Why do we have constitutions, anyway? Are we merely paying reverence to the opinions of dead men? No. The point of a constitution is not that the people who wrote it are necessarily wiser than we are, but that (a) we wish to be ruled by known laws, rather than by the fleeting whims of those who hold power at the moment, and (b) the fundamental design which limits the laws should be much harder to change than the laws themselves.
Constitutions shouldn’t be impossible to change: That’s why there are procedures for constitutional amendments. But change should be difficult. If the constitution is treated as a “living document” the meaning of which can shift and flow in the light of “evolving standards,” then it is no longer functioning as a constitution, and there is no reason to keep it.
On the other hand, written constitutions pose a different kind of problem. Since they are viewed as a kind of law, they tend to be interpreted by courts, and since they are viewed as a higher kind of law, courts suffer prodigious temptations to act as superlegislatures -- destroying the constitutional scheme in the very name of saving it.
Although the Framers of the U.S. Constitution were unusually talented men, they were naive about this possibility, assuming that the judiciary would be the weakest branch of government, and the legislature the strongest. They would be dismayed and confounded by the extent to which Congress has ceded its authority to the courts and the executive.
Tomorrow: That Makes Everything Okay