Episode 115 S3-34
Is the Constitution Still Relevent?
The Walls of Freedom Ch 34
In The Walls of Freedom story, Erika begins researching how the laws of The United States of America could have been dramatically altered. She reviews the Constitution. There are many folks that would say that the Constitution is irrelevant and outdated. Our guest today, Dave Shestokas, strongly disagrees. Dave has been a practicing attorney for over thirty years and is the author of Constitutional Sound Bites and Creating the Declaration of Independence.
After many years of practicing law, Dave was invited to talk to history classes at a high school. After asking some simple questions like: What year was our country founded or what day? He received many disheartening answers and decided something needed to be done to educate people on the Constitution. He wrote for a magazine, did a radio show, and wrote Constitutional Sound Bites.
Dave's book breaks down the concepts behind the Constitution. It also helps to translate old English to new. Some words had completely different meanings back then from what we understand them to mean now. For example, in the preamble, Gouverneur Morris wrote:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,"
The term "more perfect" can be rather confusing to modern ears. We see perfect as something that can't be improved upon. However, Morris was referring to the Latin word proficiere which meant to complete. Thus Morris was referring to a union that was more complete than the one witnessed under the Articles of Confederation.
How can a document written in the 1700s still be relevant today? The Constitution was absolutely revolutionary. It was the first time people created a document to govern themselves. Nothing like it had ever existed. It established a rule of law to govern people over a vast expanse of land. Before the Constitution the world was made of Kings, Czars, Sultans, Chieftains, basically dictators.
The Constitution is the legal document that executes the principles and ideas established in the Declaration of Independence and can not exist without it. American Citizens do not go into battle and die for political rules. They go in defense of the principles described in the Declaration, even though they swear an oath to the Constitution it is really those ideals they are fighting for. That is why Dave wrote his next book Creating the Declaration of Independance. The Constitution is meaningless without the Declaration of Independence.
Why is the Constitution still relevant? Because it puts limits on our government to not participate in the activities that people were subject to before the Constitution was published. It upholds the universal and self evident truths given to each human being. The Constitution is still the law of our land.
Unfortunately education on the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is extremely lacking. The Declaration was also an extremely radical document. It talks about the consent of the governed and values individual freedoms. It explains the fact that the government is not the granter of rights but rather Law of Nature and of Nature's God is. The government was established to protect the rights of the people. This is a topic that can be very uncomfortable for an established government and thus teaching it to the youth is not a high priority of a government established school system.
The founders established the first government meant to be ruled by law not men. They had to base it upon some truths that men could not alter, otherwise men are in control and not law. Politicians can't legislate away the law of gravity. It exists and can't be altered much like you can't legislate away a human's desire to be free. Wording it in this way took secular natural (science based) law into account and combines it with divine inspiration. Either way you want to look at it they both come to the same conclusion. An individual has inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The founders recognized that overtime things would change and designed the Constitution to be flexible to accommodate those circumstances. However, if a government becomes destructive in the purpose of protecting the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the citizens have a right and a duty to change the government. This is known as the Right of Revolution as described by Thomas Jefferson.
Article five describes the amendment process that has been built into the government. Amending the Constitution is not something that is done lightly but it is allowable and has been done twenty seven times.This process requires a super majority to take effect. The thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments were the "Civil War Amendments." They abolished slavery, provided due process of law and citizenship to former slaves and made it so that all men could vote. The nineteenth amendment was the woman's suffrage amendment that gave women the right to vote. There have been other amendments for technical questions that the founders got wrong or omitted. For example, the role of Vice President became more important over time and the 25th amendment provided for appointment of the VP in case of a vacancy of office or other technical difficulties. The twelfth amendment was put in place because the Vice President used to be the runner up in the election. As time pressed on this was not practical. The eighteenth amendment was the prohibition amendment. It was the only amendment to limit freedom and the only amendment that was repealed. The founders understood their work was not perfect and time would press on.
We are currently in the longest period of not making amendments to the Constitution. We have abandoned the process in favor of court rulings that change the interpretation of the law. The wording in the Constitution stays the same but the meaning alters. For example the abortion issue is an issue that continues to be hotly debated. This is because the decision was made by the court rather than through debate, decision and law establishment. When the courts overstep their bounds and get involved with political issues rather than judicial ones it is very dangerous. These types of social issues like same sex marriage have never been a federal issue but rather a state one.
States used to be a laboratory of democracy where like minded individuals could test their ideals. These individual States formed together to form a Union with one another. They shared basic commonalities but still have control over their destiny, instead of being told what to do by some one hundreds of miles away. This issue of remote control was the basis of the Revolutionary War.
After spending many years working directly with the Constitution, Dave has a couple suggestions he would propose. The first one amendment would establish term limits in the government. The system was not designed for career politicians. During the first one hundred years the average term in the House of Representatives was six years and the average term in the Senate was eight years. They received average pay and had poor benefits. People didn't stick around and develop kingdoms of power. There was always new blood and fresh ideas.
The second thing Dave would do is repeal the seventeenth amendment. This amendment provided for the direct election of US Senators. Prior to this they were chosen by the State Legislature not the general public. The House of Representatives and the Senate were meant to represent different interests. Now, with Federal Mandates on the states, both the Senator and the Congressmen are on a mission to bring as much money as possible to Washington so they can give it back to the people who elected them. This amendment has grown our government into the leviathan that it is now. The original intent was to pit these two sides in opposition so that the best decision was reached through debate but now 2/3 of the government is on the same page and all they are concerned with is growing government. This amendment has removed the checks and balances to their power.
The over-interpretation of the Constitution needs to come to an end. Jefferson himself claimed he was never trying to write radical ideas but rather explain the common sense of the matter. The heated debate during ratification over the issues contained in the Constitution gave birth to free speech idea. All ideas needed to be heard. The Constitution was written for everyone to understand so they could all be governed by the same laws.
The Changing Earth Series
David Shestokas earned his B.A. in Political Science from Bradley University in 1975 and his Juris Doctor from The John Marshall Law School, cum laude, in June of 1987. In 1986-87 he served on The John Marshall Law Review. He studied law at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Mr. Shestokas has been admitted to practice law before the Illinois Supreme Court in 1987, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in 1988, the Supreme Court of Florida in 2004, and the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida in 2006.
Mr. Shestokas founded the Law Office of David Shestokas in November, 1987. After practicing in areas such as criminal defense, corporate law, real estate, and business financing, he later served as Assistant State’s Attorney for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago, IL, from 1994 to 1998, involved in over 10,000 criminal prosecutions. During that time he also worked on the Felony Review Unit, participating in police investigations and making charging decisions in over 400 felony matters.
In 1992, after the Republic of Lithuania regained its independence from the Soviet Union, Shestokas
joined attorneys of Lithuanian heritage from around the world as a member of the First World Congress of Lithuanian Lawyers. The Lithuanian President, government officials, and the Lithuanian Bar worked with that Congress to restore the rule of law and a constitutional government after four generations of Soviet occupation.
Along with volunteering at the Salvation Army providing pro bono legal services for the homeless, David has also given his time at the Quality Life Center to educate at-risk youth about the values ingrained in America’s Founding.
His latest book, Creating the Declaration of Independence, takes you into the minds of Richard Henry Lee, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the weeks before July 4, 1776. Experience Lee’s trepidation as he knows when he proposes American Independence to the Second Continental Congress that he is literally risking beheading. Join Adams and Jefferson at City Tavern as they begin crafting the Declaration and follow the story of how Jefferson came to reluctantly draft the Declaration when few others, including Adams thought that Jefferson’s assignment was important. You’ll even learn a shortcut Jefferson used to craft a document of such immortality on such short notice and how that short cut affects the work of the Supreme Court today.
He has worked with Dr. Berta Isabel Arias on the Spanish language translation of Constitutional Sound Bites: Cápsulas Informativas Constitucionales . This work represents, in a format that modern media consumers prefer, a long tradition of informing citizens about the country’s founding documents in their native languages. In 1787, fully one third of Pennsylvania’s residents were German speakers. Accordingly, of the 4500 copies of the proposed Constitution that legislature ordered, 1500 were printed in German. Everyone understands important ideas best in their native language, and Cápsulas Informativas Constitucionales recognizes the growing importance of making available crucial aspects of America’s Founding and Heritage to this growing community of Spanish speakers in America.