Webster defines a ” constructionist” as one who “construes or interprets laws or the like in a specific manner.” One definition of the word “strict” is “conservative, narrowly or carefully limited (as in) a strict construction of the Constitution.”
From a practical point of view, the best definition of a “strict constructionist” is one who interprets the American blueprint the way you want him to. If he agrees with you, he fits the label. If he doesn’t, he falls under some other category.
Sometimes a strict construction of the Constitution isn’t so “narrow or carefully limited.” Take those who follow the teaching and preaching of the National Rifle Association. It contends that the Second Amendment gives it protection from those who would pass laws restricting the use of weapons ranging from pistols to bazookas and beyond.
The amendment states that 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.”
Now a strict interpretation of that amendment would seem to take into consideration the operative clause about the “well regulated militia,” a condition that no longer exists. When was the last time the freedom of Virginia or Maryland or the District of Columbia or New York City or South Dakota, for that matter, depended on forming its citizens into a military unit and making sure they all could grab their long rifles at a moment’s notice to repel invaders?
The more liberal interpretation of the amendment, one of the first 10 commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights, would seemingly ignore altogether the part about the militia or at the very least would find that the framers of our sacred outline for democracy were so prescient that they understood that someday there would be AK47s and other weapons of mass destruction that would be necessary for the preservation of one’s neighborhood from the hordes of urban guerrillas that threaten them daily.
So when President Bush says he is considering only candidates for the Supreme Court who will strictly interpret the Constitution, wouldn’t it seem like bad news for all those NRA types whose financial contributions for re-election have helped put new meaning into the phrase the “best Congress money can buy”? If the president wants to protect that enormous sugar daddy for his own troops, shouldn’t he be looking for a liberal jurist?
Actually, unless the Senate stops it, the police here now face the prospect of having to deal with citizens whose homes soon will be as prepared as the framers of the Constitution envisioned for any dispute, domestic or foreign. If a congressman from the great Wild West state of Indiana has his way _ and the House already has voted to let him _ everyone can have a loaded gun of any description in his Washington, D.C., home without worrying about it. Well, so much for those police programs granting citizens amnesty for turning in six or 16 or 116 shooters.
A lot of people around here are wondering why Rep. Mark Souder has decided that D.C. residents shouldn’t be able to make their own laws when it comes to regulating firearms. Somehow they were under the impression that there was home rule and that such decisions were really outside the purview of a Congress dedicated to national issues. A strict constructionist might argue that all hell would ensue if a congressman from Ohio introduced a law making it legal for every Hoosier to carry a brace of pistols everywhere, church, school, a basketball game. Would any referee be safe?
Having come from more than 190 years of family history in Souder’s home environs, I think I can say unequivocally what the answer to that would be. But then, no one in the family ever found it necessary to carry heat much past the time they were shooting bears around the Blue River. That’s not quite true. A business competitor murdered an unarmed great-uncle, calling him to the window of his house and blasting away.
We think the guy was a strict constructionist who interpreted the Second Amendment as allowing him to take out his rivals. His name wasn’t Souder. At least, I don’t think it was.
(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)