IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Meese compiles constitutional guide

Former Atty. Gen., think tank publish 'Heritage Guide to the Constitution'
/ Source:

With the recent nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, the ongoing discussion around the nation over the meaning of the Constitution and how it should be interpreted continues. 

Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, scheduled to appear Tuesday on 'Hardball,' has recently compiled  the writings of more than 100 legal experts to provide the first ever line-by-line examination of the complete Constitution and its contemporary meaning.

The compilation, coordinated in conjuction with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, is called the 'Heritage Guide to the Constitution.'

It features the writings of the framers of the document, including notes taken at the Constitutional Convention by James Madison, analysis in The Federalist Papers, and Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story's 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States.  

The book was edited by Matthew Spalding, Ph.D. and David Forte, Ph.D. For more information about the book, please go to

Some excerpts from the publication:

On the meaning of the Constitution:
The Constitution is our most fundamental law. It is, in its own words, "the supreme Law of the Land." Its translation into the legal rules under which we live occurs through the actions of all government entities, federal and state. The entity we know as "constitutional law" is the creation not only of the decisions of the Supreme Court, but also of the various Congresses and of the President.

The Constitution -- the original document of 1787 plus its amendments -- is and must be understood to be the standard against which all laws, policies, and interpretations should be measured. It is our fundamental law because it represents the settled and deliberate will of the people, against which the actions of government officials must be squared. In the end, the continued success and viability of our democratic Republic depends on our fidelity to, and the faithful exposition and interpretation of, this Constitution, our great charter of liberty.

On the formation of the Constitution:
Ratified on December 15, 1791, the first ten amendments -- called the Bill of Rights -- include sweeping restrictions on the federal government and its ability to limit certain fundamental rights and procedural matters. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments briefly encapsulate the twofold theory of the Constitution: the purpose of the Constitution is to protect rights, which stem not from the government but from the people themselves; and the powers of the national government are limited to only those delegated to it by the Constitution on behalf of the people.

Although only five states met at Annapolis in 1786, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton used the failed conference to issue a clarion call for a general convention of all the states "to render the constitution of government adequate to the exigencies of the Union." After several states, including Virginia and Pennsylvania, chose delegates for the meeting, the Congress acquiesced with a narrower declaration that the "sole and express purpose" of the upcoming Convention would be to revise the Articles of Confederation.

On the Originalist perspective:
In 1985, Meese delivered a series of speeches challenging the then-dominant view of constitutional jurisprudence and calling for judges to embrace a "jurisprudence of original intention." There ensued a vigorous debate in the academy, as well as in the popular press, and in Congress itself over the prospect of an "originalist" interpretation of the Constitution. Some critics found the idea too vague to be pinned down; others believed that it was impossible to find the original intent that lay behind the text of the Constitution. Some rejected originalism in principle, as undemocratic (though it is clear that the Constitution was built upon republican rather than democratic principles), unfairly binding the present to the choices of the past.

Originalism is championed for a number of fundamental reasons. First, it comports with the nature of a constitution, which binds and limits any one generation from ruling according to the passion of the times. The Framers of the Constitution of 1787 knew what they were about, forming a frame of government for "ourselves and our Posterity." They did not understand "We the people" to be merely an assemblage of individuals at any one point in time but a "people" as an association, indeed a number of overlapping associations, over the course of many generations, including our own. In the end, the Constitution of 1787 is as much a constitution for us as it was for the Founding generation.

Originalism does not remove controversy, or disagreement, but it does cabin it within a principled constitutional tradition that makes real the Rule of Law. Without that, we are destined, as Aristotle warned long ago, to fall into the "rule of men."

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.