A Nation of (Unconstitutional) Laws

I have long viewed the Constitution as a contract, which was entered into initially by the States, as authorized by the people of each State in a ratifying convention. At some point, probably long before the Civil War, the Constitution ceased to be a contract and became a law — or a conglomeration of laws, variously interpreted and enforced by the factions then in control of Congress, the executive branch, and the Supreme Court. The Civil War cemented the status of the Constitution as law by imposing it forcibly on dissenting parties: the members of the Confederate States of America.

The original contract was a compact among the States and the people thereof to form a central government of limited, enumerated powers. The main purposes of that government were to keep peace among the States, ensure a free flow of trade among the States, ensure uniformity in the rules of inter-State and international commerce, face the world with a single foreign policy and a national armed force, and ensure the even-handed application of the Constitution and of constitutional laws.

The central government is no longer the creature of a contract, bound by the terms of that contract. It has become the unaccountable arbiter of its own doings. Its laws — legislative enactments, executive orders, and judicial holdings — sometimes pay lip service to the Constitution. But the central government’s conduct is almost entirely unrelated to and unconstrained by the Constitution. Judicial holdings that affirm the original contract are notable because they are unusual.

What began as a grand bargain among equals has become a Faustian bargain.

Related posts:
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and the States’ Police Power
A New, New Constitution
Secession Redux
A New Cold War or Secession?
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
Zones of Liberty
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
A Conversation with Uncle Sam