President Obama’s top 10 constitutional violationsOne of the biggest political changes that 2011 brought — in large part due to the tea parties and their effect on the 2010 election — is the centrality of the Constitution to our public discourse. Lawmakers and citizens no longer consider simply whether a given bill or policy proposal is a good idea but whether it is constitutional. “Where does the government get the power to do that?” is often critics’ rallying cry.
That’s a healthy development. For far too long, even in those rare moments when politicians were faced with constitutional concerns, they’ve had the attitude Nancy Pelosi did when asked about the authority for Obamacare’s individual mandate: “Are you serious?” Because, of course, constitutional arguments are the last refuge of the scoundrel who has no good policy arguments to make or political power to levy.
And so it’s a good thing that Americans are taking their founding document seriously. After all, the Constitution is the font of all federal power. Its carefully crafted structural provisions that we learned about in grade school, such as the separation of powers and checks and balances, are not merely an application of political theory.
“Federalism is more than an exercise in setting the boundary between different institutions of government for their own integrity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court earlier this year. “By denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life,” Kennedy continued, “federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power.” If the federal government acts outside the scope of its delegated and carefully enumerated powers, then it’s no better than an armed mob.