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I'm interested in starting a series related to what The Constitution and the Bill of Rights actually mean. If there's interest, I'll continue it.

Where to begin? At the beginning, I guess.

Follow me beyond the orange croissant.

Please bear in mind, my intention is to lead/begin a discussion, not to "teach" anyone, about what The Constition acually says. Although I work in a legal profession, I am not a lawyer. No matter how much of a heinous hack a member of the SCOTUS is (Alito), my opinion matters less than his/hers. I definitely do not have the last word on interpretation of The Constitution (nor does the POTUS). I'm pretty good at interpreting the law, but NO ONE is perfect at it. So please make comments that are less "authoritative" and more along the lines of "this is the way I see it."

Real, actual lawyers, please weigh in.

Feedback will be critical to the success/failure of this series.

OK, let's go...

The preamble to The Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
What do YOU think this means?

Briefly, my interpretation is this:

Preambles to laws state the intent of the law, and don't necessarily state the law, itself.

"We the people of the United States" is a reference to "we're not British" more than any affirmation that the founding fathers were 100% unified on every issue.

"in Order to form a more perfect Union" doesn't mean "in Order to form a perfect Union". Writing amendments to the constitution is clearly in view.

"establish Justice"; form a legal system for a new country. Duh.

"insure domestic Tranquility"; have a recourse in case the states sqabble, give the citizens a state of mind that we're able to pursue our lives.

"provide for the common defence"; basically, the Fed is able to organize our military if we're threatened.

"promote the general Welfare"; OK this one's contentious. What do YOU think this means? My opinion is that, inter alia this means that ownership of slaves was acceptable at the time of ratification. IOW, if you're a citizen, the Federal Government has the power to "promote" your largess. But, I'm totally open to other interpretations. For example, this could be the passage that supports the CDC, where the Fed is to be relied upon for stamping out epidemics. I'd REALLY like to hear what you have to say about this portion of the preamble.

"do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America"; "we're signing this thing. Bring it on, Britain!

Let the games commence. BUt please, let's be good to each other. The goal isn't to start a pie-fight, it's to better EVERYONE'S understanding of what our country is, or should be, all about.

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88%16 votes
11%2 votes

| 18 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for trying to understand (19+ / 0-)

    "Doing My Part to Piss Off the Religious Right" - A sign held by a 10-year old boy on 9-24-05

    by Timbuk3 on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 08:08:34 PM PDT

  •  Not the most interesting part ... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Timbuk3, CenPhx, Eric Nelson

    for me.
    I will be quite interested in what you have to say about the Bill of Rights.
    Also in the powers of Federal government, such as the authorization of Social Security. You know, there are politicians who say it is unconstitutional. Would they be saying that if far more people were better informed about the Constitution?

    Censorship is rogue government.

    by scott5js on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 08:16:50 PM PDT

  •  "Promote the General Welfare" Must Mean That (5+ / 0-)

    government is to involve itself in some aspects of society, because the term reappears in Article 1 which empowers Congress to levy taxes and duties to pay for (promoting) the general welfare.

    If the general welfare could be promoted only by government refraining from intervening in society, there could be no need to raise taxes to pay for doing nothing.

    One other point: the connection between the opening and closing phrases:

    "We the people...do ORDAIN...." Very churchy verb that one, "ordain."

    I notice it doesn't say "I the Lord Thy God...do ordain..." no matter how many dominionists insist it does.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 08:26:22 PM PDT

    •  I can already see a problem (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gooserock, scott5js, Eric Nelson

      ...with my piecemeal approach. Taking The Constitution a paragraph at a time is going to be problematic.

      Thanks or your comment.

      I agree that "government is to involve itself in some aspects of society".

      I'll try to be careful about interpreting The Constitution in terms of lone paragraphs, but I hope you can see what I'm going for, here.

      I didn't say it would be easy. :-)

      "Doing My Part to Piss Off the Religious Right" - A sign held by a 10-year old boy on 9-24-05

      by Timbuk3 on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 08:35:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  erm..."or" = "for" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Gooserock, Eric Nelson

        "Doing My Part to Piss Off the Religious Right" - A sign held by a 10-year old boy on 9-24-05

        by Timbuk3 on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 08:35:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I Didn't Necessarily Disagree, You're Right That (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Timbuk3, Mokurai

        the concept is very contentious. I tried to stay as generic as possible about government involvement in society because IANAL, but I do run a business and I am aware of all things I don't do that I don't spend money not doing.

        I don't think that the paragraph by paragraph approach is all that bad, only if you cross check terms or concepts against other parts of the document.

        The document wasn't conceived and formed front to back, but like any human accomplishment, from the inside out.

        The Constitution has a feel like a mathematical proof, in that, the mathematicians when they're on the clock, they fuck around with numbers and curves and sequences and stuff, like little boys poking at snakes. They spot something shiny or gooey, it leads to seeing a pattern, then they hire lawyers to write out the contracts that hide all their embarrassing guesswork and false starts.

        Then they make us learn it in a spare and demanding framework that would've flunked most of them out.

        We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

        by Gooserock on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 08:50:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think I understand what you're saying (0+ / 0-)

          ...and I didn't at any point think I was "under attack" by you.

          I honestly appreciate your feedback, and I'm curious where this "series" may end up.

          This is an especially valuable contribution:

          The document wasn't conceived and formed front to back, but like any human accomplishment, from the inside out.
          Thanks for that.

          "Doing My Part to Piss Off the Religious Right" - A sign held by a 10-year old boy on 9-24-05

          by Timbuk3 on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 08:56:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  It is necessary to flesh out the discussion (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Timbuk3, freerad, night cat

        of particular clauses with the relevant case law, which in turn means delving into the causes of the controversies that lie behind the cases. We can effectively consider concepts such as Nullification and Original Intent, for example, only if we are aware that they both arose primarily in defense of homemade booze and slavery. I will cite sources on those claims again, when we get to those topics here.

        Among the many provisions of the Constitution that deserve their own Diaries are the Supremacy Clause, the Full Faith and Credit Clause, the Interstate Commerce Clause, the various provisions for taxation, citizenship, and voting, and most of the amendments. The differences between the US and Confederate Constitutions are of great importance, because the Confederacy proclaimed theirs as the Original Intent of the (slaveowning) Founders, a claim still apparently made tacitly today. A pre-Civil War claim of Original Intent on slavery was also the starting point for Abraham Lincoln's analysis of the question of slavery in the territories in his Cooper Union Address.

        Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

        by Mokurai on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 12:18:40 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Not churchy at all (0+ / 0-)

      even though there are religious uses of the word. In government, it simply means to decree, to make something law just because we say so.

      Which is the only way Constitutions can be established, to begin with. Many are created by processes that were illegal under the previous laws of the country concerned. The ratification of the US Constitution followed a procedure laid out in the Constitution, one that had no legal force until after it was agreed that the Constitution had in fact been ratified. It certainly did not conform to the provisions of the Articles of Confederation, which in turn had no connection with British and prior Colonial law.

      See my Diary The Constitution as Catch-22, which explains some of the processes by which laws come to be accepted or rejected, and how they can be reinterpreted in accordance with popular will or the application of undue corporate or church influence, among a variety of possibilities.

      I am also not a lawyer, but I consider myself to have the more important skill of being trained as a logician, and the more important point of view of a Buddhist concerned for the welfare of all sentient beings, not just all humans, with training in the nature of delusion.

      Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

      by Mokurai on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 12:08:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm a bit of a formalist, (6+ / 0-)

    so I usually wave off any sort of prefatory language.  "to the operative clauses!" is usually what I think when I read anything legal.

  •  Y'know, it could be an interesting exploration... (4+ / 0-)

    ...I've lived on the East Side of the Orygun Cascades for over 20 years and have had far more opportunities than I ever would have imagined in my callow youth to discuss Constitutional issues with my fellow citizens.  My fellow citizens in these discussions have usually had that ubiquitous pocket copy of the COTUS and wished mostly to wave it around in my face while discussing the illegality of my being a federal jack-booted thug controlling their lives as a wildland resource manager in the absence of a Constitutional mandate to do so, Property Clause and a host of SCOTUS decisions be damned...

    I think it would be fascinating, actually, to read (and perhaps take part in) discussions of what the Constitution means to folks around here...

    "In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward mobile..." - Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

    by Jack K on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 08:44:08 PM PDT

  •  The preamble and the rest of the constitution (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Timbuk3

    mean whatever 9 justices on the Supreme Court say that it means.

    •  Agreed. n/t (0+ / 0-)

      "Doing My Part to Piss Off the Religious Right" - A sign held by a 10-year old boy on 9-24-05

      by Timbuk3 on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 08:50:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  the SC determines legal effect. (5+ / 0-)

      but meaning is independent of the SCOTUS.

      •  Sorry I disagree. The Supreme Court is ultimate (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Timbuk3

        decider of what the words of the constitution mean.  

        There are times when it appears that the decisions of the Supreme Court appear to be to be different from how I would interpret the words of the constitution, such as the Heller decision which I believe is a misinterpretation of the second amendment in that I read that amendment as applying the right to bear arms in the context of a militia and not an individual right to bear arms.

        And there are times when the Court has reversed itself, changing the meaning of the constitution (see Brown vs Board of Education reversing Plessy v. Ferguson.

        But ultimately, the citizens of the U.S. and the legislative and executive branch of the government must abide by whatever the Supreme Court says that the constitution means, even if their interpretations are different.  

    •  Seventeenth Amendment (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eric Nelson, Timbuk3

      It reaffirms that each state shall have 2 Senators. What if the Supreme Court ruled that 2 meant 3. Would that not be a false interpretation? Would such a thing ever happen?
      One implication of this amendment is that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment cannot be read to mandate that the Senate must be apportioned by population.
      Constitutional cases almost always from parts of the text that are less than clear.

      Censorship is rogue government.

      by scott5js on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 09:41:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Temporarily true (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timbuk3

      until there are new Justices. Overturning Plessey v. Ferguson in Brown v. Board was one of the most important Supreme Court cases ever, but there have been other major reversals and evolutions. Hence the relentless Republican drive ever since "Impeach Earl Warren" turned into another Lost Cause to get a majority of racists and corporatists on the Court. Which we are poised to undo as soon as either Scalia or Kennedy, the oldest of the Conservatives, ages out, possibly under a Hillary Clinton Administration. Or not Hillary Clinton. Whichever, as long as it is not Chris Christie or worse.

      Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

      by Mokurai on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 12:26:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My interpretation of the preamble is that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Timbuk3, Eric Nelson

    establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare are the purpose of the government of the newly formed country.  The constitution is the framework for the government to do these things.  

  •  A Story Of Contrasts..... (5+ / 0-)

    I always thought it was interesting to compare the U.S. Constitution to the Confederacy's constitution, and note what they kept, what they changed, and their interpretation of what it meant. One interesting note about the CSA's constitution; there is no explicit right of secession in the document.

    For example, the Preambles:

    • United States Constitution
    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
    • Confederate States Constitution
    We, the people of the Confederate States, each state acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity ā€” invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God ā€” do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.
    The phrase "more perfect union" has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in Texas v. White as forbidding secession. The opinion of the court was the meaning of the text is that states collectively form a perpetual union that are bound in indissoluble unity.

    The CSA's constitution explicitly invokes God in the preamble, where the US constitution does not mention God anywhere in the text, and explicitly forbids religious tests for public office.

  •  The bit in between welfare & ordain is missing: (0+ / 0-)
    ...and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity...

    Living the austerity dream.

    by jwinIL14 on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 09:08:58 PM PDT

  •  For layman like me this sounds like a very good.. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    scott5js, Timbuk3

    ..idea. Studying & learning about law and the constitution to better understand.

    "promote the general Welfare"; OK this one's contentious. What do YOU think this means?
    Single Payer Healthcare? that's this non-lawyers guess/opinion

    We have USDA - food safety, UL (Under writers laboratory), Postal Service, FDIC, Dept. of transportation, Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, USGS, National Park, Dams,..a bazillions things we all contribute to for society.

    Why is Heathcare - getting medical needs met have to be privatized?

     Good idea Timbuk3  

  •  good luck dude, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Timbuk3

    I'll be watchin'

    Rivers are horses and kayaks are their saddles

    by River Rover on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 10:36:29 PM PDT

  •  Preamble to the Canadian Constitution Act 1867 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Timbuk3

    The Canadian constitution was something of a reaction to the then recent events of the American civil war.

    Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom:
    And whereas such a Union would conduce to the Welfare of the Provinces and promote the Interests of the British Empire:
    And whereas on the Establishment of the Union by Authority of Parliament it is expedient, not only that the Constitution of the Legislative Authority in the Dominion be provided for, but also that the Nature of the Executive Government therein be declared:
    And whereas it is expedient that Provision be made for the eventual Admission into the Union of other Parts of British North America:
    The only overlap of aspirations, between the US and Canadian constitutions seems to be welfare.

    There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

    by Gary J on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 05:39:20 AM PDT

  •  Great idea! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Timbuk3

    I look forward to it!

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