How Good Is the US Constitution?

Really odd piece in the NYT about some research on the relative influence of the US constitution on the constitutions of other countries. The “news” is that the US constitution is used less often as a model for new constitutions in other countries than it used to be.

I think it’s odd because it seems to assume that the constitutions is made up only of the Bill of Rights and the other amendments that have guaranteed rights. In that case, we should be doing a better job. If nothing else, rights should be guaranteed regardless of sex (although some people argue that it already does in a round about way). Some of the other rights the US doesn’t explicitly protect:

…a right to travel, the presumption of innocence and entitlement to food, education and health care.

The right to travel (as far as I know) has never been questioned in the history of the US (for non-slaves, obviously). The entitlement to food, education, and welfare are all things that any decent society should provide to all of its members, but they seem (to me) outside of the purview of a constitution. Maybe not.

But the bulk of our constitution (in fact, the entirety of the original constitution) is made up of the rules of government. Of the different branches of government and the checks and balances they place on each other. This is the genius of the US constitution. In some ways, it’s a very conservative way to run a government (as opposed, for example, to a parliamentary system). But it does ensure a fairly steady hand and avoids many of the abuses of power that we see elsewhere.


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