A few weeks ago, I posted this comment in a political discussion in my favorite Facebook group:

The idea of canceling history and wiping out the past by judging it through the prism of 2020 culture and understanding may be a precursor to doing the same to the Constitution.

We already have an example of textualism clashing with originalism, wherein the text read through modern definitions doesn’t match with the text’s plain meaning when read through the definitions and idiom of the time it was written. I’m referring to the Gorsuch ruling on Title VII.

It’s not much of a leap from there to reinterpreting everything written in the Constitution itself, including protections for our rights.

In the past few days, I’ve been offered several questions by Quora (follow me!) :

Would it be beneficial for America to either get rid of the Constitution completely or to simply rewrite it to better fit modern times?

Is the Constitution still relevant today?

Why can we not change the constitution for updating the current situation, learning the experience of the past 70 years, which has ruined the country?

Were I to sort people’s opinions on Constitutional matters into three types, I’d offer:

ORIGINALISTS: Believe laws should be interpreted based on language (and intent) at the time they were written. I mostly fall into this camp.

TEXTUALISTS: Believe laws should be interpreted based on the plain understanding of the language written therein. There is (or used to be, at least) much overlap between originalists and textualists.

AGENDA-ISTS: Believe laws should be interpreted to fit their political leanings and views on the subject material. These are the “living document” folks who like it when creative interpretations go their way, but scream bloody murder when creative interpretations go the other way.

I don’t have much use for the agenda-ists. They are the Humpty Dumptys of our society (“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less). The Constitution is, to them, simultaneously a tool and a roadblock – useful for squeezing the opposition when it advances a goal, and useless and ‘outdated’ when it is used to obstruct a goal. There are mechanisms for changing the law, including the law written in the Constitution, but the agenda-ists eschew those in favor of having ‘enlightened’ justices institute “living Constitution” interpretations that match a preferred agenda.

As I noted, there’s much overlap between the first two groups, but as recent SCOTUS decisions show, they are not the same, and a political observer might conclude that some clever folks have realized they can advance their agenda by altering the colloquial understanding of some words. Or, by simply piggybacking and encouraging the redefinition of common terms being advanced by the woke-mob.

A law becomes less and less useful as it becomes vaguer and vaguer. If good-minded people cannot be sure what the law says, how are they supposed to comply? If good-minded people disagree as to what the law says, then the law becomes a tool of those in power, of those who control the interpretation. What was duly enacted via the mechanisms of our society should not be voidable simply by redefining some words. If society deems a law insufficient or obsolete, there are mechanisms for adding to or altering its purpose. The commenter who asks why we can’t change the Constitution ignores that we can in favor of wanting to without following the rules, presumably because the rules are keeping him from changing it as he wishes. In other words, he doesn’t have the votes, but wants to win anyway.

A schism between originalists and textualists that’s born of the deliberate altering of language is something we should fear. It’s yet another erosion of the checks and balances that keep the nation from turning into a “tyranny of the powerful.” You may not like what a law’s original purpose was, but you shouldn’t “cheat” in trying to fix it.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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