Fact, Opinion, and a “Gravely Ill” Constitution

Fact, Opinion, and a “Gravely Ill” Constitution

How and why the U.S. constitution will survive the current political turmoil.

The Constitution of the United States of America is “gravely ill.”

So asserts Garrett Epps, who teaches constitutional law and creative writing for law students at the University of Baltimore in Maryland.

Mr. Epps, who also is a contributing editor to the Atlantic magazine, further asserts in an article appearing in September that a victory by Donald Trump this year’s U.S. presidential election would render the Constitution “toothless.”

With all due respect, Mr. Epps’ assessments are opinions, not facts. Indeed, any extra-Constitutional activities by a President Trump—or by any other president of the United States—would likely find the Constitution painfully biting the chief executive through the courts and Congress.

No, Mr. Epps, the tripartite government envisioned by the Constitution is not about to be obliterated against the wall of history. Nor is the United States living in a “post-Constitutional era” (your phrase). Nor have the people of the United States turned away from a serious search for values in the Constitution. The vast majority of the nation does not regard the Constitution as an annoying set of rules.

The U.S. Constitution in reality is remarkably healthy more than 200 years after its composition, ratification and adoption.

The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of America’s federal government remain very much alive—albeit not necessarily moving in the directions and at the pace each and every citizen would wish.

Although with kudos to you Mr. Epps for creative phrasing, the fact is that “constitutional rot” has not spread from a feckless Congress to a desperate executive and constitutional rot is not enfeebling the judicial branch.

Remarkably, the Constitution of the United States, a document of values and responsibilities, of principles and procedures, and of checks and balances, has been amended only twenty-seven times since 1789. The Constitution has been amended only seventeen times if you accept the argument that ratification of the original document occurred only upon assurance that a bill of rights, the first ten amendments, would swiftly be incorporated.

The fact is that the Constitution of the United States remains unique among governing documents, as unique among the nations of the world as the federal form of government it created. It is well to remember that as another presidential election is underway in the United States and the candidates vie for votes.

Above all, it is well to separate constitutional fact from opinion. 


This is another in a series of occasional essays by John S. McClenahen, an award-winning writer who for four decades covered international economics, public policy, and management principles for IndustryWeek.

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