Geof Stone on 'Our Progressive Constitution'
Today is Constitution Day. It is a day to reflect, at least for a moment, on the American Constitution and how it has helped to shape our nation over more than two centuries. In simplest form, of course, the Constitution sets forth the rules of governance. It stipulates that there shall be one President, two Houses of Congress, the powers of the national government, limitations on the powers of the state and national governments, the minimum age of the President (35) and so on. In this simple sense, the Constitution establishes the rules of the game.
More fundamentally, however, the Constitution has served as the vehicle through which generations of Americans have made and remade their nation. When one steps back, as one should on Constitution Day, and considers the most profound changes in our society since 1789, it is easy to see that, by any reasonable measure, the Constitution has served in the long run as a progressive document that has enabled us to protect the rights, liberties and well-being of our people.
The original Constitution did not even have a Bill of Rights. That was added soon after ratification of the Constitution to ensure that the new national government would not abridge the freedom of speech or prohibit the free exercise of religion; that it would not engage in unreasonable searches and seizures or inflict cruel and unusual punishment; that it would not deprive people of life, liberty or property without due process of law or convict people of crimes without honoring their rights to a jury trial, to the assistance of counsel, and to present their own witnesses and to confront the witnesses against them.