The power (and limitations) of the presidency are in great debate in 2017. President Donald Trump has challenged convention and gone his own way, oftentimes with critics crying foul about him ignoring the Constitution.
Congress and its role in the three-tiered federal power-sharing system is also under scrutiny, from its investigative power to advise-and-consent for the judiciary.
And the judiciary itself is always the subject for debate. No matter how courts rule, there will be cries of judges overstepping their bounds by “making law.”
The strength of the U.S. system is the document that sets for the powers and limitations assigned to the president, Congress and the judiciary. Sept. 17 is Constitution Day, the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution -- the backbone of the system of laws making the United States the envy of the world.
The Constitution and Bill of Rights give our nation the rule of the law, which sends people to the courtroom and not the street to find justice.
The Constitution sets up the system of checks and balances that enables the courts to temper the excesses of the legislative branch and equally gives legislators and the people of the nation the power to amend the document when they disagree with court interpretations.
The Constitution grants to the president great power but does not allow the chief executive to be a king.
It gives states great power but not to the point of making laws that override the basic tenets therein.
Whether it is the peaceful transfer of power after a presidential election or the very right of a free press to endorse one candidate over another, the Constitution is the anchor.
Through its Bill of Rights, the Constitution guarantees freedoms such as speech, religion and assembly, it mandates fair trials, it outlaws slavery and it allows citizens to bear arms.
It is a document that represents the highest law of the land, above the statutes and regulations that are approved by lawmakers. The laws they OK are put to the constitutional test by the nation’s judicial system, that third arm in a system of checks and balances that prevents the executive and legislative branches from gaining too much power.
Understanding the relevance of the Constitution in this day is to understand the need for great caution when considering an amendment. Every year, more than 100 amendments are proposed. Most never even get out of congressional committee. They range from hotly debated issues such as prohibiting flag burning to an amendment that would allow the public to repeal laws by popular vote.
There is good reason our founding fathers required a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress, plus approval of three-fourths of the states, to enact a constitutional amendment. Many amendments are products of the time, reflecting popular sentiment in a given year or period. Laws can be enacted and changed with the political winds. The Constitution should not be so altered.
To foster understanding of the Constitution and its great place in a nation of laws, Congress has mandated that students in our schools be taught about the Constitution on Constitution Day. There is no more important lesson for Americans in understanding the greatness of the foundation laid for us – and no greater challenge than protecting it.