In his song “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Bob Dylan calls upon Senators and Congressmen to “Please heed the call, Don’t stand in the doorway, Don’t block up the hall. For he that gets hurt Will be he who has stalled; There’s a battle outside And it is ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows And rattle your walls, For the times they are a-changin’.”
This sentiment is echoed by those who espouse the theory of a “living Constitution.” They say: “times have changed; we need to change with them.” They also say our Constitutions (federal and state) do not need to be amended, just interpreted to fit the times.
To me, a living Constitution cheapens our rule of law. I prefer following the process established by the Founders to make changes.
For the US Constitution, this means adhering to Article V: two thirds of both the House and Senate propose amendments (or two thirds of the states call for a Constitutional Convention to propose amendments). All proposed amendments must be ratified by three fourths of state legislatures.
Amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution must adhere to Article XI, Section 1: proposed amendments must be approved by both the House and Senate in two consecutive Sessions of the General Assembly. These proposed amendments are then submitted to the voters for consideration.
It’s a cumbersome process – as it was meant to be. That’s why there have been just 27 Amendments to the US Constitution. Pennsylvania has had five state constitutions: 1776, 1790, 1838, 1874, and 1968 (our current state Constitution).
Some advocates of gun control rely heavily upon living Constitution arguments to advance their cause, saying times have changed since the days of muskets and rifles or the 2nd Amendment is open to interpretation: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Pennsylvania’s Right to Bear Arms is established in Article I, Section 21: “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.”
Wouldn’t these “Times They Are A-Changin” arguments apply to other rights? For example, methods of free speech and the press have certainly changed with mass media, social media, and electronic media.
Shortly, I’ll be introducing legislation to limit forfeitures of property by law enforcement, which I believe are already protected by the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments: protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to due process of law and compensation for takings, and the rights of accused in criminal actions.
It will be interesting to hear the arguments opponents will use to challenge my bill.