For Constitution Day, the Leadership and Service Council of the University of Alabama at Birmingham invited our Young Americans for Liberty chapter to participate in a scholarly debate with the College Democrats, College Republicans (who were unable to participate), and the Young Democratic Socialists to promote civil engagement and inform voting practices.
The discussion subject was on the matter of
“Is the Constitution a living document or must it be interpreted literally?”
Of course, we eagerly accepted this invitation, and I set to work preparing my very first formal debate presentation.
The planned questions ranged from those directly related to the topic at hand, such as “Under the Constitution, who has sovereign authority to govern?” and the proper necessity of amendments, to questions and responses on subjects such as marriage equality, hate speech, civil disobedience, and campaign financing. We also accepted questions from the audience, some solemn questions on the “trade-offs” of privacy and security, limitations on the right to bear arms, and the protocol for declaring war, and some more lighthearted and refreshing questions like “What’s your least favorite amendment?”
The debate was a great opportunity to quote the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Frederic Bastiat, and Voltaire. While my opponents argued the Constitution to be a framework for legislation, we argued it to be a legal, confining contract on federal power. My opening response included:
Whereas the innate rights of a citizen end only where the rights of another begin, the role of governing rule is to be confined to protecting those innate rights through reasonable justice and common defense, by the Constitution.
Beyond that primary disagreement, it seems all three of us went into the debate with preconceived notions of the other’s ideology and differences. Most of the disagreement among us was almost forced. Probably what surprised me the most was the dialogue by the Democratic Socialist representative (a very impressive freshman, by the way) was the urge for many of the governmental roles to be privatized in order to specialize in the more important industries (including health care, of course, and very large industries, such as fuel and automobile manufacturing).
Unfortunately, even in his closing remarks, he was under the impression I, myself and the ideology I represent, was opposed to absolutely any amending of the Constitution, including the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments. However, in my own closing response, this is when I got to bring out more Jefferson (I promise I did not read the quotes in their entirety in dialogue) to argue that amendments that further define inalienable rights and reinforces the “chains of the Constitution“:
“Let us then go on perfecting it by adding by way of amendment to the Constitution those powers which time and trial show are still wanting.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1803
“I willingly acquiesce in the institutions of my country, perfect or imperfect; and think it a duty to leave their modifications to those who are to live under them, and are to participate of the good or evil they may produce. The present generation has the same right of self-government which the past one has exercised for itself.” -Thomas Jefferson, 1824
As far as the argument of “originality versus open interpretation” in regards to the Constitution and the framework of this debate, my stance is “unclear” even to myself. As is stereotypical if not common, libertarians don’t like confinement and dichotomy: I definitely made that much clear. Because, in all honesty, the important questions are:
- Why was the Constitution written?
- What is the role of government?
- When, if ever, should government assume undelegated powers?
- What are We going to do about it?
We saw many of our new sign-ups in attendance, found out about a club leadership networking event in November, and made some plans for cross-organization collaboration for an anti-war event! Overall, the debate was most certainly a success, and there was resounding agreement to become an annual Constitution Day event. Anything to keep the conversation going and raise the right questions!Published in