by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Thomas writes for National Affairs about the important role of constitutional law in today’s polarized political climate.
America has faced more serious divisions in the past?—?after all, we did have an actual civil war?—?but we should not presume the inevitable endurance of the American experiment. Political orders are finite entities; historically speaking, the American experiment is bound to come to an end.
Yet perhaps America’s constitutional history can forestall the inevitable. Perhaps American constitutional law can help us rediscover the political principles we share in common and set the bounds of our disagreements. It’s an odd thought in this dyspeptic era, but our conflicts may offer an opportunity to engage the citizenry in constitutional education. After all, polarized as we are, the one thing we share in common (if surveys are to be believed) is our ignorance of the Constitution. …
… Our constitutional history can offer instruction on basic civic knowledge, such as the three branches of government within the separation of powers, which three quarters of Americans cannot name. But much more than basic knowledge, turning to our constitutional history is a way to reanimate the principles we share in common and forge a common civic identity. American constitutional principles have come to life over the course of our history as we have wrestled with how to apply enduring ideals in new cases and contexts.
“We the people” set the Constitution in motion over two centuries ago, but maintaining the order it established will require the participation of new generations. We can recover our constitutional history by revisiting the court cases that force us to answer difficult questions about how our Constitution and its institutions are supposed to interact. This not only offers us a civics lesson that doubles as active engagement with constitutional institutions and principles; it also shows us that the Constitution’s future will depend on citizens today.
Among the areas of constitutional law worth exploring is the concept of originalism, a topic law professor Ilan Wurman tackled during a January presentation for the Triangle Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society.