American Rights: The Constitution in Action

American Rights: The Constitution in Action

American Rights: The Constitution in Action

American Rights: The Constitution in Action

Excerpt

Everybody likes the Constitution. That is a central fact of American political life. Nobody admits wishing to undermine the fundamental document of our government. Those who bomb schoolhouses because a Negro child has been allowed within their doors do so in the stated belief that they are upholding the sacred Constitution. Even the Communists indignantly deny they are subverters. At times they seek to wrap themselves in the mantle of Jefferson as pure defenders of democracy's basic tenets. Political figures can freely denounce the Supreme Court without risking their popularity; but they must take care at the same time to laud the Constitution, and to blame the Court for having distorted its true meaning.

Despite the almost unanimous adulation of the Constitution--or, possibly, because of this adulation--little attention is given to the details of its application to specific cases. Litigation is the lawyer's business. The nonlawyer tends to think it a very dull business, and probably too technical to be grasped, anyway. Still, if the Constitution is to be meaningful to Americans, they must know what impact it has on problems of contemporary importance, and must cease regarding it abstractly (and somewhat simple-mindedly) as A Good Thing.

The Supreme Court, at any rate, cannot regard the Constitution abstractly. The Court cannot, for example, express sentiments about the validity of a statute except as that issue has been raised in an actual case or controversy, and is thus subject to being examined in a precise context. Only by litigation, then, can be brought into play the highly important judicial power to invalidate a legislative enactment. And only by the exercise of this power of judicial . . .

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