Georgetown Law professor: Scrap ‘archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil’ Constitution
12:33 PM 12/31/2012
With hours to go before nation heads off the fiscal cliff, Georgetown Law professor Louis Michael Seidman writes that the time has come to scrap the Constitution.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times Monday, Seidman, a constitutional law professor, claimed that the nation’s foundational document is the real impediment to progress and solutions to America’s troubles.
“As the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken,” Seidman wrote. “But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.”
According to Seidman, the country’s insistence that it maintain the will of a centuries-old document “has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public.”
Seidman, author of the forthcoming book “On Constitutional Disobedience,” explained that adherence to constitutional law, which he has taught for over 40 years, is just “bizarre.”
“Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country,” he wrote. “Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination?”
The Georgetown Law professor argued that disobedience to the Constitution is older than the document itself — noting that in 1787 the framers abandoned their mandate to amend the Articles of Confederation and instead created an entirely new document, the Constitution.
Seidman cited examples in which monumental figures in American history have turned their backs on the document, including John Adams’ support for the Alien and Sedition Acts, Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal expansion of federal powers.
“In the face of this long history of disobedience, it is hard to take seriously the claim by the Constitution’s defenders that we would be reduced to a Hobbesian state of nature if we asserted our freedom from this ancient text,” he added. “Our sometimes flagrant disregard of the Constitution has not produced chaos or totalitarianism; on the contrary, it has helped us to grow and prosper.”
Seidman concedes that his goal — to scrap the Constitution in favor of long standing institutions and good judgment — is likely not to happen anytime soon. Instead, he advocates beginning to “soften the habit.”
“If even this change is impossible, perhaps the dream of a country ruled by ‘We the people’ is impossibly utopian,” he concluded. “If so, we have to give up on the claim that we are a self-governing people who can settle our disagreements through mature and tolerant debate. But before abandoning our heritage of self-government, we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.”