In 1987, on the Constitution’s bicentennial, Time magazine calculated that “of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”No, that isn't so galling. After all, what difference does it make what constitutional model burgeoning democracies use? No, what's galling are the critiques of our Constitution contained within that supposedly show "what's wrong with it".
A quarter-century later, the picture looks very different. “The U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere,” according to a new study by David S. Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia.
The United States Constitution is terse and old, and it guarantees relatively few rights.Funny, we always hear how young America is, especially compared to our societal betters in Europe's old democracies. Now suddenly, we're too old. And, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" doesn't seem small to me.
In an interview, Professor Law identified a central reason for the trend: the availability of newer, sexier and more powerful operating systems in the constitutional marketplace. “Nobody wants to copy Windows 3.1,” he said.The implication here is that our constitution doesn't work anymore and should be replaced. After all, that's what you do with an old operating system, right? Our constitution is more like a poem by a laureate or a painting by a master. It endures. It's still around because it works so well. It hasn't been replaced because frankly, there isn't anything better.
The rights guaranteed by the American Constitution are parsimonious by international standards, and they are frozen in amber. As Sanford Levinson wrote in 2006 in “Our Undemocratic Constitution,” “the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today.”To keep the computer analogy alive, that's a feature, not a bug. If a constitution can be changed at a whim by whatever group manages to get power, it ceases to be a document that enumerates the powers and rights of a citizenry and becomes just another tool for those in power.
Americans recognize rights not widely protected, including ones to a speedy and public trial, and are outliers in prohibiting government establishment of religion. But the Constitution is out of step with the rest of the world in failing to protect, at least in so many words, a right to travel, the presumption of innocence and entitlement to food, education and health care.We don't protect the presumption of innocence? That statement is so utterly false that there's really nothing else to say. Well, except this. The Constitution may not say "in so many words" that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. The law does say that however. And, as we'll see shortly, the author is very enamored with the idea of a judiciary expanding rights that aren't explicitly spelled out in a constitution, at least when Canadians do it.
The rest of that quote gets to the heart of some people's problem with the constitution. It doesn't list things like food, education and healthcare as rights. Well, that's because they're not. To borrow my own words: we have laws to define acceptable behavior in a society and to convey privileges (or restrict said privileges). Rights are things we can never envision or support being taken away.
There's a good reason the our constitution doesn't list every possible right. It's because the framers knew that was an impossible task. The very reason so many "newer" contitutions are easier to amend is because they attempt this impossible task. Just when they think it's perfect, along comes some new technology and, boom! New "right" coming through. Notice that even the NYT article uses the word "entitlement" to describe food, education, and healthcare.
It has its idiosyncrasies. Only 2 percent of the world’s constitutions protect, as the Second Amendment does, a right to bear arms.I love that something so fundamental as a right to defend yourself through force of arms is labeled an "idiosyncracy". Guess we know where the author stands on gun control.
The author however, does love the Canadian Charter:
The Canadian Charter is both more expansive and less absolute. It guarantees equal rights for women and disabled people, allows affirmative action and requires that those arrested be informed of their rights. On the other hand, it balances those rights against “such reasonable limits” as “can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”"We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal." Sounds pretty expansive (the use of the royal "men" notwithstanding) to me. Also, the author is being disingenuous with the phrase "more expansive and less absolute". What that really means is that the Charter puts far more limitations on things like freedom of speech, religion and assembly than the U.S Constitution and relies on the courts to broaden those rights, which was somehow a problem with the U.S. Constitution.
It should also be noted that the Times author is conflating the Charter with a constitution. The Charter is actually analogous to our Bill of Rights, which makes the next bit especially confusing.
There are, of course, limits to empirical research based on coding and counting, and there is more to a constitution than its words, as Justice Antonin Scalia told the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. “Every banana republic in the world has a bill of rights,” he said.The author wants this passage to read as though the Bill of Rights is somehow lessened by the actions of totalitarians in other countries. "Oh, the Bill of Rights," he seems to be saying, "the Soviet Union had one of those!" The Bill of Rights may be just paper, but so is the Canadian Charter. So is every constitution, everywhere.
“The bill of rights of the former evil empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was much better than ours,” he said, adding: “We guarantee freedom of speech and of the press. Big deal. They guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of street demonstrations and protests, and anyone who is caught trying to suppress criticism of the government will be called to account. Whoa, that is wonderful stuff!”
It's a bit disengenous to try and tie the Bill of Rights' worth to that of the old Soviet Union. Is there really any comparison to how those rights were treated under the U.S.S.R. and the United States?
And, if as the author asserts, these are just pieces of paper, then what purpose does his article serve? Besides making my blood boil, that is.