Many countries have a codified constitution that aids them in all state matters. Some countries, however, do not have an official written constitution.
What is the purpose of the constitution?
See what six experts have to say:
David Reischer, Esq
Attorney & CEO, Pro Bono Legal Advice
The purpose of the Constitution is to limit the power of the government such that the rights of the citizens are protected from government abuse.
The interpretation of the Constitution is such a contentious issue because the language of the Constitution is sometimes ‘ambiguous’ and open to differences of meaning and understanding.
These differences of meaning and understanding as to what the actual text of the Constitution reads can create diverging viewpoints as to how the courts should follow the law when interpreting applying the language of the Constitution to the facts of a new case.
A difference in interpretation can have a significant impact on how to implement the policies of the United States.
The ambiguity in the language of the Constitution has opened up debate among many different areas of the Constitution as to the set limits of the enumerated powers granted to the government.
There is a natural tension between protecting the rights and liberties of the individual while also promoting the general welfare and common good of society as a whole.
The limits of individual rights and freedom are analyzed continuously against developing policies that promote the common good. The limits of “Free Speech” enshrined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights come up against permitting “Hate Speech.” The limits of the “Right To Bear Arms” enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights come up against allowing an individual to own a semi-automatic weapon.
The interpretation of the U.S. Constitution affects many different areas of society, including a female’s right to choose whether to have an abortion, right to due process, right to privacy, and much more.
The interpretation of the U.S. Constitution is always evolving, and some think that is a good thing while other ‘strict constructionists’ that favor a static understanding of the Constitution, believe that to be a bad thing.
Political Commentator | Talk Radio Host, The Michael Hart Show | Author, Unknown America: Myths and little know oddities about the greatest nation on earth
The United States Constitution was written to set forth the essential infrastructure for a new centralized Government and to establish very clear boundaries for that government.
During the Constitutional Convention, the Framers of the Constitution were very aware that the individual states would likely be suspicious of having an overarching central government that would oversee the entire nation. The states always felt individual sovereignty was their right.
The Federalists, however, believed that as the nation grew – and added more states – that a central entity was required to keep the peace, secure the country, and regulate commerce.
Knowing the states might balk, the Framers crafted the Constitution not only to establish the new government’s structure but to define it’s role.
Any rights not specifically granted to the new Federal government we’re the domain of the states. This was done to encourage the states to join the new nation by ratifying the Constitution. (Many did so believing they could leave at any time. This helped precipitate the US Civil War)
To further ease the concerns of the states as well as provide a way to change the Constitution, the Framers added the Amendment process.
It is purposely cumbersome to prevent any rash and momentary changes to the document and requires substantial support from the states. The Framers also drafted a series of Newspaper articles called the Federalist. (Not the Federalist Papers as some claim) to “sell” the states on ratification.
Consumer Protection Attorney
A constitution is both the government’s claim of legitimacy and its citizens claim to rights.
Most countries have a written constitution in place as it establishes an order of governance and provides the rights the drafters wanted to allow. A constitution usually sets up the court system, sets up the type of government, who rules, and how they are elected if at all.
But just because you have a constitution doesn’t necessarily mean you have a democracy, a voice or any practical rights.
Even brutal dictatorships like North Korea operate under a constitution. The quality of the rights provided is vital as each constitution wildly varies across the globe.
Furthermore, even a country that has a Constitution which provides adequate rights to its citizens does not mean that they follow it and abide by the rule of law.
Robert L. Savage
Executive Director, AFFIRM1776
Because our nation’s adherence to our Constitution has so altered its original intents, my response can be framed only if I first reword it to read:
What was the purpose of the Constitution?
In 1787, the framers believed that they had created a document to improve the design of and underpin a fourteenth government that would work with the thirteen state governments without overriding their governance in almost every area of local political life.
To them, its only significant role was that of national defense (where all thirteen acting under a single command was vital if the ideals of the Declaration of Independence concerning “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were to survive when attacked by outsiders.) Additionally, the coordination of international relationships and some few functions (i.e., best done by one for all) were assigned to it.
Their redesign was ingenious as far as the technical workings and relationships established for the legislative, executive, and judicial functions.
A key area they did not address was the working relationships needed for the central idea in the Declaration of Independence (i.e., the certain rights common to all citizens regardless of the state where they resided), and this became a demand in the process of approving the new Constitution.
The Bill of Rights was subsequently produced as an answer to that demand.
However, those ten amendments were never studied and debated with the same purposefulness and statesmanship given to their redesigned constitution. Probably as a result, they were quickly approved as nine statements of the rights of all citizens plus one statement about the role and responsibilities of the states (individually and collectively.)
In short, while these amendments were extremely vital, the “how-to” elements so well embedded in the new Constitution were never established for the states’ (as a group) regarding the citizens’ individual “rights.” As a result, too many determinations have since devolved into the purview of federal bureaucrats, politicians, and courts.
To the original question –
What is the purpose of the Constitution?
In light of the above context, the answer for me is that it is essentially unchanged from that of 1787. Its purpose is still to underpin a fourteenth government that works with the (now) fifty state governments without overriding their governance in almost every area of local political life.
To its primary role of national defense in the eighteenth century, today’s greater worldwide complexities have added a function for homeland security and highlighted strong needs for better thinking and coordination in our international relationships plus faster response times from the judicial system.
To meet these needs – and though severely weakened in the last 200+ years by poorly conceived changes and the almost complete failure of our government officials – it remains a marvelous tool for our nation.
Paul J. Joseph MA
Independent Film Maker, The Turing Files
The original purpose of the Constitution was to create one country out of 13 states.
Each state had and has a unique government system. Initially, states printed their own money and raised their private armies, at least to a limited degree. The Constitution created the federal government, which was intended to manage the country as a whole.
The federal government as laid out in the Constitution is made up of three branches, based on the first three articles, namely the legislative branch, made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the executive branch, which is the office of the president, and the judicial branch, which is the Supreme Court.
The Constitution defines how the federal government and the states will interact.
It is intended to allow for the representation of every state regardless of its geographic size and population. At the same time, it recognizes the value of each citizen and their vote. For this reason, for example, the Senate has two senators from each state regardless of size or population,while the House of Representatives is assigned members based on population. Initially, the Senate represented the state legislatures, not the people, and senators were not elected but appointed.
Each branch of government was given its unique powers and responsibilities to decentralize power. The president, for example, cannot declare war, nor can he control the federal budget. The House of Representatives initiates bills having to do with taxation and spending and can deny funds to endeavors it does not agree with. Each of these branches is intended to check the others.
The most well-known part of the Constitution is the bill of rights, which is made up of the first ten amendments.
This bill of rights is intended to prevent any part of the federal government from interfering with the individual rights of the citizens of any state. The president and Congress, for example, cannot pass a law limiting freedom of speech in any way. Should they do so, the Supreme Court can declare that law unconstitutional.
It is essential to understand that the Constitution applied only to the federal government and not the states. For this reason, there is no mention of slavery before the 13th amendment. It is because slavery was a state issue. The federal government neither encouraged nor condemned it because half of the original states practiced slavery at the time. It is essential to understand that, when the 13th amendment was written and ratified, slavery became a federal issue, and no state could then practice it.
The Constitution protects us from government overreach, but it is not perfect.
The FDA, for example, is not in the law, but it effectively creates regulations that act as laws, and it can punish citizens with fines or imprisonment for breaking them. Citizens of the states cannot vote out members of the FDA, nor can state legislatures nullify FDA regulations. The same is true of the Federal Reserve, the IRS, and other federal agencies.
A movement is currently underway called the Article V convention. This movement, representing a collection of states, can amend the Constitution. If 2/3 of the states agree to hold a convention of the states, they can propose amendments to limit the power of Congress. If ¾ of the states ratify them, the Constitution can be amended by the states without the interference of Congress.
The Constitution is our means of maintaining freedom.
It guarantees that the power of the people will trump the influence of any lawmaker and that all will have a say. It also protects us from mob rule. Even if the majority of the people vote to take away the freedom of religion, for example, that right is still guaranteed unless the Constitution itself is amended by ¾ of all states, which would be unlikely.
All military personnel swears to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, and all federal officials declare to do the same. The constitutional freedom from tyranny and the arbitrary rule of kings and dictators. It tries to keep the government small when possible, even if that means a loss of efficiency. We must defend it at all costs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some criticisms of the Constitution?
There are several criticisms of the Constitution. Some relate to its language and structure, others to its historical context and the way it has been applied in practice.
One criticism of the Constitution is that its language can be vague and open to interpretation. The Commerce Clause, for example, which grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, has been the subject of numerous Supreme Court rulings.
Some argue that it gives Congress broad powers over the economy, while others argue that it should be interpreted more narrowly.
Another criticism is that the Constitution enshrines some outdated or discriminatory practices. For example, the original Constitution allowed for slavery and counted enslaved people as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of representation in Congress.
These provisions have been repealed, but some argue that the Constitution still reflects the biases and prejudices of its time.
Finally, some argue that the Constitution doesn’t do enough to address systemic issues such as income inequality and the influence of money in politics.
They argue that the Constitution’s emphasis on individual rights has sometimes come at the expense of broader social and economic justice.
How can we ensure that the Constitution remains relevant and effective in the modern era?
Ensuring that the Constitution remains relevant and effective in the modern era requires ongoing engagement and participation from all Americans.
This includes staying informed about current events and political issues, participating in the political process by voting and advocating for change and staying engaged with the legal system by serving on juries and supporting legal organizations that uphold the principles of the Constitution.
Another way to ensure that the Constitution remains relevant and effective is to recognize the limitations of the document and work to address the challenges that it may not fully address.
For example, the Constitution doesn’t explicitly address issues such as climate change or income inequality, even though these issues are increasingly important in the modern era.
By addressing these challenges through political action and advocacy, we can help ensure that the Constitution remains a vital document for American governance and a source of inspiration for generations to come.
Finally, it’s important to recognize that interpretation of the Constitution is an ongoing process that evolves over time. As society and political circumstances change, the Constitution’s meaning may also evolve.
By engaging with the legal system and staying informed about ongoing debates and interpretations, we can help ensure that the Constitution continues to reflect the values and priorities of the American people.
What role does the Supreme Court play in interpreting the Constitution?
The Supreme Court’s role in interpreting the Constitution is one of the most important aspects of American government. The Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution’s meaning and determine whether or not laws or government actions are constitutional.
When a case comes before the Supreme Court, the justices consider the relevant laws and precedents, as well as the text and history of the Constitution. They also consider the original intent of the framers of the Constitution and how it has been interpreted in the past.
Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution have profoundly impacted American society and politics. For example, the Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment has shaped our understanding of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, while its interpretation of the Second Amendment has shaped our understanding of the right to bear arms.
Supreme Court decisions aren’t always unanimous, and there is often vigorous debate among the justices. However, the Court’s decisions are binding on lower courts and significantly impact American law and society.
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