Another View: The protections of our Constitution have held up very well
Editor's note: The commentary below is one in a continuing series that addresses the question: "How Does the Constitution Keep Up with the Times?" The author, 11th grader Alex Rose, is president of Exeter High School's chapter of the YMCA Youth and Government Club. His essay is part of Constitutionally Speaking, an initiative aimed at educating New Hampshire citizens young and old about constitutional issues and promoting the reintroduction of meaningful civics education into classrooms. The yearlong pilot project is a collaboration of the New Hampshire Supreme Court Society, the New Hampshire Humanities Council, and the UNH School of Law. For more information, go to www.constitutionallyspeakingnh.com.
There is no document more relevant to our political health, our democratic system and our existence as a beacon of liberty than our Constitution of 1787. Although stained by the lingering vestiges of prejudice and ironic inequality, at its core our Constitution is both relevant and vital. Our Constitution is still, and shall remain into the future, the skeleton of our nation because it remains both steeped in tradition but flexible to the winds of change through the amendment process and judicial interpretation.
Twenty-seven times in the history of our nation our Congress has amended our founding document and the states have ratified these changes. Since the ratification of the Bill of Rights, we have found it necessary to amend our Constitution only 17 times in more than 200 years. Such shows the potency of our Constitution that a document more than 200 years old still serves, largely unchanged, as a foundation for our country.
The amendment process was designed to be fair, not easy. As the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, additions to it should only be with the full and unreserved support of the state and national legislatures. Such amendments as the first, to protect our freedom of speech, and the second, to protect our right to bear arms, are essential additions to the original document, and to this day are supported overwhelmingly by the American population.
In 1992, an amendment was adopted that had been sent to the states for ratification two centuries before. The 27th amendment limiting the powers of Congress to change its own compensation is a pristine example of a living and flexible outline of laws. This, combined with the numerous Supreme Court decisions over the years to interpret the Constitution with respect for both rule of law, contemporary understanding and an abundance of educated discourse, completes the two prongs of constitutional relevancy through flexibility. Only with continual changes and additions can an archaic document remain applicable to our society in the present day.
Our Constitution is essential to our well-being, as it is the most important tool with which to condemn and electorally strike down politicians who attempt to subvert the people. With it, we keep ourselves informed of the pillars of freedom upon which our government was founded, and which must remain sacrosanct beyond the overreach of government. Like a military regulation or a manual for the play of football, the Constitution has and will continue to provide the rulebook by which a society can govern itself with liberty and justice for all.
Yes, the original document was interpreted to allow protection of the doctrine of separate but equal, and slavery, and gender discrimination, but the same document has supported the decisions and actions that overcame those injustices. Our constitution serves as a foundation of our nation and the protector of its freedoms. Although it is unfortunately disregarded rather often, the Constitution serves as a bulwark of personal independence. Without it, the national slide into tyranny and ruin would be a simple tumble off the proverbial cliff.
Alex Rose is an 11th-grader at Exeter High School.