published Friday, September 20th, 2013

Benkiser: It’s time for us to reclaim the U.S. Constitution

By Tina J. Benkiser

Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of guest commentaries marking Constitution Week.

This week, we celebrate the 226th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, the oldest written constitution of any national government in the world. Understanding that government can be the enemy of liberty, our founders crafted a document that sets forth an enduring framework of limited government, provided that we understand its foundational principles and demand that those in power once again adhere to it.

Historically unique, the United States was established on the ideal that men are created equal and in the image of God, who granted them certain unalienable rights. Our founders understood that rights granted by God cannot be taken away by man but that rights from man can be. Thus, the U.S. Constitution serves as the supreme law of the land, structuring a civil government that protects those unalienable rights, not claims or controls them.

In business terms, the preamble of the Constitution serves as a mission statement. The rest of the document and the Bill of Rights set forth the objectives, policies and procedures to achieve the mission, namely structuring a system for securing liberty while ensuring that its powers are limited by defining and distributing them among three branches of government and incorporating checks and balances for accountability.

Essential to the Constitution are the principles of representation and consent of the governed, separation of powers, federalism or the relationship between federal and state sovereignty, and a supreme law that limits the exercise of sovereign authority. Also important, the Constitution includes a process for amendment meant to ensure that the people from whom it derives its authority consent to any changes.

Until the early 20th century, most leaders understood that an ordered society required balancing the authority and consent of the governed with individuals’ natural rights of life, liberty, property and the protection of each from government. That changed with the election of FDR. He set the stage for pitting group rights over individual rights, valuing classes of people over individuals. Evading the Constitution and its inherent Amendment process and under the guise of promoting economic recovery, he significantly expanded federal government intrusion into most areas of life. This departure from the Constitution allowed civil government to begin reshaping society according to the whims of those in power rather than allowing individuals the liberty to shape their own lives.

With a tortured interpretation of the Constitution and Congressional abdication of its legislative authority, a shift in power to the executive and judicial branches of government began to take place. Administrative agencies now have legislative, executive and judicial power. Courts now claim authority to create rights and legislate. Presidents now ignore the law without consequence. Impotent states now scrap for crumbs thrown from the federal trough to those who bow.

As the ultimate authority of civil government, the people have regressed. With rights come responsibilities, and we have a choice. We can idly sit while an illegitimate concentration and distribution of unbridled power leads us to a path of destruction from within. Or, we can fight to reclaim our heritage of a limited civil government that gave rise to the most prosperous nation in history, recognizing that people exercising their God-given rights — not government — best determine the course of their own lives.

Tina J. Benkiser is a local attorney.

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
LibDem said...

"With a tortured interpretation of the Constitution...", there is little hope that the people will defend it. While it may be likely that I was created in the image of God, I doubt this applies to attorneys who slept through their classes. Stick to celebrating the Constitution as it is written, not as you would like.

September 20, 2013 at 9:56 a.m.
soakya said...


If only you could convince the president who it would seem got his law degree from a cracker jack box back when you could get 3 boxes for a dollar to stick to how it was written and not how he would like to see it. He's no more a constitutional lawyer than the ambulance chasers you see in commercials.

September 20, 2013 at 10:44 a.m.
charivara said...

soakya, you mean like convincing Christians to stick to the 10 Commandments, as they are written?

Both Ms Benkiser and you don’t appreciate the real genius of the Constitution. Neither of you seem to be familiar with history either: even the people who wrote the Constitution couldn't agree on what it meant.

FDR’s so-called “departure” from the Constitution was in reality his interpretation of its intent. “Evading the Constitution”, like “departure” from it, means interpreting it in a way that doesn’t benefit whoever is making the accusation. Contrary to Ms Benkiser assertion, it was precisely a large civil government which enacted and enforced regulations that curbed the excesses of the wealthy class and created a prosperous middle class. That trend ended around the time of the election of Ronald Reagan when his view of the Constitution gained ascendency. Since then the once huge middle class has been shrinking and a much smaller wealthy class has been becoming ever more prosperous. Same Constitution, different interpretation, different results.

The Constitution, with a few modifications, hasn't lasted for more than 225 years because the conditions under which it was written haven't changed during those years. It’s still relevant because it was meant to be interpreted by each generation of Americans in order to solve the problems and meet the challenges of their time. The “tortured” interpretation of the Constitution Ms. Benkiser laments is one that curbs the greed and power of the currently powerful obscenely wealthy class.

September 20, 2013 at 5:10 p.m.
please login to post a comment

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »


Find a Business

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.