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Can the Constitution Adapt to Future Circumstances?

Professor Ilan Wurman explains how the Founders crafted a constitution that was both permanent and flexible. The provisions of the Constitution are broad enough to account for evolving circumstances that can be accommodated through the democratic process of legislation. For the most fundamental issues, like the abolition of slavery, the Constitution can be updated through the amendment process. https://youtube.com/watch?v=-xW-vhgHzvY


Even though the Constitution should be interpreted as other laws are interpreted with their original public meaning, this does not mean that the Constitution can't adapt to future circumstances. In fact, the Framers did at least three things in the Constitution that allowed it to be flexible and adaptable into the future. First the Framers wrote a lot of the constitutional provisions in broad terms. They said Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. They didn't say Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom to write with quill and parchment thus the First Amendment applies to the Internet. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. This protects GPS devices placed on automobiles, not just horse-drawn carriages. So through these more expansive standards and principles, the Founders ensured that the Constitution provisions would be able to apply to new circumstances even if the meaning itself did not change. The other great genius of the Founders was that in the Constitution they wrote, they didn't require very much. The Constitution only protects those rights most essential to a free society, the rights to speech, religion and press, the rights of criminal defendants, before they are deprived of life, liberty, or property. But other than that, the Founders left most societal questions to the democratic process precisely because they expected that we would evolve and progress over time. So the Constitution the Founders wrote, may be a dead Constitution but the democracy that the Constitution created is very much a living and breathing democracy. Third and finally, we can't forget the amendment process. People often lament that the amendment process is so hard to use but the amendment process was supposed to be hard to use. Because the amendment process was reserved only for those most fundamental questions about the nature of regime. And that's in fact how the amendment process was used. The amendment process was used to give us a bill of rights, it was used to abolish slavery, it was used to apply the protections of the federal government against the state governments as well. It was used to enfranchise African-Americans, it was used to enfranchise women. These fundamental changes to the regime is what the amendment process was for and it's what the amendment process has in fact been used for. It could be, in other words, that we can be bound by our original Constitution as it's been lawfully amended, and still have the kind of flexibility and adaptability that many living constitutionalists want to see in a constitution.

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