I have been increasingly dismayed by people from all walks of life who mistake the Declaration of Independence for a description of life as it was being lived in the colonies in 1776. Some consider the Constitution and its amendments as an exact step-by-step prescription for running the country, and as if it were a holy book, not open for future amendments or interpretations that are made based on new knowledge.

In fact, both documents are primarily aspirational. That is, they point toward an ideal, not a reality. In part, this is a consequence of the limitations of the authors of those documents, as well as gradually shifting language. The biggest critics seem to be those who do not like some of the articulated aspirations: full equality, maintaining rule of law over individual/corporate interests, and distinct power sharing between branches of government so no one branch (or individual) can usurp the rights of the citizens.

Those who talk about reverting to previous laws or interpretations of the Constitution often fail to recognize how much has changed since those documents were written. For example, when the amendment regarding unlawful search and seizure was written, few people could read and fewer still owned any books. Items that might have been seized were limited to physical materials — perhaps a few notes or letters carefully saved in a box, weapons, and tools for earning a living. It was generally relatively easy to spot an item that was specified in a warrant! These days, we store vast quantities of information in “the cloud” and think nothing of sharing images of our families and meals with people on the other side of the world — instantly and more or less securely. Thus, law enforcement and others have had to come up with new ways to both access materials and information that support illegal activities, and the courts and individuals have recognized a need for clear delineation of what is “reasonable” search of devices that most people consider private. The laws are changing, and perhaps the Constitution will ultimately be amended to reflect this new reality.

[This is an unfinished post started in June 2019 that seems relevant to many of the national conversations in August, 2020. Again – incomplete post, and leaving it that way as too much has happened in 14 months… Will start over on a new post!]

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