At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, a woman allegedly approached Benjamin Franklin and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got – a republic or a monarchy?” The sage 81-year-old Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Wordsmith, entrepreneur, inventor, diplomat, and polymath, Franklin understood that a piece of paper, however well conceived and drafted, would never be sufficient to secure ordered liberty. Over the long haul, the prize of a republic of free citizens would hinge on constant effort.
The new U.S. Constitution was a grand legal document, but its function would be to provide the tools for generations of human exertion. Without continuing the sacrifices made by Franklin and the founders into the future, the American experiment in liberty, which captured the imagination of the world, would not endure.
Can we today, utilizing the tools of the Constitution, keep alive the self-governing federal republic we have received? With the U.S. Supreme Court entertaining, as if a serious legal issue, whether ordinary state laws on marriage were outlawed 147 years ago when the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, now would be a good time to reexamine and deploy such tools. An obvious starting point is the control of federal court jurisdiction which the Constitution entrusts to Congress. (For a discussion of several other constitutional means to check judicial usurpation, see Edwin Vieira, How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary (2004).)
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