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Constitution burning

Does the Constitution Mean What the Supreme Court Says it Means?


Note: this is the first in a series of columns written to explain the theme “Everything you’ve heard about the Constitution is wrong.” I’m starting this series in honor of the Constitution, which had its 230th birthday on Sunday, September 17, 2017.

An obviously distressed young female student came into the office of Cornell’s lead Title IX investigator in the fall of 2015. The woman had come in the hopes that Elizabeth McGrath could ease her anguish.

Something terrible had happened to this student that same day, something that had “triggered” an intense emotional reaction inside her; something “oppressive” had happened that left her shaken and in need of urgent help.

What had happened to this poor young woman? Had she been mugged? Had she been assaulted? Had she been threatened? Had she witnessed an act of violence? Had someone flung racist epithets at her?


She had had the terrifying misfortune of being given a free copy of the United States Constitution. She not only received it but read it, and soon the tremors began. The entire episode left her devastated and trembling.

Said the student, “Is there any way that maybe like we can get rid of it somehow or I can just see that like maybe it will be like therapy for me, like if you can like shred it or something?”

Ms. McGrath eagerly and happily sympathized. “It is a flawed document, she lamented, “and the people who wrote it are certainly flawed individuals in my mind.”

And so without further ado, Ms. McGrath did the only thing any responsible adult in higher education would do, when faced with such a dilemma. She took the nation’s organic legal document, the supreme law of our land, and proceeded to cut it to pieces and leave it in strips in the waste basket.

Enormously relieved to be shuck of such awful baggage, the student left her office with her burden lifted.

This episode, part of an undercover investigative project of James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, actually happened, with an investigator playing the part of the student. And worse, the college faculty at Yale, Syracuse, Vassar and Oberlin did the same thing. Every school ran the Constitution through the literary equivalent of a wood chipper.

The schools, of course, did not blame themselves for ripping the Constitution to shreds. Oh no, that was the fault of the “deplorable” conduct of the investigator.

My response to this sad but revealing affair is simple: if you’re talking about shredding the Constitution, Cornell is way late to the party. The Supreme Court has been doing that very thing for over 200 years.

“The weakest of the three departments of power”

The famous British politician William Gladstone, who served as prime minister of England no less than four times over his 60 year career in politics, observed once that “the American Constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” Gladstone was talking about the Constitution as it came from the hands of the Founders, not the one that has been twisted and distorted and wrenched out of shape by renegade and out-of-control judges. He would weep today to see what a hyperactive judiciary has done to this masterpiece.

Our Constitution has been shredded and mangled by judicial tyrants wearing black robes, who have left this once magnificent document in tatters and made it virtually unrecognizable. Only fragile strips of parchment remain from what once was – and still can be – the most remarkable political document in the history of human civilization.

The Constitution was intended to serve as the pillar on which our entire system of government rests. And yet federal judges, swinging their gavels like sledgehammers, have reduced much of it to rubble.

The Supreme Court has arrogated to itself a power the Founders never intended it to have, a power not delegated to the Court anywhere in the Constitution. The Court was designed to be the least powerful branch of government, its jurisdiction and authority strictly circumscribed by clear and unambiguous boundaries.

“At the establishment of our constitutions,” wrote Jefferson, “the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government.”

Joseph Story concurred (Commentaries, Sec 1595): “The judiciary is, beyond comparison, the weakest of the three departments of power.”

The Court was considered to possess so little power that it met in a closet in its early days, and then bounced around from room to room in the Capitol until it eventually landed in chambers abandoned by the Senate. It did not even have its own building until 1934.

It convened for less than two weeks a year over its first decade, and then only for six to eight weeks a year for the next half century.


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