Nadine Strossen: What is the best way to interpret the Constitution?

We don't need the government to give us rights we inherently have.
  • Transcript


Question: What is the best way to interpret the Constitution? 

Nadine Strossen: It doesn’t have an official name, but this is part of why I say it is who is looking at it rather than what it says and I think of those Escher drawings where the fish kind of shade into birds and somebody said this very well, Richard Macedo who was at that time a professor at Harvard political scientist, said some people look at the Constitution and see islands of individual liberty in a sea of government power, other people look at it and see islands of government power in a sea of individual liberty and I personally don’t understand one of those perspectives, but the other one is very clearly there that we…and I alluded to it earlier. We do not need the Constitution to give us rights. We are a government that is founded on the precept that all people have inherent human rights and that governments responsibility is to protect those rights. The purpose of the Constitution with respect to individual liberty was not to dole out a few liberties that happened to be named in the text of the Constitution, but rather as the Preamble says to secure the blessings of liberty that we already had. The Constitution rather created a government of strictly limited powers. Congress has only those powers that are here and granted, and the reason why there was no Bill of Rights in the original Constitution was not because the framers opposed human rights, but because they had created a government whose powers did not include the power to infringe our rights in the first place. So, why did they need to give a catalogue of some of the rights that the government had no power to infringe. In fact, there was a potential downside to doing that of creating a negative implication that if the right were not articulated that somehow the government had the power to infringe on it which is why the Bill of Rights included the 9th Amendment to make it even clearer than it had already been, that the fact that some rights are resided doesn’t mean that the government has the power to invade any other preexisting, inherent, natural human rights.


Recorded On: 2/14/08