Today, the federal government has acquired an all but unquestioned dominance over virtually every area of American life. It acts without constitutional limits and increasingly regulates our most basic activities, from how much water is in our toilets to what kind of light bulbs we can buy.
So while we face many challenges, the most difficult task ahead—and the most important—is to restore constitutional limits on government. Forty visionaries signed a piece of paper 225 years ago today that became one of the most vital documents in the world: the U.S. Constitution.
By design, it limited the power of government under the rule of law, created a vigorous framework that expanded economic opportunity, protected national independence and secured liberty and justice for all. But how is that limitation of powers working today?
The Judicial Branch. The rise of unlimited government is most familiar and most prominent in the form of judicial activism. The Founders called the judiciary the “least dangerous branch,” but progressive judges have usurped the functions of the other two branches and transformed the courts into policymaking bodies with wide-ranging power. We need judges who take the Constitution seriously and follow it faithfully.
The Legislative Branch. For its part, Congress has long legislated without regard to limits on its powers. As a result, decisions that were previously the constitutional responsibility of elected legislators are delegated to executive branch administrators. Congress is increasingly an administrative body overseeing a vast array of bureaucratic policymakers and rule-making bodies. Congress should stop delegating to bureaucrats and actively take responsibility for all the laws (and regulations) that govern us.
The Executive Branch. Meanwhile, the President has unique and powerful responsibilities in our constitutional system as chief executive officer, head of state, and commander in chief. But the idea that the president— who is charged with the execution of the laws—doesn’t have to wait for the lawmaking branch to make, amend, or abolish laws, but can and should act on his own is toxic to the rule of law. It violates the spirit, and potentially the letter, of the Constitution’s separation of the legislative and executive powers of Congress and the President.
It won’t be easy to return to the founding principles. We’ll have to move one step at a time, and walk back decades worth of bad decisions by members of all three branches of government. But it can be done, if we use the written Constitution as our guide and we believe that it means what it says and says what it means.
The Founders worked from the premise that government exists to secure God-given rights, and that it derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. And while many people take that for granted today, it was a novel idea in the 18th century and remains all too rare today.
Since Americans are equal, self-governing citizens and the United States government is limited, we have the liberty and opportunity to live our lives, control our fate, and pursue our happiness—and the American Dream.
That’s worth celebrating, today and every day.
But while our Constitution remains remarkably hale and hearty after all these years (it’s by far the longest-serving constitution in the world), it is under fire from many directions.
Let us remember today that we have the opportunity to rededicate this country to the Constitution and to the universal principles of liberty at its core. We can, and must, dedicate ourselves to the hard work of restoring constitutional self-government, and so preserving the American Dream for all.