('76 Contributor) Our great nation faces a crisis, as threatening as Pearl Harbor or Southern secession… and more pernicious because self-inflicted: too many in government have made promises that we cannot keep; too many citizens expect, even demand, more than we have to give.
Editor: Colorado business entrepreneur and civic leader Terry Considine made these remarks in accepting a lifetime award from the Leadership Program of the Rockies, which he helped found in 1987. He spoke on Feb. 24 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs to hundreds of current and former class members in LPR’s annual course on applying America’s founding principles in contemporary politics. Considine is also a member of the Centennial Institute Business Council and a CCU trustee.
In one sense, this is a simple problem, a matter of arithmetic. Government undertakings, both federal debt and unfunded entitlements, approach $100 trillion, far, far more than we can ever hope to pay. Their weight burdens economic growth. Their failure will disappoint those who rely on them. Their resolution may well require a ruinous inflation.
A century of expansion of government is failing economically because, as Lady Thatcher wisely noted, “eventually, you run out of other people’s money”. Today, “government efficiency” is widely seen as an oxymoron… and as the punch line to wry observations that society just does not work as well today as it once did… before the cancerous growth of laws and regulations, bureaucracy and public employee unions, taxes and government controls.
In a deeper sense, our crisis is not our economics, but our values. We stand seduced by the unworthy hope to reap where we did not sow, to spend what we did not earn. What are we thinking when we believe what never was and never can be: that we are “entitled” to such benefits as unlimited and “free” health care? Or home prices that do not go down? Or business cycles that only go up?
Wilsonian faith in “government by experts” has undermined the characteristic American values of hard work and self-reliance, prudence and thrift. Wanting something-for-nothing, we turn away from the truer faith in our families and ourselves. The very offer and acceptance of these “entitlements” diminish our dignity as independent and self-governing individuals, made in the image and likeness of God.
Government grown too large, divorced from the discipline of free markets, can never be efficient.
Government grown too large, founded on the inherent coercion of the state, cannot be compassionate in any true sense.
Government grown too large, intruding on personal autonomy, makes hollow our boast to be proud and free.
Such government will always overreach and will always fail. We saw it two decades ago in the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union. We see it now in the travails of Greece and the European Union. And I fear that we may see it here “soon and very soon”, as the Gospel song has it.
There will be hardships aplenty when we confront the futility and collapse of utopian fantasies. But, it can also be a time of revival. We can say “enough” to “TARPs” and “stimulus” and “bailouts”. We can say “enough” to subsidies, whether “green” or farm, whether for your business or mine. We can say “enough” to mindless regulation and IRS intrusion. We can end the magical thinking that we are “entitled”. We can turn again to that older creed, to what we know as common sense gained from experience and tradition, to our historic belief in Constitutional restraint and limited government, free markets and free people, individual liberty and personal responsibility, faith and family.
Then, in that hard time, there will be need for the men and women of LPR, and for those who are likeminded. We will have need of you if you hold public office…and also in your higher office as private citizen, where you can influence the political process and make more important contributions in the private, voluntary sector by building a business, helping a neighbor, raising a family.
You will be our leaders…and you will be pressured to acquiesce and compromise and postpone. You will be tempted to “grow in office”.
In those difficult times, we cannot be certain of success, but we can be true to our deepest beliefs. Then, as our Founding Father George Washington spoke in the Constitutional Convention, we can hope to say: “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hands of God.”
My hope, in fact my prayer tonight, is that at that time of trial you will call to mind what you learn here; that you will be well-grounded, knowing what you believe and why you believe it; that with conviction, you will have courage to do what is needed and what is right; that with faith in your fellow citizens, you will trust in the ability of each to manage his own affairs; that in those dire circumstances, you will stay true and rise to the moment, fighting the good fight, finishing the race, keeping the faith.
When Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that the state will appeal a Denver court’s ruling that the state inadequately funds education, he acknowledged what Judge Sheila Rappaport — and previously the Colorado Supreme Court — would not: money is a finite resource, even when it’s spent on worthy causes and when it’s spent by government.
The state legislature allocates $4.3 billion to educate more than 800,000 students — just under $6,500 each — in K-12 public schools. According to the Colorado Department of Education, other sources bring that total to a statewide average of nearly $13,000, as of 2009-10.
Over two years ago, the supreme court ruled, in a contentious 4-3 decision, that a lower court should entertain claims brought by a group of parents and school districts that the state constitution’s call for a “thorough and uniform” system of free public schools should be interpreted to require a specific funding amount.
That lawsuit, Lobato vs. Colorado, reverted back to Rappaport’s courtroom, albeit with instructions that “the trial court must give substantial deference to the legislature’s fiscal and policy judgments.”
Rappaport’s decision, however, offered no such deference. Her ruling reads like a brief for the plaintiffs — not like a judgment that gives even a modicum of respect to the legislature’s constitutional authority to fund public schools or, more broadly, to adopt a state budget.
She condescendingly dismissed the state’s arguments, while fawning over various creative claims and tendentious documents provided by the Lobato plaintiffs, leading to these incredible conclusions:
* “[T]he entire system of public school finance . . . is not rationally related to the mandate of the Education Clause.”
* “There is not one school district that is sufficiently funded.”
* “Current economic conditions . . . have made an unworkable situation unconscionable. But Colorado’s history of irrational and inadequate school funding goes back over two decades.”
If irrationality is a disqualifier, then Rappaport’s decision is on thin ice.
For example, she consults the dictionary to accurately define “rational,” “irrational” and “relationship” because the Supreme Court used those terms in remanding the case. She does not, however, provide that same level of analysis to ascertain what Colorado’s founders intended when wrote, “[T]he general assembly shall . . . provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state . . .” (emphasis added).
Because “thorough” and “uniform” appear in the state constitution — unlike “rational,” “irrational” and “relationship” — a judge seeking to objectively apply the law might want to know if those terms dictate a necessary and quantifiable level of spending.
Of course, they do not. An earlier supreme court said, “We are unable to find any historical background to glean guidance regarding the intention of the framers.”
Rappaport adopts the Lobato plaintiffs’ argument that, because lawmakers have implemented a means of measuring schools’ and students’ performance against quantifiable expectations, the state is obligated to radically increase funding, perhaps to nearly double current levels.
Her ruling rests on the plaintiffs’ creative assertion that a specific funding mandate is created by the convergence of standards and assessments, the constitution’s “thorough and uniform” clause, and the constitutional stipulation that local school boards control instruction.
She never mentions “emanations and penumbras,” but clearly Judge Rappaport, like judicial activists before her, is blessed with a rare talent entrusted to only a select cadre of law school graduates — the ability to interpret words that aren’t there.
In a final flurry of irrationality, Rappaport strikes down the state’s school finance law and orders a new system of funding, but she concludes the order by allowing this “inadequate,” “irrational,” “unconscionable” finance system to continue, pending further action by the Supreme Court.
In announcing the state’s appeal, Gov. Hickenlooper observed: “There are more appropriate venues (than a courtroom) for a vigorous and informed public debate about the state’s spending priorities.”
Yes, and, more rational, too.
Mark Hillman served as Colorado treasurer and senate majority leader. He is now a Centennial Institute Fellow and Colorado's Republican National Committeeman. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.
('76 Editor) I believe that Colorado taxpayers and the federal government are spending enough, if not too much, on education. I believe schooling would be more effective if competition, choice, market forces, and parental control were more prevalent. And I believe we would be a freer and better-educated society if at some point, decades from now, government no longer operated or subsidized schools in any way. Since the 1990s, in fact, I have been signatory on a vision statement to that effect.
I was summoned to a Colorado court to testify on the first of those three beliefs, and on nothing else, in connection with the Lobato lawsuit alleging that state aid to local school districts is unconstitutionally low. While on the stand, I was asked about the Separation of School and State vision statement, and confirmed my adherence to it. But I said not a word to suggest it has anything to do with who is right or wrong in the Lobato case - because it doesn't.
For reasons known only to herself, however, the judge in this case, Sheila Rappaport, thundered against my "extreme" views in her Dec. 9 opinion holding for the plaintiffs. At the bottom of this post is an excerpt from the Dec. 11 Denver Post story, giving the details. After musing on this bizarre outburst from the bench, I would observe the following:
1- Intellectually, Judge Rappaport missed the whole point of my testimony, which was to affirm the current school finance act, not to advocate change as any kind.
2- Judicially, the judge dropped her impartiality in ranting at me over a personal opinion unrelated to the case before her.
3- And historically, the judge seems oblivious to the massive evidence that our country's 1800s ideal of tax-supported common schools, woven into the local community and open to all, has worked ever less well as it became ever more politicized, centralized, bureaucratized, and unionized. While it may be disputable, as of 2011, to question the article of faith that higher spending is all we need to reach educational nirvana, to do so is hardly "extreme" as Sheila Rappaport indignantly alleges.
How, I wonder, did she become so enraged at me on no provocation whatsoever? You almost have to feel sorry for someone entrusted with the vast power of this judge on this case, who manages to be so wrong, so far off base, indeed so far off the reservation - intellectually, judicially, and historically - as Ms. Rappaport has shown herself to be with this gratuitous slam at someone who came before her to testify calmly, reasonably, mildly, and altogether on point.
Here is an excerpt from the 12/11/11 Denver Post story:
Denver judge's ruling on school funding levels blisters state's witnesses
In declaring Colorado's school finance system "significantly underfunded," Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport rejected virtually every argument presented by the state's star witnesses in a five-week trial this year over school funding levels. Rappaport's ruling, issued Friday, blasted the state's level of school funding as "unconscionable" and not meeting the requirement in the Education Clause of the Colorado Constitution of a "thorough and uniform" system of public education.
Rappaport saved her fiercest criticism for former state Senate president John Andrews, a Centennial Republican, who testified for the state, calling his views on education "extreme."
"Sen. Andrews' vision for the future is a separation of schools and state similar to the separation of church and state in our nation," the judge said. "He has signed a pledge calling for the end of government involvement in education. He reveres the educational system we had in this country in the 1700s because there were few government-operated schools. He fails to mention that our schools did not educate whole segments of the population, including women and people of color, at that time."
Former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky, in her Oct. 24 Denver Post piece “Keep integrity of courts,” disappointingly banged on the political drum to draw attention away from the voters’ interest in finding out how three Colorado Supreme Court justices, who each want 10 more years on the bench, have been deciding constitutional cases. The exaggerated commentary demonized Clear the Bench Colorado (“CTBC”) for taking to task three justices whose performance has been substandard. Contrary to the political charges, CTBC is actually concerned with the three justices’ takeover of the Colorado Constitution. The real issue that “Keep integrity” failed to mention is this: Are Colorado Supreme Court justices answerable to the voters of Colorado for failing to follow Colorado’s Constitution in cases that affect the lives of every citizen, or not? While our merit selection and performance evaluation system is the right system for Colorado, experience has revealed a material weakness. Our lower courts are answerable for their decisions to the higher courts, but our Supreme Court has not been held accountable for its unrestrained constitutional law decisions. Increasingly, decisions are handed down that are contrary to the plain language and obvious intent of Colorado’s Constitution. The result has been a progressive judicial takeover of the Colorado Constitution.
Despite the growing problem, the “Keep integrity” piece peddles the Blue Book state voter guide as the place to go for judicial recommendations. The Blue Book recommendations in favor of the three justices are the product of the entity entrusted with evaluating supreme court performance; namely, the State Commission on Judicial Performance (“the Commission”) of which I was a member in 2005 and 2006. (To my knowledge, there has never been a recommendation against retaining a Colorado Supreme Court justice!) When one compares the Commission’s perfunctory recommendations to CTBC’s civics project, one sees that CTBC is intent on improving our judicial system at the top. CTBC brings the most relevant job performance information to voters so they will have a basis upon which to judge the 3 justices for themselves.
Instead of being diverted by the red herring of politics, we need to be mindful of the real issue. Should voters in Colorado have anything to say about how their supreme court justices handle the Constitution? Of course they should: the Constitution belongs to the people.
(From Investor's Business Daily 9/17) Constitution Day — Sept. 17, the day 39 delegates to the 1787 Philadelphia Convention signed and submitted to Congress (under the Articles of Confederation) a new constitution for consideration — used to be familiar to many Americans. But as the Constitution's authority has faded in our public life, its birthday has faded too.
Don't think the authority of the Constitution is ignored? Consider the irony of today, Constitution Day:
In a 2004 spending bill, Sen. Robert Byrd attached a mandate that every educational institution accepting federal funds must sponsor a Constitution Day program. But the Constitution nowhere authorizes Congress to tell schools what they must teach. Nor does it authorize Congress to fund educational institutions — that's supposed to be the job of state and local governments, or the private sector.
Constitution Day, as now enshrined in federal law and celebrated by colleges and universities under threat of that law, is arguably unconstitutional.
So what happened? The Constitution has suffered two blistering critiques, both of which undermine its integrity: First, the Constitution is outdated, no longer relevant for modern America. Second, it is racist and immoral because it offered protection for Negro slavery.
Progressives leveled the first charge more than a century ago; the second became the battle cry of the modern civil-rights movement. Well-educated, well-intentioned, public-spirited men and women who wanted to advance justice, as they understood it, progressives and civil rights activists took aim at the Constitution.
From their point of view, the greatest political good is "social justice," meaning an egalitarian redistribution of wealth coupled with an inegalitarian distribution of civil rights, all supervised by bureaucratic experts whose interest is, allegedly, the public good rather than their own. The Constitution, by this measure, is an impediment to justice and therefore bad.
This is why Woodrow Wilson, among the most impressive of the progressives and the first president to hold a Ph.D., criticized the Constitution as "political witchcraft." He argued that the Constitution should be understood as a "living" document whose meaning evolves with time. In its original form, the Constitution was an instrument of evil, designed to keep America frozen in the icy environs of 18th-century racism and favoritism for the rich. For progressives, originalism is regressivism.
Persuaded that the Constitution is fundamentally defective, all three branches of government today violate it, routinely, usually by exercising powers nowhere found in the Constitution. And what does government say about this? The executive and legislative branches typically don't say much about the Constitution, because they don't need to (unless a liberal president risks impeachment, then even the most progressive politicians fret over the original intent of "high crimes and misdemeanors").
Congress doesn't need any progressive theory of a "living" constitution to do its work. It needs only a majority vote. The president doesn't even need that. He needs only a pen to sign a bill into law, regardless of its constitutionality. Exhibit A: ObamaCare.
The judiciary is different. Often it cannot avoid confronting the Constitution because of its peculiar job, judging constitutional disputes and explaining those judgments in written opinions. This has led to a new industry in our law schools, where progressive scholars invent fantastic interpretations of the Constitution used by progressive judges to extract progressive results from the very unprogressive language of the Constitution.
But those who pervert or ignore the Constitution all of a sudden find themselves seeking cover from political attacks. Circumstances have combined — political, economic and military — providing a window of opportunity to highlight the Constitution and its conspicuous absence in public policy and law.
Waiving Constitution banners at "tea parties," however, isn't enough. The Constitution is in need of a moral and intellectual defense. It needs teachers of constitutionalism.
To be effective, that defense must persuade the public mind and the public's representatives that the progressive and civil rights critiques have been answered and fully refuted, a tall task yet to be done. The critiques of the Constitution run deep, informed by sophisticated evolutionary theories of human nature and backed by intelligentsia who populate our universities and influence public opinion.
Constitutional apologists, therefore, are in need of study and learning. Only then can we teach. But if we can teach Americans why critics are wrong and why the Constitution is good and deserves to be defended — with our lives, fortunes and sacred honor, if necessary — we celebrate Constitution Day in a fitting way, by helping "we the people" deserve the Constitution bequeathed to us by the Fathers of 1787.
Thomas Krannawitter teaches politics at Colorado Christian University and is a Centennial Institute Fellow. The author of Vindicating Lincoln: Defending the Politics of Our Greatest President, he joined the CCU faculty this fall after teaching for five years at Hillsdale College. This article appeared first in Investors Business Daily.
(Denver Post, July 4) Hecklers, on guard. On this Independence Day, in a stormy election year when Americans are out of sorts, I’m fool enough to mount a soapbox and orate upon the proposition that “politics” should be an honored word, not a dirty word, in our vocabulary.
Politics deserves its bad name, you scoff. It’s a hustle wherein we are lied to and led on, defrauded and dumped on. H. L. Mencken nailed it, you say, when he groused that an election is but an advance auction of stolen goods. Will Rogers was right that just as “con” is the opposite of “pro,” so Congress is the opposite of progress. Fie upon the politicians, the parties, and all their tribe.
I concede your indictment up to a point. But before you let fly with the rotten vegetables, remember that the Greek derivation of POLITICS, 2500 years and counting, simply denotes those things concerning the community, or CITY, and its individual members, or CITIZENS. Can we write off those things? Not unless we’re prepared to live in solitude as hermits or in servitude as slaves. I’ll take my chances with politics, messy as it is.
Like any human endeavor, politics can be done in a noble way or a base way. July 4 commemorates the noblest political moment of all – our nation’s birth in genius, blood, and fire. But the Fourth also looks forward, reminding us how timeless our political challenges are across the centuries, powdered wigs and parchments aside.
Prove it to yourself today by reading quickly through the Declaration of Independence. The Framers, after a lofty opening argument on “laws of nature” and “self-evident truths,” enumerate specific grievances like hammer-blows to pound home the case for change. They deliver (speaking of indictments) a 27-count rap sheet convicting king and parliament of intolerable misrule.
It’s as gritty as a police blotter and, at many points, as current as this hour’s 9News crawl. You’ll notice amazing relevance of these issues from 234 summers ago, into a 2010 campaign over whether Betsy Markey and the Democrats or Cory Gardner and the Republicans control Congress; whether Colorado’s legislature stays with the Dems under Sen. Brandon Shaffer or shifts to the GOP under Sen. Mike Kopp.
Jot a number by each itemized act of tyranny, and follow along with my examples. Taxation without consent, top of the Cliff Notes but only Item 17 for the revolutionaries, remains a flashpoint for TABOR defenders today. Immigration and ill-defended borders, Items 7 and 27, fester still as the Arizona model beckons many Coloradans.
Bureaucratic bloat with “swarms of officers to harass our people,” Item 10, will be a target as McInnis or Maes battles Hickenlooper for governor. Judicial impartiality and accountability, Items 8 and 9, will animate this year’s Clear the Bench campaign. Redistricting, Item 3, will polarize next year’s legislature.
Correlating the colonists’ complaints to issues in present-day Washington is equally easy. Civil-military jealousies, Item 12; federalism, Item 2; trade, Item 16; and counter-terrorism laxity allowing “merciless savages” to plot “undistinguished destruction,” Item 27, all have their 2010 counterparts.
As the Bible observes, there’s nothing new under the sun. Ever since Samuel warned the Israelites in 1100 BC that they would regret forsaking decentralized rule under the judges for a centralized monarchy – because taxes might hit 10 percent! – the struggle between limited and unlimited government has raged.
Peruse the magnificent Declaration for five minutes before you sleep tonight, and you’ll know what the men and women of 1776 knew: Politics matters inescapably. Unchecked, political power will “eat out our substance” and “reduce us under absolute despotism.” But harnessed to “the consent of the governed,” it can uphold both liberty and community. The choice is ours.
On February 11, 1861, Abraham Lincoln began his trip from Illinois to the nation’s capital for his inauguration as the country’s’ 16th President. When he left Illinois, seven southern states had already seceded from the Union, with four more to follow.
Lincoln took a somewhat circuitous route, first going through Indiana, Ohio and western Pennsylvania, before turning north, going to Buffalo, Albany and New York City. Ten days later, on February 21st, he arrived in Philadelphia, home of Independence Hall—where both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were ratified.
The following morning, Lincoln left his hotel very early in the morning and rode by carriage to deliver two speeches. The second speech was to honor the raising of a new flag, with 34 stars, the new star marking the inclusion of Kansas into the Union.
Lincoln’s first speech was made at the request of Theodore L. Cuyler, president of the Select Council of Philadelphia at Independence Hall. In his speech, Lincoln reflected on the Founders of ´76, who courageously declared their independence, and asserted the “self-evident truths” upon which our nation was founded.
Just as with the Gettysburg address, Lincoln’s remarks were brief yet timeless. In an earlier speech, he famously stated that everything had a “central idea” from which all else emanates. For Lincoln, the “central idea” of America was the Declaration of Independence. In his February 22, 1861 speech, he returns to this theme of the centrality of the Declaration, both for the nation and for himself.
It is fitting that we reflect on Lincoln’s words again this Independence Day. The following is a transcript of his speech as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer:
I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live. You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. I can say in return, Sir, that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall.
I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men.
This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.
Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, there need be no bloodshed and war. There is no necessity for it. I am not in favor of such a course, and I may say, in advance, that there will be no bloodshed unless it be forced upon the Government, and then it will be compelled to act in self-defence.
My friends, this is wholly an unexpected speech, and I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here. I supposed it was merely to do something toward raising the flag. I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet. (Cries of "No, no") I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by and, if it be the pleasure of Almighty God, die by.
(Centennial Fellow) As we observe the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence this Fourth of July, we should consider the unique form of government for which our Founding Fathers chose to risk “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” against the militarily-superior British. The definitive passage in the Declaration reads: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." In these 57 words, the Founders established that: • Our rights -- better understood as "freedoms" -- are given to us by a power higher than government. No matter what you believe about creation or evolution, you must acknowledge that government did not give us life. • Government's legitimate purpose is to protect the rights of the people. Just as government did not give us life, it did not give us our rights. • Government's legitimate powers are limited to only those given to it by the people. "The whole point was to show how government might arise legitimately, not to assume its existence," writes constitutional scholar Roger Pilon in "The Purpose and Limits of Government" published by Cato Institute. Pilon's insights are particularly useful because, as a libertarian, he does not advance a religious conservative agenda. Yet he acknowledges that the Founders' common view of "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" provide the cornerstone for all that follows: We hold these truths to be self-evident.... The signers of the Declaration didn't negotiate and compromise to define truth. They agreed that certain fundamental truths were obvious. For example: ...That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... In that each of us exists because of the same creative process, the rights to which each of us are entitled are necessarily equal. Such rights are best understood as freedom from interference, whether by government or by other people which, of course, implies that others are entitled to be free from our interference. Freedom encompasses not simply the opportunity to make choices but the responsibility for those choices. Freedom does not mean that, because my choice seems superior, I can bend others to my will through the power of government, nor does it mean that when I make an irresponsible choice I am immune from consequences. ...That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Once the Founders established a broad universe of rights, they discussed government, its sole purpose to protect those rights. Again it is imperative to understand "rights" as freedoms — not as an entitlement taken at the expense of another. When government legitimately protects our freedom, it simply does that which we have a right to do ourselves. By contrast, government does not act legitimately if it secures my rights by taking the life, liberty or property of someone else. When the rights of two people may conflict and neither can fully exercise freedom without adversely affecting the other, the Founders reasoned that in these circumstances, the boundaries between competing rights ought to be drawn by the people whom government serves. However, "consent of the governed" does not empower majority rule to deny freedom to the minority. This concept of a vast ocean freedoms and tiny islands of government power bears little resemblance to our federal government today, which is why it is so vitally important that we understand the foundation of our government before electing someone to lead it. As Ronald Reagan warned, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
Mark Hillman is a Centennial Institute Fellow. He formerly served as Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.
As the confirmation hearings for nominee Elena Kagan begin this week, we again return to the question of how Supreme Court justices should interpret the Constitution. Central to this inquiry is the approach that justices take towards both the text and the fundamental principles which undergird our Constitution. There has been a long-running debate concerning this among varying judicial philosophies, one that in many ways mirrors current tensions among the Christian church. The recent phenomenon of the emergent church movement provides us with a striking similarity to the approach taken by many of our nation’s modern/activist judges.
A very attractive approach in our modern culture comes to the following conclusion: When I no longer like the orthodoxy, I’m in favor of changing it. The temptation to question and challenge orthodoxy is indeed strong; in fact, our nature drives us to it. The history of religion finds numerous cases when those who were dissatisfied sought to overturn longstanding truths in favor of new ideas that “better suited” the circumstances of the day. Typically, what happens is that when we find orthodoxy no longer convenient, we seek to replace it by crafting something new, rather than align ourselves with it. More often, this is done through clever reinterpretations of the original.
In recent years, such a group has been increasing in their influence among the church. This group, commonly referred as the “emergent church” has intentionally remained elusive in declaring their doctrine. Yet among many in the movement, there are significant challenges to the fundamental orthodoxy of Christianity: through faith in Christ alone is the sole means of salvation. These revisionists are denying the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the reality of Hell, and the very nature of the Gospel. The emergent movement comes out of frustration that the 21st Century church doesn’t fit well within a 21st Century mindset. For instance, it is indeed uncomfortable to think about eternal damnation in Hell. What to do? Remove this threat from religion. Or, it does indeed seem arrogant that Christ is the sole route to salvation. What to do? Open it up to other alternatives. Many in the emergent church movement are doing just these things.
Of course, this tendency to contradict the orthodoxy is not limited to religion. There are great similarities in the causes, methods, and desired ends of the “emergent” movement toward a “living Constitution.”
Justice William Brennan, in a 1985 speech at the Georgetown University School of Law, laid out his view of constitutional interpretation. “Like every text worth reading, it is not crystalline. The phrasing is broad and the limitations of its provisions are not clearly marked. It majestic generalities and ennobling pronouncements are both luminous and obscure. This ambiguity of course calls forth interpretation, the interaction of reader and text.”
Brennan concluded that the text of the Constitution was less important than his own desired ends of “justice.” When discussing the issue of capital punishment, Brennan, a longtime opponent, concluded that the Constitution was incompatible with state-sanctioned executions. Where did he find this? He certainly could not have concluded that capital punishment conflicted with the 8th Amendment concerning cruel and unusual punishment, as the authors of the amendment certainly had no such opinion. Looking to other portions of the Constitution, there is clear evidence that execution is permissible. Both the 5th and 14th Amendments permit its usage. The requirement that no person “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” presupposes that when a person has been guaranteed due process, then capital punishment may indeed be used.
Brennan is forced to ignore both the mind of the authors and the clear meaning of the text. Simply to state that the text is ambiguous, Brennan seeks to give himself permission to interpret it however he sees fit.
What Brennan challenged is the very concept of rule of law and the principles of limited government. He does this through the activist and “living constitution” approach to judicial review. The Supreme Court Justice, under our model of constitutionalism, is not entitled to “make the law what they want it to be.” Rather, they are to apply the law as it was intended. It is fine that Justice Brennan disliked the usage of capital punishment. It is absurd to conclude that it violates the text and/or the fundamental precepts of the Constitution.
What we need are justices who recognize the truth and value of the orthodoxy and who have a commitment to uphold it.
(CCU Student) This past semester, I had the privilege of interning at the Colorado House of Representatives under Representative Steven King from Grand Junction Colorado. I hope someday to serve in public office myself, and when the opportunity arrived it seemed like a great chance for me to learn more about what is happening politically at the state level. I learned a lot about the political process when interning at the state capitol about procedure and how hectic even a local politicians schedule could be. The greatest asset for me was not necessarily learning about the ins and outs of the political system however. As a follower of Christ I had a difficult time reconciling how seemingly self-serving a profession in politics is with my faith. Yet having spent time at the State Capitol, I have personally witnessed how much of an impact a solid Christian politician can potentially have on his/her constituency. A great benefit of working in the state house during the session is you have an acute awareness of what your states major issues are and how our elected Representatives intend to fix these problems. I had the chance to help my representative research issues ranging from motorcycles, land rights, pay day loans, medical marijuana, and much more. The internship really showed me how interested this job could be with this wide variety of issues. The job was rewarding in the way that I genuinely felt I was learning about something new every day. I also came to respect the time our honest legislatures put in for us. Representative Steven King for example woke up at 4AM to get to the statehouse at 8:30AM from his home in Grand Junction. He sacrifices time with his family to stay from Monday morning until Friday afternoon in Grand Junction while occasionally running back and forth from his hometown just for a dinner, caucus, or family event. Seeing someone like Representative King helped me get past my greatest apprehension in getting involved in the political arena. Ever since I was twelve years old, I have felt an internal longing to serve in public office. At this point in my life I feel like that’s the path God wants me to be walking right now. Despite this, I have always had an apprehension to how self serving the profession seems. You cannot go an extended period of time without hearing about some politician using their power in a corrupt fashion to obtain personal gains. It can also seem like the political system is a giant deadlock where a Christian would be able to serve God best elsewhere. These politicians however have the power to get things moving in our system. I have seen some representative respond to constituents who are desperate because the government keeps stone walling them on their healthcare, licensing, education, ect. and these people who have nowhere else to go end up calling their elected representatives. These representatives can help things get moving with just a simple phone call or can have their office research the best methods of obtaining say an expensive surgery when they cannot afford health insurance make to much to be put on Medicaid. Even if a public servant gets nothing done at the legislative level, they can do some much for their community in their position if they put their minds to it. My desire to serve in public office has actually been enhanced because of what our Representatives have the potential to do behind closed doors. Like many professions, it is what you make of it. You can easily use the position for personal gain and privilege if that is the desire of your heart. However, if you truly have the desire to expand the kingdom of God from this position of power, the possibilities can be limitless. The bottom line is that I learned that you can do so much for God’s kingdom from these positions. However power corrupts and that is why politicians need to have a God centered approach when engaging in political activities otherwise it will become self serving. It satisfying to see that serving in public office can be one of the greatest ways to serve a community by using their office to flat our serve people’s needs. I can honestly now enter this profession with a clear conscience which is something that I could not have necessarily said before this internship. That to me is invaluable.