NEW YORK - Attorney General Edwin Meese is causing a fuss with his
excited view of the Constitution. He says the courts interpreting
the Constitution ought to consider what its authors intended whenthey
He suggests the Supreme Court for at least the past 30 years has
ignored the intent of those 18th-century lawyers, with the result
that we now have a lot of cockeyed laws on the books.
This is not an abstract argument between jailhouse lawyers.
Meese has a decisive say about who will go on the federal bench,
including the Supreme Court. If he wants judges who won't move until
they consult the authors' intent, that is the kind of judges wewill
have in increasing numbers.
Obviously, this could lead to some very knotty problems in a
certain kind of lawsuit. Take the famous case that broke up the
telephone company. Under the Meese doctrine, the court would be
obliged to find out how the Constitution's authors intended to deal
with monopoly in the telephone business once the telephone was
Did the framers know that the telephone would be invented 100
years after the framing was finished?
If they did, why didn't they know the even more dreadful
developments that were to occur in the future, like the
incomprehensible income tax law, and frame a clause forbidding such
cruel and unusual harassment of the citizenry?
It seems obvious that they didn't have advance knowledge about
anything that was going to happen or be invented after they finished
the Constitution. This being the case, how could they have had any
intent toward these things that's worth considering?
In my opinion, even my opinion on breaking up the telephone
company would be more valuable than the opinion of William Few or
Sure, Few and Ingersoll helped frame the Constitution 200 years
ago. You have to respect them for that. But would you trust either
one to make a vital long-distance credit-card call from a pay
telephone at a turnpike fast-food dispensary where they had just
eaten a piece of pie bought from a slot machine and washed it down
with coffee whitened by a chemical powder identifying itself as a
I am describing a situation in which your respect for the framers
is going to be drastically moderated by your instinctive knowledge.
While the old-timers could be brilliant, they wouldn't last long
enough to get out of their wigs and into a $35 hair styling if you
sent them up against the 20th century. …