Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Review: Our Lost Constitution

by Senator Mike Lee

            In this important book, Senator Lee makes his opinion crystal clear in the subtitle: "The Willful Subversion of America's Founding Document." So strong an opinion would be difficult to prove. Not only must he prove that the Constitution has been subverted, but that it has been done willfully. However, Lee brings to the task a commendable expertise not only on law and jurisprudence, but also broad knowledge of minute details of history. His understanding of law began early, for his father was the "founding dean of BYU's law school" and later solicitor general of the United States. This background and his own study engendered a profound respect for the Constitution of the United States.

            Lee's book is divided into two parts: "The Lost Clauses" and "Reclaiming the Lost Clauses." The lost clauses include "Origination" (all revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives), the Legislative Powers Clause (only Congress may legislate), the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment (searches and seizures), and the Tenth Amendment (states' rights).
            Lee's method is to recount in detail the how and why those clauses found their way into the Constitution, the tensions among the various states, and the compromises that made the solutions palatable if not comfortable for all the states. He then explains in equal detail the how and why those provisions have been subverted.
            Typical is the chapter on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." As originally understood, this applied to the U.S. Congress, not to the states. The established churches of several states were not affected, but the clause prevented the U.S. Congress from establishing a national church. The federal government continued to encourage and often fund various religious activities.

            The change came in 1947 from the pen of Justice Hugo Black, the former Alabama Klansman who held a lifelong hatred for the Roman Catholic Church. Black extended the establishment clause to apply to the states and applied the "wall of separation" phrase from a letter by Thomas Jefferson as if it had the force of law. In a later opinion he forced removal of a voluntary religious education course from public school property. Litigants and later courts have taken the situation downhill from there.

            The other "lost clauses" receive similar treatment. The Reclaiming section has chapters on court action, legislative action, power of the purse, and action by individual citizens. The individual can become knowledgeable of the Constitution and influence the attitudes those around him, leading eventually to electing officials who respect the Constitution. Lee concedes that this will be the work of decades, but holds it well worth the sustained effort.
            From the subject matter described, one might think that Lee's book is heavy reading. But instead it is written in conversational style and tone. Lee's personality comes through the writing as a likable person most of us would be happy to know. Readers may disagree with some of Lee's evaluations of current situations, but they will come from the book much better informed on some of the most important provisions of our Constitution and their history.
 --Reviewed by Donn Taylor 

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share