Law and Politics: Occasional Papers of Felix Frankfurter, 1913-1938

By Archibald MacLeish; E. F. Prichard Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

Social Issues before the Supreme Court

The following article appeared in the Yale Reviewin the spring of 1933, copyright Yale University Press.

IN OUR scheme of government, readjustment to great social changes means juristic readjustment. Our basic problems-- whether of industry, agriculture, or finance--sooner or later appear in the guise of legal problems. Professor John R. Commons is therefore justified in characterizing the Supreme Court of the United States as the authoritative faculty of economics. The foundation for its economic encyclicals is the Constitution. Plainly, however, constitutional provisions are not economic dogmas and certainly not obsolete economic dogmas. . . .

By its very conception the Constitution has ample resources within itself to meet the changing needs of successive generations. For "it was made for an undefined and expanding future and for a people gathered and to be gathered from many nations and of many tongues." Through the generality of its language the Constitution provided for the future partly by not forecasting it. If the Court, aided by the bar, has access to the facts and heeds them, the Constitution is flexible enough to respond to the demands of modern society.

And so American constitutional law is not a fixed body of truth, but a mode of social adjustment. Indeed, the Constitution owes its continuity to an uninterrupted process of change. "The Constitution cannot make itself; somebody made it, not at once, but at several times. It is alterable; and by that draweth nearer to Perfection; and without suiting itself to differing Times and Circumstances, it could not live. Its Life is prolonged by changing seasonably the several Parts of it at several times." So wrote the shrewd

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