Updated: December 31, 2012 at 12:00 am
Professors sometimes hear young students say something like this: “The founders were stupid white men with slaves. The Constitution is so old it should have no relevance beyond a museum.”
It’s like parents hearing teenagers and toddlers crusade against household boundaries and rules.
We expect children to dishonor and question the need for standards and common expectations. Adults generally consider structure a necessary evil if we are to maintain safe, fair environments in which property and lives are spared the pitfalls of chaos, hatred, greed and other forms of evil.
The “rules-are-stupid” argument alarms us only when professed by adults of at least average intelligence. An article in Monday’s New York Times, by Louis Michael Seidman, would amuse us if it weren’t so alarming.
Seidman works as the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law at the prestigious Georgetown Law Center. He has a law degree from Harvard and clerked for late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He has the full attention of young law students and his essay consumed nearly half a page of op-ed space.
Seidman used the Times, as he probably uses his classroom, to tell us the Constitution is old, white and dumb. His forthcoming book will advocate “constitutional disobedience.”
Seidman expresses a desire for “freedom from this ancient text.” We should “try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.” He wants freedom from “the shackles of constitutional obligation” and “constitutional-law addiction.” He wants more “constitutional infidelity.” If that doesn’t appeal to our Romper Room instincts, Seidman — a privileged white man — plays the race card and reminds us “white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries” wrote the Constitution.
All this time we’ve been controlled by white men who had property? Men who died? Dude. How not cool.
When a college freshman comes up with this stuff, the professor typically chuckles and takes comfort in an expectation that students grow up. In this case, it’s the professor who wants a country that leaves habeas corpus, property rights, freedom of speech, religion, and various protections from government to the whims of politicians and mobs.
If we want slavery, which thrives throughout the world, no problem. Ignore that pesky old 13th Amendment, which we enacted to make a good constitution better. To reduce crime, Seidman is the man. No Constitution means no Fourth Amendment, which means cops will search private property without warrants. Those who would impose religion on their neighbors will be happy that Seidman loathes a constitution that prevents establishment of religion. Seidman’s desire to waive the Constitution should appeal to those who have tired of radical professors who fill young minds with trash. Our Constitution frames and protects the whole concept of academic freedom, which cloaks wealthy men at prestigious universities.
Seidman acknowledges a fondness of free speech and religion, equal protection and protections against governmental threats to life, liberty and property. Here’s how he would protect these American guarantees, sans the Constitution:
“We should continue to follow those requirements out of respect, not obligation,” Seidman wrote.
OK, we’ll follow these handful of principles because the professor likes them. No doubt we could have simply respected our way out of slavery, malicious prosecution and imposition of religion all of these years.
We wonder whether Seidman is wicked, or if he never cracked a history book. A succession of old dead white guys protected life, liberty and property — with laws to constrain governments, not individuals — because much of the world, throughout history, had been governed by politicians and dictators with nothing but contempt for life, liberty and property rights.
Millions of Americans — white, black, young and old — have given their lives defending the Constitution from forces throughout the world that despise what it protects. The Constitution severely limits the authority of Congress, the president and the courts to control us. That’s a good thing, even though Seidman would leave us at the mercy of politicians who can’t even work out a federal budget to allocate our money.
No thanks, professor. We’ll live with principles protected by rule of law, rather than leave our fate to authorities, majorities or political parties guided by alliances, special interests and, on occasion, sinister intentions.