Congress or the Supreme Court: Which Shall Rule America?

By Egbert Ray Nichols | Go to book overview

OUR CHANGING CONSTITUTION*

Representative JAMES M. BECK

Expressions from the opinion of the Supreme Court could be cited which both affirm and disaffirm this idea of a changing Constitution, but the differences between them are more metaphysical than real. While it has been said by the Supreme Court that the meaning of the Constitution "does not alter" and that "what it meant when adopted, it means now," yet this is only true in a qualified sense, for no one can read the interpretations of the Constitution by the Supreme Court, now reported in two hundred and seventy-two volumes, without being confronted by the fact, in a thousand respects, meanings have been attributed to the literal provisions of the Constitution, of which its framers could not possibly have dreamed.

In one of the greatest of his opinions, McCulloch v. Maryland, Chief Justice Marshall recognized the inevitable changes, which the adaptation of the Constitution to new conditions necessarily brings about. He said:

"This provision is made in a constitution intended to endure for ages to come, and, consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs. To have prescribed the means by which government should in all future times execute its powers would have been to change entirely the character of

____________________
*
Excerpt from a pamphlet containing a lecture by James M. Beck, Member of the House of Representatives, delivered at the College of William and Mary, Virginia, on the Cutler Foundation, Nov. 18, 1927.

-276-

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