Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Right To Interpret The United States Constitution

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina want a state religion and are trying to fight for it by calling the interpretation of the Constitution into question.  Their argument looks valid, but I don't think it is sound.


The first premise is the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution:

(1) The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The second premise is this:

(2) The power to determine what is or is not constitutional is not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States.

If both of these premises are accepted, then the following conclusion seems inevitable:

(3) The power to determine what is or is not constitutional is reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

As stated in their recently filed bill, Republicans in North Carolina draw this final conclusion:

(4) "Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion."

The most obvious line of criticism, I think, is to reject the second premise.  Article III of the Constitution vests the United States with a judicial system.  The courts must interpret the Constitution in order to carry out their duty, and by so interpreting it, they determine what is or is not constitutional.  (2) is therefore false and the rest of the argument collapses.

One might also question the move from (3) to (4), but that looks like murkier territory to me.  The argument is plainly unsound.