The Norman Transcript

Opinion

September 17, 2013

Constitution is about higher law, not policy

NORMAN — As we celebrate Constitution Day this Sept. 17, it is worth reflecting on what the framers drafted in the summer of 1787 and the people subsequently ratified in a series of state conventions.

I don’t mean the substance of the seven articles or the Bill of Rights that was added in the First Congress. Instead, I mean the very idea of a constitution. So successful has the American experiment in constitutional governance been that we easily forget how radical the idea of a written, republican constitution truly was. But preserving that achievement for future generations requires us to understand that we are heirs to a unique tradition of constitutionalism.

A constitution is a higher order of law, a set of rules for making rules. The Constitution is not a set of policy proscriptions; it is a framework within which we, the people, in a republican system of government muddle our way towards policies in the common interest.

When the founders of our country gathered behind closed doors to debate whether and how to replace the ineffective Articles of Confederation, they drew on multiple traditions of constitutionalism. The Constitution they created and submitted to the judgment of the people was a unique synthesis of those elements.

One tradition was the legacy of classical antiquity. Many of the founders were classically educated, able to read Latin and Greek texts in the original; those who couldn’t were able to rely on translations and the widely read interpretations of people like John Adams, whose constitutional thought was enriched by his deep knowledge of the classics.

“The Federalist,” the series of essays written to defend the Constitution during the ratification debates in New York, were published, like so many pamphlets and essays, under a classical pseudonym. What the founders and other Enlightenment thinkers learned from ancient constitutional thought was that a constitution is a way of life founded on a division of power.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
  • A raise for troopers, but what about others?

    Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers could see an increase in their paychecks during the state’s next fiscal year, which begins in July....

    April 17, 2014

  • Fallin should help residents

    Editor, The Transcript: I see this week that our empty skirt of a governor asked the federal government (small business administration) for much money. She is concerned about the suffering of the business owners in Lexington and Purcell ...

    April 17, 2014

  • Top honors for NPS

    Top honors keep rolling in for both of Norman’s high schools. The district learned this past week that Norman High School and Norman North High School have been recognized as two of the most rigorous high schools in the country and in the ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Wind power bursting

    There are a few wind generators dotting the Norman skyline, but western and northwestern Oklahoma makes up for the deficit here. An industry group this week said Oklahoma ranks fourth nationally in the amount of wind-generated ...

    April 16, 2014

  • First, do no harm — to your bank account

    After being sued by the Wall Street Journal, the government finally released its Medicare reimbursement data last week. It included the less-than-stunning revelation that 28 of the 100 doctors who received the largest payments in 2012 were ...

    April 15, 2014

  • Reading between the lines

    Reading is such an improbable idea — a miracle, really. Yet simple squiggles on a page, arranged just so, can convey ideas that change the way we think or introduce to us characters we love for a lifetime. In celebration of reading — and ...

    April 15, 2014

  • CCFI tackling area’s child abuse problem

    Editor, The Transcript: To those of you who are reading this editorial, I assume you care or at least are entertained by the opinions of others. It is my hope and desire that when you read this editorial, you will care about the facts. ...

    April 12, 2014

  • Protect your home from wildfires

    To most people, fuel is what you put into your gas tank. To firefighters, it means something altogether different. To people who make a living putting out fires, fuel is that material that feeds wildfires — and there is an abundance of it ...

    April 12, 2014

  • League of Women Voters meeting

    Editor, The Transcript: On Saturday, May 10, the Norman League of Women Voters will hold its annual meeting at the Memorial Presbyterian Church, 601 24th Ave. SW, Norman, OK, from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm....

    April 12, 2014

  • Does Oklahoma need advice from Texas?

    Does Texas have a lock on “brilliant minds”? The names of Texans like Congressman Louie Gomert, Sen. Ted Cruz and that other guy ... I can’t think of his name ... oh yeah, Rick Perry come to mind very quickly. Add to that infamous list ...

    April 12, 2014