Jefferson's advice to the Supreme Court
Since the Supreme Court is in the middle of hearing a case that will decide if our republic is going to continue or will degenerate into a tyranny of unlimited government power, this seems like a good time to go back and look at some of Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on how we should interpret the Constitution.
In a letter to Supreme Court Justice William Johnson on June 12, 1823, Jefferson gave him this advice:
“On every question of construction, we should carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
This seems like a pretty solid, common sense approach to interpreting the Constitution, but we can be fairly certain that it’s not what we’ll see from the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare. When it comes out later this year, read through it and count how many times the justices discuss the writings of the Founders – or even mention them.
This concept couldn’t be more important because this case would be a slam dunk if it were decided based on the Founders‘ intent. It’s simply unreasonable to assume that our Constitution could possibly have been ratified had the people at the time believed that it gave the federal government the power to force them to buy a product.
But there is a significant chance that Obamacare will be upheld because the decision is almost guaranteed to be filled with references to the decisions of other courts and obscure legal concepts that are only loosely related to the Constitution itself. Which brings us to another piece of advice that Thomas Jefferson had for Justice Williams that day:
“Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding, and should therefore be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subleties which make anything mean everything or nothing, at pleasure.”
But this is exactly what we are doing by interpreting the Constitution based on previous court decisions and how individual words can be twisted instead of relying on original intent. After years of this approach, the Constitution now means everything and nothing all at the same time. If Obamacare is upheld, it will mean that a document that was written to put strict limits on the government is now being used to justify giving that same government unlimited power. Yay freedom!