Constitutionally Out of Touch

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

It’s bad enough when recognized scholars go outside of their subject areas. It’s worse when they offer novel interpretations of their own alleged fields of expertise.  “The new rule requiring that the Constitution be read aloud, and another rule requiring that every bill cite its constitutional authority, are intended as red meat for Tea Partiers,” Columbia University professor Jamal Greene wrote in the New York Daily News on January 9, 2011. “But many bills cite their constitutional authority as is, and for many others the authority is clear.”

“The rest are already subject to vigorous debate that citing the Constitution will do nothing to change.” As the former Speaker of the House said when asked about the constitutional basis for health care reform, “Are you serious?”

“The practical challenge is the ironic, and exciting, possibility that these new measures actually succeed at getting Americans to focus on the Constitution,” Greene wrote. “We may find that the parts of the document we disagree about look a lot less like the Deuteronomic Code and a lot more like the Da Vinci one.”

“The only thing that will be obvious is that much of constitutional meaning is not.” Greene teaches Constitutional Law.

He also takes a swipe at the original Constitutional scholars, the framers who wrote it in 1787. “Many of those present owned large numbers of African slaves whom they wished to keep as property in perpetuity,” Greene asserts. “George Washington’s teeth were likely pulled from the mouths of his [slaves].”

Actually, we can find out what George Washington was most “likely” to have done from the place where he lived. “In his will, he arranged for all of the slaves he owned to be freed after the death of his wife, Martha,” according to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. “He also left instructions for the continued care and education of some of his former slaves, support and training for all of the children until they came of age, and continuing support for the elderly.”

“Washington’s habit of extensive recordkeeping, such as his 1799 Slave Census, has helped Mount Vernon’s historians research and interpret slave life on his five farms.  Extensive archaeological excavation and research at Mount Vernon has also furthered our understanding of the large slave community that lived here.  For further information on individual slaves, see Different People, Different Stories, by Mount Vernon historian Mary Thompson, and the website of the descendants of Washington, Custis, and Lee slaves.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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