Here is a laughable headline on a Philip Bump October 6 Washington Post opinion piece: Senators representing less than half the U.S. are about to confirm a nominee opposed by most Americans. Well, yes, that is the way it works. the Founding Fathers who negotiated, wrote, approved, submitted to the states, and obtained ratification by the states of the Constitution reached a compromise, Representatives proportional to population and Senators proportional to states, in order to recognize not only individual interests but the geographic interests of the various states, some with small populations and some with large populations. It was an important issue in 1780 with Massachusetts and North Carolina having about five times the population of Delaware and Kentucky. Still, in spite of that diversity in population, each state got one vote on ratification.
At the end of his opinion piece, Mr. Bump attempts to assure his readers of his deep understanding of the Constitution and head off any challenges to his piece with a comment that he knows we are a republic and is “aware of the Senate and the electoral college.” He qualifies that assurance with this: It is worth noting, though, that this structure can at times conflict with the precept that all men are created equal.
(I will leave the possibility of seeing that phrase “created equal,” as clear confirmation of the sometimes disputed and often denied religious faith of the founders in a Creator God, for later discussion while acknowledging that, if we were to write such a declaration today it would probably have to say “born equal” to get majority approval in our decreasingly religious society.)
It seems clear to me that the Declaration of Independence, a guiding and inspirational but not a legal document, clearly defines “created equal,” or “born equal” in today’s secular society, as meaning that all share certain rights under the law, that all are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (There is that “Creator” concept again, illustrating the importance to the Founding Fathers that the rights were endowed not by the government but by Almighty God.) In any case, the phrase does not even suggest that we are all of equal intelligence, equal physical strength, equal size, equal skills and talents, equal health, equal persistence, equal endurance, equal energy, etc. That equality in the Declaration applies only to certain rights under the law, rights that had not been present in any of the monarchies from which the founders or their ancestors came to the new world. One thing we learn from biographies of the founding fathers is that they were of clearly superior intelligence and had superior educations and persistence and that they were aware of those benefits and their responsibility to use them for the benefit of the citizens.
So, there is no guarantee in our Constitution, or even an aspiration in the Declaration, of equal educations, equal incomes, equal health, wealth, or strength, equal parents, equal transportation, or even of equal minimum incomes. There is only the guarantee of equal opportunity under the law.
It is easy to point out the inconsistency between the legally binding Constitution and the aspirational “created equal” phrase in the Declaration and to express remorse that it took more than four score years to abolish slavery and about nine score years to give women the right to vote. But we have done both in historic Constitutional Amendments that matched our law more closely with our aspirations. That is a credit to the USA and its form of government.
But, what are we to do about Mr. Bump’s concern about lack of a popular vote for a Supreme Court Justice? We could amend the Constitution to require that the House of Representatives instead of or along with the Senate confirm nominations to the Supreme Court in order to get more equal representation of the people. That would truly be a circus and another giant step in conversion of the Republic to a Democracy, the first being Amendment 17 in 1930 providing for popular election of Senators. (Yes, they were, for the first 150 years, appointed by the state legislatures.)
The only thing that would be required to complete the transition would be for Congress to continue, by default, to give more power to the POTUS and to turn their full focus to satisfying their constituents and donors and getting reelected. We could be like Venezuela! Or we could be like Russia or one of those Middle Eastern countries, presidents being “elected” with 90% or more of the popular vote and minority groups being persecuted or forced to leave. Well, I suppose if we go that far, we would actually be a dictatorship rather than a democracy. And that is why the balance of powers in our republic is so vitally important and must be recovered and preserved if we are to continue as a free nation with equal rights under the law for all.
Below are some interesting related links. I wonder how many citizens know that the total number of pages in the Declaration and the original (unamended) Constitution is only 15 pages and that the 27 Amendments comprise only 9 additional pages. What has gone wrong that we have passed an Affordable Care Act of more than 900 unread pages with favorable votes from only one political party?
The Declaration of Independence (Only five pages, including signatures)
The Constitution (Only ten pages)