Balkinization  

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Read the Whole Constitution

JB

Today, as a symbolic act, the House of Representatives will read the U.S. Constitution aloud.

Good for them. I wish they would make it an annual event.

But in order to avoid having any member read parts that remind people of slavery, House members are omitting parts of the Constitution that have since been amended.

This is a mistake.

The Constitution is not perfect. Nor are our political institutions. Nor are the American people. But we can take pride in our Constitution precisely because we Americans have continually sought to improve the Constitution, our institutions, and ourselves over time. We have not always been successful in these efforts. We have made many mistakes along the way, and we have committed many injustices. We continue to do so to this very day. The point rather, is that by creating this great experiment in self-government-- the United States Constitution-- we have committed ourselves to achieving a more just, free and equal society under law and we have adopted our Constitution and amendments to it as a way of realizing those commitments in history. It is a task that began with the founding and continues to this very day. It is a task that is never finished.

Reading the entire Constitution is a way of reminding ourselves that the Constitution is always a work in progress; that it has been flawed in the past and probably is still flawed in the present; that what we have now before us is not necessarily the final version of the Constitution, but that the Constitution can always be improved and that it must be improved; that no matter how much our political institutions may have failed us in the past, and no matter how much we have failed ourselves in the past, political redemption is always still possible; and that We the People of the United States can still always strive for a more just, more free, and more equal country-- what the Preamble of the Constitution calls a "More Perfect Union."

Reading the entire Constitution-- including its oblique references to slavery--is a way of engaging in proper humility about the products of flawed human beings, but it is also a way of expressing faith in eventual improvement. If the Constitution once allowed great evils, and now it does not, perhaps someday we will be able to recognize the current evils it still allows, and ameliorate them as well.

Reading the entire Constitution should not be an act of shame that politicians avoid. It should be an act of hope.

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