Now I lay me down to think

In my earlier postings about the Second Amendment, a commenter named “Mark” rather snidely put down my status as a “lay person” on matters Constitutional. He condescendingly suggested I read some Court rulings on the matter. “Mark” was taken to task by “Ed,” and they got into a bit of a dispute. I’m not going to defend Ed or argue his points for him, but instead I’m going to discuss Mark’s first comment directly.

It’s painful to watch a lay person take a public stab at constitutional construction, even if I agree with the bottom line. Might I suggest reading several of the many appellate and Supreme Court decisions that parse the language of the Second Amendment and recount the intent of the framers?

Mark, here’s a little tip for you: as I understand it, the Constitution was written (to steal a phrase from Abraham Lincoln) by the people for the people. It is the highest law in the land. It outlines the powers, obligations, and limitations of the government and the people. As such, it should be crystal-clear to any average citizen — and, for the most part, it is. The Second Amendment is one example where I think they let their rigorous standards for clarity and precision slip — and the fact that so many people are still arguing about it today is pretty solid evidence that I’m right.

But the days of such simplicity are gone. With lawyers now largely dominating the business of making laws, they’ve forced the laws to get more and more convoluted and obfuscated to the point where the average citizen hasn’t a prayer of understanding most matters. In fact, they’ve gotten the tax laws so screwed up that if you ask the IRS what exactly they mean, you have a better-than-even chance of getting a wrong answer from the tax experts themselves — and you’re STILL on the hook if you follow their incorrect advice.

I say to hell with that. By forcing such perverse convolutions on our laws, the legal profession has essentially engineered itself a full-employment situation — and at the public’s expense. As a member of that public, I deeply resent that.

The United States Constitution is my birthright, along with the birthright of every American (and the non-birth right of every naturalized citizen). It is MINE, and I neither want nor need anyone to stand between me and it and tell me exactly what it means and doesn’t mean. And if that person happens to be an overeducated, self-important, arrogant, condescending prat with a briefcase and a fancy piece of paper with “J.D.” after his name, he can take his jurisprudence and shove them down his briefs.

Mark, I don’t know if that description fits you (I’m presuming about the “J.D.,” but it’s a comfortable assumption), but if it does, all the better.

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As I write this, I see Mark has written a followup directed to me:

To clarify my earlier comment to Jay: What I meant was that there is a huge body of writtings by the courts that provide great background and an analytical spring-board for launching his own opinions. Watching him try to re-invent portions of that wheel here was a little awkward, as occaisional missteps were made. That awkwardness could have been avoided by reading court opinions rather than the partisan talking points disseminated by both sides of the gun control issue. I did not mean for my comments to be a slam against Jay.

A smidgen better, Mark. The condescension is a smidgen less obvious. In return, I’ll try to muffle my own.

Mark, if I might intrude on your lofty intellectual plane for a moment, let me clarify my own posting for you: it was not some layman’s attempt at historical or legal analysis, struggling to reinvent the wheel. It was one citizen (of, if I dare say, above-average intelligence — and I have the IQ tests to back it up) attempting to look at an essential part of the Constitution and try to decipher exactly what it means, without resorting to extensive research and tracking down obscure texts and citations.

The Constitution, like any work of writing, should stand on its own, without needing explanation or enhancement. In fact, it should do so more than anything else — it is the essential document for all Americans, and no average American should need anything at all to help him or her understand it.

In Robert Heinlein’s collection “Expanded Universe,” he has a short story where a black woman is chosen as Vice-President, then ascends to the Presidency. She says that she knows she was chosen as a “token” and has no chance to win election on her own, so she just does whatever she thinks is right and to hell with the political costs. One of her issues is a “Plain English Amendment,” which requires all federal laws and regulations to be understandable to anyone with a 10th-grade reading level.

(As I recall, she gets most of her proposals passed and is handily elected to her own term. This proves conclusively that Heinlein wasn’t just indulging in fiction here, but fantasy.)

I’d like to see such a law passed, even if it set the comprehension bar at the level at which the Constitution is written. Among other obvious benefits, it would likely force thousands and thousands of lawyers to give up their practice and find HONEST work.

And if Mark is one of those so displaced by such a move, all the better.

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  1. AT July 19, 2005
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