Sammy Wrae (sammywrae) wrote in westwingdebate,
Sammy Wrae
sammywrae
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Debate #2 - The Constitution

(If I am not meant to be start detbates, do tell me and I will cease and stop!)

Is the Constitution a good or a bad thing?


We don't appear to have one over here. I could be wrong, but I think that the laws are just made up as they go along (for want of a better phrase) and a law can not be stopped on the basis that it goes against the "user manual".

And honestly I think we are better off for it. Because times change, and society should change with them. Something that is written two hundred years ago might not apply any more. For example what if the UK Consitution had a section saying that the practicing of religions other than Christianity was punishable by death? Nowadays that is unacceptable, but 200 years ago I am pretty sure no one would have minded.

And once it is written in stone (so to speak) it is impossible to get rid of. Prohibition is an example of that. The US Constitution still contains the 18th amendment that started prohibition - it couldn't be removed. Another amendment had to be added to fix the problem.

All in all I think the Foudning Fathers made a big mistake in having one.

Anyone disagree?
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You are exactly right... BUT, remember that they were taking many states and trying to bring them under one roof, just like what the EU is trying to do, and what are the EU putting together to bring the 20 or so ountries of Europe together, a constitution. Now reading your ideas on a constitution in general I would assume you disagree with this process, which is fair enough, but with so many different cultures, practices and differential laws, to bring all these countries/states in line, something has to be drawn up.
Not to quote Sam Seabourne (sp?) but the moment you list the rights that someone has, you do two things. First you make it harder to remove those rights from them in the future, and secondly you make it harder to give them the rights that are not listed there - or at least make those rights harder to get.

I am not so niave as to believe that you can unite the whole of a country (or the whole of Europe) without some framework to do so, but what seems right now might not be in the future (the 2nd Amendment for example) and putting it down in stone is a bad, bad idea.
Of course, your exactly right, these rules need to be binding but flexible for socio-economic changes over time, but not so flexible that any country (in the EU example) or State (US) can change them at will. For example the new EU legislature is serious cracking down on France for using the EU as its own private piggy bank under the previous system. The ability of France to be able to do this previously uncontested in the past was becaue rules and checks were not stringent enough to stop them. The setting up of the draft-constitution has meant that many countries are now telling them to slow down. This will hopefully give the EU more credibility and remove the impression of the EU as France and Germany's plaything.

BTW, I too find many problems with the constitution, if you want I can put them in a post as well, but at present I'm just playing devils advocate :)

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But by saying "you shall have these rights in perpetuaty" (which might not be spelt right, btw) you are declaring them as sacrosanct and unbreakable. The 2nd amendment is a perfect example of this.

Declaring that someone has a right, in a written document that can not be changed, means that that right exists forever. Which is a really, really bad idea. Because some rights are no longer suitable for a modern era. Imagine, if you will, that the US Constitution had said "The right of a parent to send their child out to work down the mines shall not be impinged as it is necessary for the benifit of the economy". Now does this mean it would be against the law for the government to stop someone sending their kid down the mine? Or would there be huge debates and changes to add an ammendment to remove this right - which at some time in the past was considered part of natural law - because we accept that making kids work down the mines is just wrong nowadays?

Enforcing good laws on people is as dangerous as enforcing bad laws on them. And putting it down in writing is very dangerous indeed. Which is what a constitution does.

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Ok - I am really not a Constitutional scholar. But I am guessing you figured that out already :}

However - and this is all based on stuff from The West Wing, because although it is only a TV show it is pretty much the only source I have at the moment - "laws must eminate from the Constitution" (The Short List). So even if - as you say - the constitution is about principles and the law is about specifics, all the laws must be based on the principles.

Which is a dangerous idea. Because - as I said - what might seem a good idea two centuries ago might not seem such a good idea now.

You cited the second amendment as a good example. But if you look at it the other way - an amendment that was enacted to stop the British coming in to someone's town and taking over (the need for a well regulated militia) has turned into the right for anyone to carry a gun. And given that there are street lights and police officers and so forth, the odds of someone taking over a town in America is somewhat less than it was in the days of Washington and Jefferson. (I am also not an expert on American history either btw). Whether or not it was meant to indicate that no one knows, because the people who wrote it are long since dead, and now it is in the hands of politicians (and judges, appointed by politicians) who have an agenda that is not necessarily the good of the country (but that is another debate entirely)

And the perspective of stripping away rights is purely in the eye of the beholder. The proposed amendment to ban gay marriages is a perfect exapmle. You ask one person and they say "this amendment will ensure the continuation of a normal, stable family that supports the values of decent Americans" - it is not taking away any rights but is putting in a right that the sanctitiy of marriage will not be destroyed. But you ask another person and it is legislative gay-bashing - stripping away the right to happyness for a fair amount of the population.
Now which ever side of the fence you are on in the gay-marriage debate, using the Constitution to decide the issue would pretty much put it in stone for the time being, taking away any hope of having it removed. I can't see that as ever being a good thing.

And in the same line of thought - I don't want the government to take away any of my rights. I like my rights as they are. But if you have a rule book that says "In these United States it is illegal for a man to marry a man" that is EXACTLY what the government has done - taken away the right to marry the person you are in love with.

For point three I was being hypothetical - I didn't think that they would write "you can kill your child" in to it :} But if Amendment 19 said "the government shall not impinge on the right for a parent to send their child to work in whatever job the parent sees fit" then - if I am right about the way American law works (and along with my other stuff I am not a lawyer!) a state could not produce a law that would ban it, because that law would be unconstitutional. So the amendment would then have to be overturned (as in the case of the 18th and the 21st I think) rather than people just being able to make a law. Another limitation.

Finally - this

In 1787, there was a sizable block of delegates who were initially opposed to the Bill of Rights. One member of the Georgia delegation had to stay by way of opposition: If we list the set of rights, some fools in the future are going to claim that people are entitled only to those rights enumerated and no longer. (Again - The Short List)