Title

Parlor Game

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1995

Abstract

The Constitution is not perfect. Indeed I don't know what 'perfection' is in a constitution, since it is an instrument for human hands and thus must bear within its possibilities all the potential for misuse that comes with the user. What I am sure of is that 'perfection' does not mean 'never needs to be amended,' since one important part of the Constitution is its provision for amendment (although I am inclined to believe that few of the amendments to the U.S. constitution were actually necessary.)

That said, a competition to find the "stupidest provision of the Constitution" is, to my mind, about the most vapid essay contest to come along since MTV listeners were asked to suggest names for a new litter of puppies owned by a heavy metal performer. As anyone who has been around dogs knows, their names have to do with their individual natures, and the relationships they have with each other, and with their masters. Naming them in the abstract is idle, a parlor game maybe, or perhaps appropriate to cats (whose character, if they have any, is opaque to humans.)

The Constitution functions as an organic whole. All the forms of argument-historical, textual, structural, ethical, prudential, doctrinal-entirely depend on this principle. One cannot begin to construe correctly the "commander-in-chief power" without bearing in mind the Congress's power to appropriate money for the armed forces; nor can one adequately construe in any concrete case, the Congress' power to declare war without squaring it with the Executive's power to deploy troops where he, and he alone, thinks best. Remove one part of the Constitution and you change another. In a mature democracy these relationships are sufficiently complicated and well-developed that any particular change is likely to have a number of unanticipated consequences, including, often enough, a result conflicting with the campaign by which the amendment was secured in the first place.

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