does not give Congress the power to create corporations, so according to the strict interpretation based on the Tenth Amendment only states could charter banks. Eventually this battle was dropped as more pressing problems came to the fore—like the Civil War. With the obliteration of the Tenth Amendment during reconstruction those demanding a strict interpretation of the Constitution were forced to retreat.
A loose interpretation of the Constitution is a common tool of movements and politicians to circumvent the difficult process of amendment and prevent a Judicial overturn of popular programs. When striving to create a program or policy in violation of the Constitution it is far easier to reinterpret the Constitution than to amend it. This reinterpretation is made possible by the intricacies of language; languages naturally change over time. New words come in; archaic words drop out; several words change meaning or nuance—even taking on the opposite meaning. This makes it possible for a person to read an old document, frozen in linguistic time, and to use new meanings to either change or cloud the original intent.
Reinterpretation in this way violates the founders’ intent by making the government subservient to the language. The founders created a precise document laying out limits and powers because they had already lived under an “unwritten” Constitution. England’s Constitution was a collection of Common Laws, many unwritten and only supported by precedence. Rights under the English Constitution are legislated—defined and protected by the laws. Rights under our Constitution are ordained—recognized as coming from God and inviolable. In a fluid Constitution there is no protection for rights, because as needs change the interpretation changes and the laws change, what was a right yesterday may be legislated or interpreted away.
Only a strict interpretation based on the original intent of the founders will protect our rights and freedoms. A fluid Constitution is impossible to support or follow because, like nailing Jell-O to the wall, it is a moving target without structure or permanent definition. One simple consideration is oaths of allegiance. In other countries soldiers take an oath to the monarch, to the government or perhaps to the nation itself. When an American soldier takes the oath of service he begins by swearing to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This document that every soldier swears to defend is not the piece of parchment it is written on—though it is of great value. The Constitution is the words written on it and, according to the nature of written language, the meaning of those words. If we adopt new meanings words and reject the original intent then the document is put into flux. In this type of a scenario the document I swore to defend in my enlistment in 1984 could be a very different document from the one I swore to defend at my re-enlistment in 1988. In its most extreme exercise the document one swears to defend may cease to exist the next day or next minute.
Our nation has been served well for two centuries by a document that has stood the test of time. While demonstrating peaceful government of the people, the US Constitution has inspired scores of nations to demand and secure their own freedom. The only threat to our Constitution is from within. If we allow our elected officials to get away with changing the Constitution to support whatever feels good or gets votes, then we have destroyed the very foundation upon which our freedoms stand.