How effectively the constitution protects freedom
There is a small amount of disagreement over whether or not the US constitution protects freedom for the average American citizen – whilst many Americans feel that the constitution formally protects their liberties (for example: the first amendment guarantees the rights of Americans to their freedom of speech) others believe that the codified constitution is unnecessary and would point to nations like the United Kingdom (that do not have a codified constitution) that operate reasonably efficiently and have other methods of protecting the rights of the average person.
Those that identify themselves as more traditionalist in the United States would argue that constitution has served to protect the rights of individuals to a satisfactory standard during its centuries of operation. They would use the notion of ‘conservative pragmatism’ to suggest that the historical democratic system in place is functioning well and so does not require change. Those that consider themselves more willing to reform the American system would disagree with this and would point to several historical issues that suggest the current system has not protected freedom properly.
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Over the years various groups have been discriminated against – including Native Americans and African-Americans, despite the amendments to the constitution and the principles of the self-governing system that the United States of America was founded on. There is disagreement over the constitution’s protection of the rights of minority populations (such as African-Americans) in the past. Some would argue that despite the 15th Amendment (signed in 1870) granting the right to all Americans to vote regardless of race or colour, African-Americans continued to be discriminated against for nearly a hundred years.
Indeed some polling stations used literacy tests to discriminate against African-Americans up until the 1960s – giving white people easy questions and then giving African-Americans considerably harder tests (one in Louisiana was described as ‘impossible’ by judges on the Supreme Court in 1965) simply to allow them to vote. Some would point to this discrimination as a failure of the American constitution to adequately protect the freedoms of the American people, and would argue that the rights of some African-American voters were better protected by the Supreme Court and President Lyndon B.
Johnson. However, others would argue that the discrimination experienced by those African-Americans was produced by a racist minority manipulating the system unfairly – and would point out that the literacy tests were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and so the rights of all were protected by the constitution’s system of checks and balances, and the separation of powers. So the discrimination was a result of a minority acting illegally and was corrected by the processes outlined in the constitution.
The existence of disagreement over the American constitution’s ability to protect the liberties of the American people is evident in the amendments to the document that have been proposed. A Federal Marriage Amendment (which would make same-sex marriage legal in every state) has been proposed on four occasions in this century but has been defeated every time so far. With the issue of same-sex marriage being separate from this debate, the fact that some Americans feel the need to propose such an amendment clearly suggests there is huge disagreement over the ability of the constitution to protect their rights in its present form.
There are other amendments that have been proposed – such as the Right to Vote Amendment and the People’s Rights Amendment that have been unsuccessful in reforming the system but do demonstrate the presence of disagreement over the efficacy of the American constitution. On the other hand the fact that there has not been a successful amendment of the constitution since 1992 (the 27th amendment) suggests that there is no longer much of a debate over the needs to amend the constitution and therefore the majority of Americans believe that their constitution is protecting their rights satisfactorily.
However, simply because there has not been a successful amendment in recent years does not mean there has not been any disagreement over the ability of the constitution’s ability to defend the liberties of the American people. The fact is that in a developed, civilized, democratic nation like the United States there will always be debate over necessary reforms and so there is and always will be disagreement over how effectively the constitution protects freedom. Furthermore, the majority of Americans feel the system laid out by the constitution does sufficiently protect their rights sufficiently.
Although the constitution does have its flaws (for example it does not even explicitly mention the rights of the people to vote) it does perpetuate a system that protects the rights of the citizens based on prevailing public opinion – which is more democratic than an outlining of eternal liberties. The fact that the constitution outlines the separation of powers (to the executive, legislature and judiciary) ensures no one body can amass too much power and exploit the rights of the people.
Dare I say it but even the Second Amendment – the Right to Bear Arms, allows the people to protect themselves from a tyrannical government and thus protect their rights from central government and other potential oppressors. The use of an impartial judiciary with the ability to check the elected positions in the legislature and executive helps to prevent the often feared ‘tyranny of the majority’ – and protects the rights of the minorities without undermining democracy.
Even the process of constitutional amendments allows certain rights to be created through a democratic process and allows a more autonomous system that can react to popular demand whilst still protecting established rights. It would require a united, single-party or combined oppressive politicians to dominate over 38 of the 50 states for a party to begin to abuse the rights of the people and make the required amendments to the constitution as well as a two thirds majority in both houses and potentially the control of the executive to appoint sympathetic judges to the Supreme Court (with the confirmation of the Senate).
Realistically most Americans know that this is incredibly unlikely and almost everyone accepts that the two-party system that the constitution encourages prevents any one group from dominating the political process to the extent that the rights of the people would be threatened. With the growth of the executive position and power, and the influence of the federal bureaucracy in the decision making process some American people feel that the government and unelected officials are able to breach the will of the people.
The fact that the US government has gone to war on numerous occasions without the approval of congress (which the constitution states is required) using various loopholes – for example when the US sent troops into Korea they used the excuse of a peace-keeping mission, similar excuses were used for interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam – with all conflicts not being approved by the legislature.
This worries many Americans and recent protests after interventions in the middle east has led to many calling for reform to the system in place to go to war and intervene militarily in other countries. The existence of the Iraq War protests (such as the ones in Washington D. C. in 2007) implies there is disagreement over the constitution’s system of declaring war and suggesting some people believe the rights of the people are being violated as the US government can declare war on other countries without going through the democratic processes.
In conclusion, there is a small amount of disagreement over whether or not the constitution protects the freedom of the people. This is evident from the proposed amendments, concerns among the American people about governance and historical examples of the government abusing the liberties of some citizens. Despite the lack of recent amendments and general consensus that the constitution is not completely unfit for purpose, there is still disagreement over the efficacy of the American constitution in protecting freedom and the liberties of the American people.