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Union University Department of Political Science

Department of Political Science

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Department Discusses Whether the Constitution Still Matters

Sep 17, 2010

As part of Union's commemoration of Constitution Day, Union's political science department discussed whether the Constitution still matters. Many tea party supporters and members of the conservative legal establishment believe that America has abandoned the original meaning of the Constitution and that we need to restore the Constitution to its pre-New Deal understanding. To discuss this, members of the department took the various sides in a lively discussion and debate.

Dr. Baker began by laying out the Federalist Society position that the Constitution creates a government of limited and powers that respects states. He argued that the Constitution specifically delegated certain powers to the federal government and that under the 10th Amendment all other powers belonged to states. He discussed how the Supreme Court moved away from this view beginning with the New Deal as they expanded the conception of commerce allowing Congress to regulate practically everything, they blatantly ignored the express wording of the contract clause, and turned the 10th Amendment into a meaningless statement.

Dr. Ryan came next and discussed the expansion of presidential war power. He discussed how that prior to World War II, presidents fought small conflicts as they saw fit but always asked Congress to declare war for major conflicts. In the post-WWII era, he argued that we have abandoned this as the president never declares war. Instead we have congressional resolutions that presidents interpret as a declaration of war when it is not. The most obvious example of this being the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that President Johnson used to escalate war in Vietnam. He then went on to discuss how the two President Bushes fought wars but never asked for the authority.

Dr. Evans ended the presentationsby arguing that the current government and Supreme Court has remained faithful to the Constitution. Using Justice Steven Breyer's Active Liberty, he argued that the underlying value of the Constitution is promoting citizen participation in the processes of government. Using history and the test, he showed how the Bill of Rights and certain other events contribute to this development. He then took the idea to show how this has led to cooperative federalism where the federal government partners with the states to run many programs, an expansion of the commerce clause as a global interdependent world makes everything part of interstate commerce, that the government needs to guarantee certain social and economic rights for people to participate fully, and that the separation of powers has constrained presidential war making.

The night ended with a lively discussion among the panelists and questions from the audience.