U.S. Constitution: Let's Not Convene
.............................Wisdom of the Founding Fathers
Preamble to the U.S. Constitution
Chief Supreme Court Justice
Americans often can be heard singing the praises of the United States Constitution.
Most of us were told at one time or another, probably in a civics class at high school, that the document that became the law of the land 200 years ago may not be perfect, but there is no other country with a constitution that has succeeded as well as ours.
As Americans, we're proud of the freedom-loving men who took such care to write a document that would allow a free people to govern themselves, not only for the immediate future but for years and, indeed, for centuries.
Wisdom of the Founders
It was no easy task. It took great wisdom to insure the personal freedom of individuals with a Bill of Rights and to include the kind of language throughout its pages that permits future generations to cover areas the founding fathers could not have fathomed (such as computer crime, space travel.)
In this bicentennial year (1987) of the Constitution, Americans are looking for ways to celebrate. There's a Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution headed by Warren E. Burger and, in Philadelphia, dozens of members of Congress met Thursday to celebrate the Great Compromise of 1787. A variety of demonstrators and protesters were at Congress Hall and Independence Hall to have their say.
The bicentennial, of course, has touched off a debate over the merits of a new Constitutional Convention that might address the great issues of the day. Some would limit the agenda to one issue, such as abortion, or, perhaps, widen the discourse to just a few especially important items. Others favor going through the document from cover-to-cover to bring it into the 20th century.
The framers of the Constitution had great faith in the American people. They put together that document in the belief that the people of this country could make it work. But this trust in the citizenry didn't extend so far that they sought the help of the average citizen in drafting the legal document.
Conventional wisdom has it that the American people if asked to vote on the Bill of Rights in a referendum would vote it down. It is my fear that this is true . . . primarily because its legal implications may not be fully understood by the average citizen.
Americans are good people, and so may be tempted to say that a Nazi should not be allowed to speak his mind freely, not realizing that, by restricting the freedom of one citizen he is losing his own freedom of speech as well.
Power Too Easily Abused
Good Americans may very well feel that it is a good thing to stop motor vehicles indiscriminately in the hope of nabbing drunks, drug addicts or other criminals, not realizing that the power of search and seizure can too easily be abused by government.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution, as we've mentioned, have built in the means to change anything. While it may not be easy, it wasn't designed to be a pushover. And that is as it should be. More often than not the easy solution is no solution at all -- or worse, it aggravates the problem you started with in the first place.
I plead with my fellow Americans: Don't open Pandora's Box. Don't try to fix something that isn't broken. Don't create a Frankenstein.
Let's keep the greatest gift of our forefathers intact. Say "no" to any suggestion of a new Constitutional Convention.
I wrote this column as an "Editor's Notebook" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on July 18, 1987. While there's no Constitutional convention expected in the foreseeable future, my position in opposition to another convention has not changed.