There are religious fundamentalists out there who are convinced that they know exactly what the Bible says. They take it absolutely literally and have no doubt in their mind what it all means, and anyone who disagrees with their interpretation is simply wrong. And, amazingly, what the Bible says matches their own personal views perfectly!
There are Constitutional fundamentalists who have the same view — they treat the Constitution like it was written on stone tablets and handed down by the gods. Sadly, at least one of these fundamentalists is on the Supreme Court.
The problem with this simplistic view is that it fails to take into consideration Constitutional history and common sense. The Constitution was written by men, not gods, and they did not all agree on the meaning of the words or what should be in there. There is no more of a “founder’s intent” than there is a government intent on any bill. Will people years from now claim that the entire Congress agreed unanimously on Obamacare? Of course not. So why do people insist on believing that for the Constitution?
The Constitution is a series of compromises, just like everything done by government. It was written very broadly, with purposely vague words, because that was the only way it could get passed. It’s meant to be our guidelines for how the laws will be written — our goals, if you will. It was not meant to be taken literally to the point where there is only one interpretation.
Those who say that there is just one way to interpret it need to explain why, within a few years, there were Supreme Court decisions about it. These were the exact same people who wrote the damn thing — why would they need to go to court to have someone explain it to them?
One of the first and most important Supreme Court decisions in those early years was Marbury v. Madison, in which the Supreme Court said that they have the right to review laws to determine whether they were Constitutional. Makes sense, right? Who else would do that? But those words aren’t anywhere in the Constitution. The founding fathers had to interpret them from the overall document. And clearly, not everyone agreed. And these were the people who wrote it!
After all, if everyone agreed on the meaning, there would be no need for a Supreme Court at all.
You’d think people would get that, but Constitutional fundamentalists (who, like religious fundamentalists, are always very conservative) cannot accept this. Justice Scalia, for instance, chides his fellow Justices all the time for getting it “wrong” when they refuse to acknowledge he has super powers to read the minds of the Founding Fathers and know exactly, for instance, what their views were on internet regulations.
Part two: Examples of compromises made by the Founders