How To Restore The U.S. Constitution To Its Rightful Preeminence

How To Restore The U.S. Constitution To Its Rightful Preeminence

Over the years, many concerned Americans have asked me, “What can we do to restore the Constitution?” It is an apt question that deserves a meaningful response. But in my experience, most of the suggestions generally proffered as the key to “restoring the Constitution,” however noble and well-intentioned, simply do not have the power to achieve the goal.

For instance, some insist that we do a better job of educating Americans about the Constitution. The sad truth is that today’s citizens woefully lack understanding of even the most basic features of their federal government. A large segment of our population—including many federal officeholders—seem to have missed the fact that powers not specifically given to the national government in the Constitution are forbidden to it. So providing instruction on our nation’s founding charter is a good start, but is only a start.

Others emphasize the cultivation of personal habits that promote liberty, including temperance, frugality, courage, and reverence for God. Those are all crucial components of the foundation that made America great. They are the characteristics that define statesmen and good citizens. But, as important as personal virtue is to the welfare of the nation, personal virtue alone will not “restore the Constitution.”

To restore the Constitution requires specific, concrete action to overturn the specific, concrete actions and decisions by past presidents, Congresses, and Supreme Courts that have undermined it by fundamentally redefining many of its terms. The only way to achieve this is by proposing and ratifying constitutional amendments that will explicitly reinstate the original meaning of those constitutional provisions.

Has Congress delegated much of its lawmaking function to agencies of unelected bureaucrats? Consider an amendment to clarify that agencies may not independently adopt rules and regulations.

Has Congress acquired power it was never meant to have by using its “spending” authority to bribe states into compliance with its policy preferences? Then add an amendment restricting federal spending to matters specified within its enumerated powers.

These are just a couple of examples. The point is that “restoring” the Constitution, just like restoring any foundation, requires that actual work be done to correct the effects of trauma and neglect. Encouraging the workers to become more virtuous is important, but it won’t keep the cracks from deepening or the building from crumbling.

It is easy to see why so many well-meaning constitutional devotees prescribe abstract remedies for our very tangible national maladies. Imploring Americans to be better Americans doesn’t really cost anything. It doesn’t require any real courage or sacrifice, because it doesn’t ask anything of us than to do what we should all be doing anyway—living honest, faithful, industrious, reverent lives.

But there comes a time when any people seeking meaningful change must choose action over inaction. The Israelites could pray and worship, but there came a time when they were required to march. The American colonists could bemoan their mistreatment at the hands of King George III and plead for him to reform his ways, but there came a time for them to decide whether to declare independence and fight for it, or continue living in tyranny’s shadow.

I believe America has arrived at just such a crossroads. Those who care about restoring the Constitution—and are willing to do the real work required to make it happen—should learn more about how the states can use Article V for this purpose.

Tom Coburn, M.D., represented Oklahoma in the United States Senate from 2005 to 2015 and in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001.
Photo National Park Service
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