A debate on the Constitution’s relevancy brought together Roger Cramton, the former Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law, Prof. Robert Hockett, law, and 2004 Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik. The three discussed the viability of the Constitution to modern American society yesterday in McGraw Hall, each giving their views and proposing changes or amendments if necessary in the debate, which was co-sponsored by the Cornell Political Coalition, Cornell Libertarians and Society for Individualists. Afterwards, audience members asked questions and made comments.
Badnarik, a constitutional scholar, started the debate by referring to the the preamble of the Constitution, saying that the purpose of the Constitution is to limit the government’s power. “The government works for us, not the other way around,” said Badnarik. He also said that most of the government is unconstitutional and that the way to change this would be “for everyone to vote for every libertarian candidate in every state.”
Hockett argued that limiting government is only one aspect of the Constitution and that its main purpose was to create and structure a government. He proposed the addition of an equal opportunity clause to the Constitution.
“[This would] commit the government to do all it could to equalize opportunity to all members of society,” he said. Campaign expenditures and education were two examples he gave of situations the proposed clause could affect. In terms of campaign expenditures, he said that broadcast companies would be required to allow a certain amount of airtime to all candidates. According to Hockett, the federal government would be obligated to do all that it could to equalize opportunities for all young Americans with the equal opportunity clause.
Lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices was the area of the Constitution Cramton chose to address. He said that physical and mental decrepitude is a regular problem of Supreme Court justices, explaining that justices can only be removed by voluntary resignation and impeachment.
“They’re trying to hang on until a person of the right political complexion is in office,” said Cramton. He said that this has been a real problem for the court and proposed replacing life tenure with an 18-year term. According to Cramton, the average of 15 years justices used to serve has since risen to an average of 26 years. “Scalia is my friend, but I say ‘Go geezers go!'” said Cramton.
The first questions posed to the speakers were whether the government is overstepping its bounds and if it is constitutional for the federal government to regulate marijuana.
“You should decide what drugs you take as long as you’re not hurting anyone else,” said Badnarik. He said that the federal government is overstepping its bounds, that the least amount of power should rest with the federal government, with more going to state governments and the most to individuals.
According to Hockett, the government might be acting out of bounds in respect to prison camps.
“I don’t see what authority under the Constitution the government has in regulating marijuana,” said Hockett. He said that it would only be an issue in terms of external effects.
Other audience members asked whether a term limit for Supreme Court justices would decrease stability or potentially polarize the court. Cramton said that the 18-year term would be non-renewable and regularization of service would actually reduce polarization.
“The court might be packed for a generation,” he said, referring to the current rules and appointments of younger justices.
In response to a question on the appropriateness of the equal opportunity clause, Badnarik said, “Equal opportunity is not the same as equal property.” According to Badnarik, the federal government doesn’t have responsibility for education, it’s the responsibility of parents.
Another question was why the equal opportunity clause should be a federal concern as opposed to a state one.
“This is a federal concern because the idea of equal opportunity is so important to our society and core values,” Hockett said.
Punishments distinguishing between an activity that has the potential to cause harm and an actual incident causing harm was the subject of another question. “In the U.S. you are innocent until proven guilty, you can’t be put in jail for the potential of doing something,” said Badnarik.
In closing remarks, Hockett said that the two most fundamental values that define us, liberty and equality, are not in contention. He said that in terms of material liberty, a function of what you own and what you have, there is a difference between what people own due to their own work and due to luck.
“How many people plan to living at home five years from now?” Badnarik asked the audience. No one raised a hand. He asked why anyone would choose not to live at home and said that it was for liberty. “If you won’t allow mom and dad to make decisions, why would you allow the government to make that decision,” Badnarik said.
According to Anastasia Uglova ’05, vice president of the Cornell Political Coalition, the event was planned to draw attention to the Constitution and engage Badnarik, Cornell professors and students.
“Constitutional law is the sort of topic that is often overlooked, while paradoxically, it’s at the core of all other laws,” said Uglova.
Jim Shliferstein ’06, Cornell Political Coalition president and Sun columnist, said these debates allow people to get access to more ideas.
“We’re here to sponsor Badnarik and expose the libertarian side to students who may only get one side of the coin,” said Curry Taylor grad, secretary of Cornell Libertarians.
Jonathan Waldor ’06, president of Cornell Libertarians, said that Badnarik received a good turnout when he came to Cornell in October and that his being an expert on the Constitution was appropriate for the debate.
“There was a wide range of topics and very thought-provoking discussion,” said Barry Rosenberg ’06, a member of the Society for Individualists.
Badnarik will be leading a Tax Day rally at noon today on Ho Plaza.
Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Senior Writer