Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Constitution USA: Did the Framers Intend a Living, Breathing Constitution?

I've been enjoying the PBS show, Constitution USA with Peter Sagal.  Essentially, Peter Sagal rides on a motorcycle and interviews people about the U.S. Constitution. 

In a scene in last night's episode, Peter is talking with a scholar.  The scholar referred to the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishments", arguing (if I understood him correctly) that the author of this Amendment was allowing for the interpretation and application of the Constitution to change with time (at least in this case).  After all, what was "unusual" back when this Amendment was written may not be "unusual" today, for what is common and what is unusual change.

In debates about the Constitution, some argue that we should base our interpretation on the intentions of the Constitution's framers, whereas others hold that the Constitution is a living, breathing document, and thus that the interpretation of the Constitution should change with time.  But what if the framers themselves intended for the Constitution to be a living, breathing document, in some areas?  And is there a way for us to go beyond their original intentions, while still being faithful to them, on some level? 

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