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Now that I am a federal plaintiff and pro se litigator, with a viable case asserting my First Amendment rights, I view the Constitution in a new light. It is no longer just an ancient abstract document to me. It is as contemporary and relevant as a real estate lease or contract. I have a vested interest in this supreme law, and so do you.
A copy of The Constitution has been sitting on my table for years, but reading it raw was of little interest. It requires other material to give it context. So, I have been studying up.
The Constitution was ratified and went into effect in 1789 (You can remember that because it is consecutive numbers: 7,8, and 9). Officially, it was just an amendment to The Articles of Confederation that were enacted in 1781, shortly after the colonies defeated the British in the Revolutionary War.
However, The Articles of Confederation were toothless because they did not form a powerful federal government with a currency. The lack of financing, and the unwillingness of states to pay taxes, led to a bankrupt nation that could not even pay its soldiers. Spain and France stopped doing business with the United States, and Barbary pirates raided our ships.
The Constitution took two-years to draft after the Constitutional Convention was started in 1787. Seventy-four delegates were chosen to shape the new supreme law. They became known as the “Founding Fathers” (along with the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and led the war). Some of the most famous ones actually did not attend the convention. Notably, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock were not in attendance.
The men who are given the most credit for getting the Constitution ratified are Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. They wrote the Federalist papers in New York, which were key to swaying the votes.
The Founding Fathers relied heavily on several political philosophers to shape The Constitution. John Locke, an English lawyer who lived nearly 100-years prior to The Constitutional Convention, is responsible for the concept that the politicians serve only by the consent of the people; that power is not inherited through royalty. Montesquieu, a French lawyer of Locke’s era, is responsible for The Constitution’s bicameral congress and divided government with checks and balances. Finally, Sir Edward Coke, an English lawyer and judge from the 1600’s, is responsible for the concept of the civil liberties seen in the Bill of Rights section of The Constitution. The Magna Carta of 1215 and common law also heavily influence The Constitution.
The Bill of Rights is what the typical non-lawyer citizen of the United States should focus on. It guarantees your civil liberties and rights.
Because it was so difficult to get The Constitution ratified by the disparate colonies, the original document was sparse, due to compromise. Amendments later on were always planned, and the ten amendments of The Bill of Rights were ratified in 1791. James Madison is credited as being the chief author. There are now 27 amendments in all: many of them coming after the Civil War and relate to voting rights or slavery.
The rest of The Constitution is of more relevant interest to lawyers and elected officials. It spells out how the government should run, and which law federal and state courts can review. The federal courts were designed to be strictly limited to only certain cases, leaving power in the states.
Sadly, as I was reading about the Bill of Rights and rest of The Constitution, I realized that our local and federal governments rarely abide by it. For examples, the right to due process is often ignored. In The Bronx, criminal trials are delayed so long that the right to a speedy trial is violated. Bronx is not an outlier. The accused are often denied due process (and let’s not even get into the controversies of Guantanamo Bay detainees).
In Rikers Island, or any other prison for that matter, excessive violence, rape, solitary confinement, and murder violate the Eighth Amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara investigated and the DOJ concluded that Rikers is a cesspool of constitutional violations.
Also violating the Eighth Amendment is the growing trend of some local courts to slap large bail on people arrested for misdemeanors, who happen to be poor, and then become incarcerated for long periods of time. Many of them are completely innocent to begin with, but the jailings destroy their careers and cause them to lose child custody.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits governments from searching your person or home, or seizing your property, unreasonably, without a warrant. Since 9/11/2001, The Patriot Act has obliterated this right.
Most people by now know about the NSA, FBI, and CIA spying on regular citizens, revealed by Ed Snowden. However, did you know that throughout the country, small-town police forces are routinely stealing cash from people when cops pull them over for small traffic violations? The cash pays the expenses of the police agencies. That is the type of thing that happens in Russia (which is why everyone drives with a video camera running), but should not happen in the United States. Former Attorney General Eric Holder finally addressed this problem by slightly cutting back, but don’t go flashing large wads of money around local country bumpkin sheriffs in Texas.
Finally, the way in which this nation elects presidents violates The Constitution. Two omnipotent political parties, which operate as “clubs” and are thus beyond the law, able to change the rules willy nilly, with unaccountable “Super Delegates”, were neither envisioned by the Founding Fathers nor permitted by The Constitution. Virtually every president other than George Washington has been elected due to illegal rigging of the delegate system. John Kennedy defeated Nixon only by having corrupt Chicagoans use the names of dead people to vote. Even “Honest Abe” Lincoln was elected by delegate shenanigans.
This country is at a watershed moment. We are witnessing a peaceful revolution as voters reject establishment candidates and support outsiders, like Bernie Sanders and Donald trump. Fortunately, we have not yet seen a president who blatantly refuses to leave office and tries to become a dictator, but it could easily happen. The only thing preventing it is The Constitution, but it has been eroded bit by bit.
The Constitution is now routinely ignored. At this rate, pretty soon some president will realize that it is just an inanimate piece of paper with no military to back it up.
Every time a civil right is violated without repercussions, it emboldens the next President of The United States to push the envelope even farther. George W. Bush trampled upon the Fourth Amendment with the Patriot Act spying. President Obama left that in place, and is now engaging in drone warfare, killing people without trials, and violating sovereign air space and treaties.
Every time the Articles of The Constitution are violated, it emboldens the next president to go one further. We have seen one dubious presidential election after the other, with George W. Bush’s controversial Florida vote in 2000, and Hillary Clinton rigging the Democratic primaries New York primary in 2016. We have seen congress abuse the filibuster and block legislation or appointments, leading to “recess appointments” and executive orders. None of this is how The Constitution dictates the government to run.
If The Constitution continues to be ignored by an ignorant society, which it will, then it is just a matter of time before the United States becomes a nation led by an elite permanent ruling class of billionaires, like Russia and China. And the American state-sponsored media, controlled by the White House, will allow it all to happen.