Edwin Messee III, in his view of the constitution, is passionate in upholding the constitution as it is. In a few words, he described the same as ‘a way of government’ towards liberty. He opined that the constitution is a means towards a government of laws and not of men. Deviation from the same would no longer be a constitutional law in any meaningful sense. The existence of the constitution as a document can never be doubted. It exists as an instrument setting forth fundamental principles, exactingly specific commandment, instructive in character to endure for years.
In this regard, Messee advocates respect on the fundamental law as it is, adherence to every part thereof as the governing and defining provisions on the relations of the government, upholding basic rights and interests. The constitution, he believes, exists for a meaning. It exists because it tells exactly what it says. It can not mean in any way other than the words written in it. It can not admit any interpretation other than the sense of the terms and intention of the framers. It is what it says. It can not be said to mean as the spirit of the word as other constitutionalists claim.
Moreover, he said that the constitution does not look after the results of various constitutional and governmental acts but governs and sets forth a limit to such acts. Likewise, the constitution concerns itself with the process of governmental acts and not the results thereof. Thus, it can not dictate Congress what specific laws to implement but merely defines the limits for which Congress has to base the legislative acts. In this way also, the constitution does not conform itself to societal changes, evolution of culture and the like.
It remains as it was when originally drafted. Element of flexibility is absent. The constitution denotes a distribution of powers among the various branches with the end in view of securing liberty. Thus, interpretation of the provisions therein must be strictly construed in accordance with the letters thereof. Messee quoted the statement of the high court in the case of Marbury vs. Madison saying that the principles in the constitution are ‘fundamental and permanent and except for formal amendment unchangeable.
This signifies that the constitution is not adoptive to change. It shall remain as originally drafted for years and shall not be subject to amendment at the whims of Congress or the demands of the people unless by virtue of the appropriate constitutional provision. The constitution is the supreme law and from which everything follows. It is the spring from which the water flows and is the leg for which the government relies. While Messee sticks to the strict interpretation of the constitution and viewed its application as one being supreme, Brennan holds otherwise.
Brennan viewed the constitution as something flexibility. It corresponds to the needs of the public and of the status of the state. In this regard, it is viewed that any doubt in the interpretation of the provisions thereof shall be resolved in favor of the spirit in which they are enacted. That is, such interpretation which corresponds to the current status or condition of society shall prevail. While Messee views it as exactingly specific, Brennan opines specificity should not mean its inapplication because its essence shall be proved futile.
The scope of its application is wide and thus requires a liberal interpretation. Critical analysis I shall resolve to favor the arguments posited by Messee. In an ordinary layman’s point of view, the constitution exists as a spring board for which the legislative acts are derived. It simply is the basis for which the legislative enactments are made. A legislative enactment thus has to conform to the constitution otherwise, it will be struck down as null and void. On the other hand, the nature of the constitution is simply a limitation on the state’s power.
So vast is the power of the state that it can afford to abuse the fundamental and basic rights of the citizens if not with the advent of the constitution. Being a limitation, it sets boundaries within which the judiciary is to exercise its power, Congress to enact specific laws for public interest and the Executive to implement the law. The principles embodied in the constitution are supreme in themselves. They remain as they are originally drafted because they are reflective of the views, beliefs, culture and ideals of the state.
The practices and traditions may have gone but the ideals shall remain as they are. Messee posited that the constitution looks at the process of government and does not take into account the results of a governmental act. I adhere to his statement. The role of the constitution vis a vis the legislative enactments simply delineates the line between the two. The constitution could not have been considered the most supreme of all laws of the land had there been no laws enacted on the basis of the constitutional provisions.
It can be noted that various laws, rules and regulations, administrative orders, resolutions implemented in consonance and in pursuance to the provisions therein. By this virtue, the nature of the constitution is strengthened and respect to it is heightened. Premises considered, I shall likewise adhere to the opinion posited by Messee on the strict interpretation of the provisions of the constitution. The rule in statutory construction is that when the provisions of a law are clear, construction shall not be resorted to.
Any ambiguity therein, the provision shall be construed in accordance with the intention of the makers therein. This same rule in statutory construction can not be made inapplicable with respect to any ambiguity in the provisions of the constitution. A liberal construction of the constitution may lead to certain consequences. Although flexibility or adoptability is the theme of the present day rule, stability is still the basic policy. There can be no stability should there be no leg to stand on. The constitution is that foundation from which society is allowed and is better able to adapt to the ever changing environment.
The needs of society may have changed, yet it is but important that the ideals, the culture and values be upheld. Further, the law must have the teeth to be credible and effective. This is the element of control. While statutes may easily be repealed, abrogated or amended, the constitution is not. Strict compliance with the provisions therein is necessary; otherwise, the same shall remain unchanged. A foundation which goes with the flow of the music is not a foundation at all. A foundation is one which should be open to change but not changeable in itself.
There could be no basic rules of procedure from which change can formally be made, whether in the social, religious or commercial dealings should there be no fixed grounds from which such change shall be based. Flexibility is not within the realm of the constitution but is within the realm of the present statutes, administrative orders, ordinances and resolutions. The latter type is the ones intended to respond to the needs and demands of the people which require no other qualification except to be in conformity with the fundamental law.
While Brennan gives the implication that flexibility is favorable to be able to respond to the needs of society, this can better be answered by simply abrogating, amending or repealing some present statutes, rules, regulations, administration rules, resolutions or ordinances as the case may be. More importantly, so huge are the number of citizens in a state, so vast is the power of the state, so powerful is the government to such an extent that control is highly necessary.
Control over the people, over the state, the government within a territory can only be obtained when there is that fundamental law which is credible. Statutory enactments are not a guarantee for the state and the governing body thereof to take control with everything because the implementation thereof may be influenced by those in the seat of power or at the least may be abused by them. It can be noted however that whatever and however the constitution may be interpreted, the same may still be influenced by those who are in the seat of governance.
Whatever interpretation is given on the constitution as Messee pointed out has been the subject of so many debates. Thus, it is not something to wonder should continuous debates emerge. It is of personal opinion however that so long as the interest of the public is served, the requirement for the government to better serve the society is met. For ordinary laymen this is what is important. Let the issue of interpretation and application be left to the hands of the constitutionalists and law makers for the wisdom is in their hands.
Courtney from Study Moose
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