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by Gary Galles | Malibu
September 17 is Constitution Day, marking the 1787 date when delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed their handiwork. This momentous day deserves to be widely celebrated, particularly to commemorate the contributions of James Madison, “the father of the Constitution,” for no one had a greater role in its construction and interpretation. Madison’s Constitutional understanding is particularly important now, as presidential candidates’ views on Constitutional interpretation and potential court appointments are becoming a major issue (especially when one is a former Constitutional law professor). The purpose of American government:

“In a just and free government...the rights both of property and of persons ought to be effectually guarded.”

“The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate…The protection of these faculties is the first object of government.” “[G]overnment is instituted…for the benefit of the people; which consist in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

The role of the Constitution:

“Hitherto charters have been written grants of privileges by Governments to the people. Here they are written grants of power by the people to their Governments.” “[T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.” “[The Constitution] may be one means to control the majority from those acts to which they might be otherwise inclined.” “I am dogmatically attached to the Constitution in every clause, syllable, and letter...” Interpreting the Constitution:

“[L]aws are unconstitutional which infringe on the rights of the community...”

“There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which therefore, needs more elucidation than...that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong... nothing can be more false...it would be the interest of the majority in every community to despoil and enslave the minority of individuals... re-establishing...force as the measure of right...” “The legitimate meanings of [the Constitution] must be derived from the text itself...” “It may often happen…that erroneous constructions, not anticipated, may not be sufficiently guarded against in the language used...errors which have their sources in… the silent innovations of time on the meaning of words and phrases.” “[T]he meaning of the Constitution should be fixed and known...” “The real measure of the powers meant to be granted to Congress by the Constitution is to be sought in the specifications...not...with a latitude that, under the name or means for carrying into execution a limited Government, would transform it into a Government without limits.” “With respect to the words, ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the details of power connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution... not contemplated by the creators.” “I cannot…lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” “If Congress can employ money indefinitely...the powers of Congress would subvert the very foundation, the very nature of the limited government established by the people of America.” James Madison, the foremost interpreter of our Constitution for 50 years, made it clear that it was to enumerate the limited powers given to the federal government and defend Americans from “the first experiment on our liberties” by its hand. It was to stand as the highest law of the land, not to be a “living document,” except by formal amendment, protecting us from creative redefinitions that breach those limits. Compliance with that view should also be a core criterion to judge candidates for the highest office in the land. If not, we have already abandoned the Constitution and the limits on federal coercion that maintains our liberties.

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