Few people know what today is. That is a shame, because it is the anniversary of a remarkable event in history: the signing of the United States Constitution.
On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, held in the summer heat of Philadelphia for four long months, signed the document for which they had labored so hard to produce. During both the drafting of the Constitution and the ensuing debates over its ratification, the struggle to procure the new system of government was not an easy one. But in the end, America came down in support of what has endured as the oldest working constitution in the world today.
Thus the U.S. Constitution has a long history behind it—it is part of our American tradition, and we should be proud of it. But we should not respect the Constitution simply because it is tradition. There are, after all, bad traditions. Rather, as American citizens we have a duty to understand the Constitution as fully as possible—which means understanding the principles upon which it was built.
Today there are two competing schools of interpreting the meaning of the Constitution. There are those who say the Constitution is a "living document," and that what is good about the Constitution is that it is infinitely malleable, allowing itself to change as circumstances require. This interpretation was described most succinctly by the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan: "The genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and current needs."
This interpretation has been the constitutional vehicle by which most of the social and welfare programs, as well as affirmative action and other "group rights" measures, have been implemented. The problem with this understanding, in addition to the fact it is untrue, is that it...