Student Review: Is the U.S. Constitutional System Broken?

Looking at the country’s current political climate, it seems that the nation has lost touch with the cornerstone of American democracy: The Constitution.  The very document that is referenced so often by everyone from presidential candidates to everyday citizens seems to be threatened in the United States today, which brings out concern in the people.  Citizens worry that the government is not playing by the rules, letting big corporations rule the country and letting the people suffer the consequences.  In the first presentation under its new name, The Network for Responsible Public Policy came together on September 22nd at Fairleigh Dickinson University for a lively debate that made audience members question: Is the U.S. Constitutional System Broken?

Moderator Peter Coy, Economics Editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, was joined by Lisa L. Miller and Earl M. Maltz.  Miller is a Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University and Maltz is Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University School of Law.  Both Maltz and Miller began the event by agreeing that the country is changing and has been changing, to the point where “the world has changed in ways that the Constitution cannot address,” according to Miller.  Maltz believes that there has been a “fundamental change from what the Constitution was to what federal government is.”

Judicial review was a big issue in this debate, in which both Maltz and Miller agreed that it has to go.  Maltz stated that judicial review puts a rigidity on our system that is not always right, listing examples that ranged from Dred Scott to the unnecessary controversy surrounding Obamacare.  His book, The Coming of the Nixon Court: The 1972 Term and the Transformation of Constitutional Law, discusses the politically diverse justices under Nixon.  The book explains the implications of court decisions made under those court justices.  Maltz said people who make laws should understand the impacts and that goes back to his point of judicial review not always being the right answer.  Miller agreed, stating judicial review undermines the people’s ability to understand and interpret the Constitution by having the Supreme Court decide what the Constitution means.  This leads to the people not being able to make decisions for the country by having the Supreme Court step in.  “Judicial review says we can’t be trusted to run our democracy, so we challenge issues in the Supreme Court.”  Miller went as far as to say that the what the federal government does is not democratic, but statutory.          

Another topic of discussion was “tyranny of minority,” a phrase coined by Miller.  Miller talked about malapportionment in the federal government, meaning that small states get equal representation in the Senate when they should not.  This leads to political minorities winning battles that the majority should win.  For instance, 87% of Americans are in favor of universal background checks and other forms of gun control.  Because of the malapportionment in the Senate, however, the majority loses.  The political minorities do not want change to win.  She also mentioned her book, The Myth of Mob Rule: Violent Crime and Democratic Politics, and how it relates to political minorities.  Her book argues that violent crime is not a major issue to voters, but it is pushed by political minorities.  This is another case, according to Miller, where the majority should win.  The issues that matter to the majority is what is most important.  Maltz also brought up Obamacare as an example to further discuss the topic.  The nation was finally having a moment of solidarity when Obamacare became successful, but a couple of red states in the South overrode that moment, once again letting a political minority win.  Both Maltz and Miller emphasized that there needs to be unification in certain issues and in order to have that, the majority has to win.         

Audience members came to their own conclusions after the insight given to them by the experts on the panel.  It was an eye-opening event that helped everyone in the room learn and understand more about American politics and the issues it has today.  If there was something to come away with, it is that there are many issues with the United States, but what citizens can do is simple: understand how the Constitution is used in everyday politics and vote.  Being informed will help in the long-run.  Citizens need to be the counter-pressure that pushes back against political minorities and big corporations that entice politicians with money.  

On October 6th, the Network for Responsible Public Policy will be hosting another enlightening program at Fairleigh Dickinson University called “What’s Gender Got to Do with It? Women and Electoral Politics Today.”  Doors open at 7:00 PM.  We will see you then! 

Ariel Barreras

English Major, Farleigh Dickinson University

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