- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005


By Edwin Meese III

Regnery, $35, 475 pages

One of the finest books I’ve read in a long time on the Constitution has just been released — “The Heritage Guide to the Constitution.” Its excellence is understandable as the guiding light behind this monumental effort is one of the finest men to serve as attorney general, Edwin Meese III.

The guide tackles an immense and complex subject (history and law) in a remarkably easy-to-read way. It deconstructs each section of the Constitution by topic. And within each topic, the reader is treated to a mini-history lesson and legal analysis by some of our nation’s top constitutional scholars.

For example, the 10th Amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Charles Cooper, formerly a top official in the Reagan Justice Department, explains:”TheTenth Amendment expresses the principle that under girds the entire plan of the original Constitution: the national government possesses only those powers delegated to it. The Framers of the Tenth Amendment had two purposes in mind when they drafted it. The first was a necessary rule of construction. The second was to reaffirm the nature of the federal system.”

Mr. Cooper also cites James Madison, considered the father of the Constitution, who wrote, in Federalist No. 45:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace negotiation, and foreign commerce… The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the state.”

Despite the Constitution’s emphasis on limited, enumerated federal authority, today there appear to be few limits on the federal government’s reach into virtually all aspects of society.

Heritage Foundation scholar Matthew Spalding’s discussion about the slave trade is fascinating. The Constitution states: “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall be prohibited by Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.”

Mr. Spalding explains the clause was a compromise as numerous Southern delegates would have otherwise rejected the entire Constitution. However, it was by no means a complete capitulation to the pro-slave states. Mr. Spalding writes: “It is significant that the words slave and slavery are not used in the Constitution of 1787, and that the Framers used the word person rather than property. This would assure, as Madison explained in Federalist No. 54, that a slave would be regarded ‘as a moral person, not as a mere article of property.’ It was in the context of the slave trade debate at the Constitutional Convention that Madison argued that it was ‘wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.’…Congress passed, and President Thomas Jefferson signed into law, a federal prohibition of the slave trade, effective January 1, 1808, the first day that Article I, Section 9, Clause 1, allowed such a law to go into effect.”

Bradley C.S. Watson’s commentary about the Supreme Court is especially relevant. The Constitution states: “The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court,” Mr. Watson writes: “When the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia, the very existence of a national judiciary was at issue. Delegates who favored state power argued that national laws could be enforced by state courts, whereas others, such as James Madison, foresaw the need for national judicial power. The ‘one supreme Court’ created by the Constitution reflected ambivalence over the nature and scope of this power, and the Framers left to Congress significant discretion to determine the number of Supreme Court justices; the establishment, structure and jurisdiction of a lower federal judiciary; and the ability to make exceptions to the Court’s appellate jurisdiction.”

Today the judiciary is treated (and behaves) as if it is superior to the other; as if it has the final say on all constitutional matters, even over the very branch of government — Congress — charged with defining its power.

This book is a signal work. Its broad dissemination will help ensure that future generations appreciate the brilliance of the framers and the magnificence of the Constitution.

Mark R. Levin is author of “Men In Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America” and president of Landmark Legal Foundation.

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