Monday, November 05, 2007

"...and to have intended what they have said..."

"Two propositions in our constitutional jurisprudence are no longer debatable. One is that the national government is one of enumerated powers; and the other, that a power enumerated and delegated by the Constitution to Congress is comprehensive and complete, without other limitations than those found in the Constitution itself.

"The Constitution is a written instrument. As such its meaning does not alter. That which it meant when adopted, it means now. Being a grant of powers to a government, its language is general; and, as changes come in social and political life, it embraces in its grasp all new conditions which are within the scope of the powers in terms conferred. In other words, [Page 199 U.S. 437, 449] while the powers granted do not change, they apply from generation to generation to all things to which they are in their nature applicable. This in no manner abridges the fact of its changeless nature and meaning. Those things which are within its grants of power, as those grants were understood when made, are still within them; and those things not within them remain still excluded. As said by Mr. Chief Justice Taney in Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393, 426, 15 L. ed. 691, 709:
"'It is not only the same in words, but the same in meaning, and delegates the same powers to the government, and reserves and secures the same rights and privileges to the citizen; and as long as it continues to exist in its present form, it speaks not only in the same words, but with the same meaning and intent with which it spoke when it came from the hands of its framers, and was voted on and adopted by the people of the United States. Any other rule of construction would abrogate the judicial character of this court, and make it the mere reflex of the popular opinion or passion of the day.'
"It must also be remembered that the framers of the Constitution were not mere visionaries, toying with speculations or theories, but practical men, dealing with the facts of political life as they understood them; putting into form the government they were creating, and prescribing, in language clear and intelligible, the powers that government was to take. Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, in Gobbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 188, 6 L. ed. 23, 68, well declared:
"'As men whose intentions require no concealment generally employ the words which most directly and aptly express the ideas they intend to convey, the enlightened patriots who framed our Constitution, and the people who adopted it, must be understood to have employed words in their natural sense, and to have intended what they have said.'"

- Mr. Justice Brewer deliver[ing] the opinion of the court, U.S. Supreme Court, [South Carolina v. US, 199 U.S. 437 (1905)]

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