I really like the structure of our government, even though its implementation often leaves something to be desired.
There’s this top guy, the President. He or she gets elected, hopefully by a significant majority, to be the country’s shepherd for the next 4 years. He sets the general tone and agenda and focus of what we’ll be working on.
The people, meanwhile, somewhat in response to that general tone, call for action in various areas of government. That elected government – the House and Senate – does its part to responsively implement these actions for the greater good of all.
The Supreme Court, then, when called upon to do so (and that is an important qualification!), determines whether actions of the government are in keeping with the framework we have all decided and accepted as the “look and feel” of our country.
This three-tiered approach actually works well. It allows each activity to proceed relatively unencumbered by issues that may be important but are extraneous to that body. For example, congress may pass a bill into law that is not constitutional. It’s the Congress’s job to pass the laws that the people and the nation need and want, with all due diligence. They sometimes misstep or overstep the bounds of what is allowable under a careful reading of the Constitution.
If the Supreme Court finds that this is so, it doesn’t mean that anyone did anything wrong. It just means that there’s a damned good reason for there to be a Supreme Court, and a Constitution, that has remained a very stable framework for our whole national identity for 200 years.
Structurally, as I said, it’s all good. Procedurally, however, we still need to work on things like term limits, and getting rid of career politicians! It was always the intention that our representatives would be “of the people,” and clearly with politicians going to Washington and never leaving, they are no longer of the people. They’ve become a different class. That was not the intention, and it is one of the biggest things we need to work on.
Another big thing we need to work on is challenges to existing legislation. As I suggested above, it’s entirely understandable that at times the Congress may pass laws that will not pass muster on constitutionality. The process of challenging the constitutionality of existing legislation is daunting to most of us. But there are ways to do it, and we should never operate under the assumption that if a law exists, it must be right. Many times it is not. But the only one to determine that is the Supreme Court, and the only way for something to go to the Court is for some body to bring it to the Court. In other words, they don’t go out shopping for laws to overturn.
A good citizen should vote, should pay attention to the laws being passed, should understand the reasons for term limits and should push for them to be put into place where they are not. And they should be willing to raise a stink if something gets through Congress that seems at odds with the Constitution that we should all know.
Change is life, and life is change. When things need to be shaken up, it’s not up to someone else to do it. It’s up to us.