Don’t miss Charles Krauthammer’s article in today’s National Review, Constitutionalism:
Americans are in the midst of a great national debate over the power, scope, and reach of the government established by that document. The debate was sparked by the current administration’s bold push for government expansion — a massive fiscal stimulus, Obamacare, financial regulation, and various attempts to control the energy economy. This engendered a popular reaction, identified with the Tea Party but in reality far more widespread, calling for a more restrictive vision of government more consistent with the Founders’ intent.
Call it constitutionalism. In essence, constitutionalism is the intellectual counterpart and spiritual progeny of the “originalism” movement in jurisprudence. Judicial “originalists” (led by Antonin Scalia and other notable conservative jurists) insist that legal interpretation be bound by the text of the Constitution as understood by those who wrote it and their contemporaries. Originalism has grown to become the major challenger to the liberal “living Constitution” school, under which high courts are channelers of the spirit of the age, free to create new constitutional principles accordingly.
What originalism is to jurisprudence, constitutionalism is to governance: a call for restraint rooted in constitutional text. Constitutionalism as a political philosophy represents a reformed, self-regulating conservatism that bases its call for minimalist government — for reining in the willfulness of presidents and legislatures — in the words and meaning of the Constitution.
The most galvanizing example of this expansive shift was, of course, the Democrats’ health-care reform, which will revolutionize one-sixth of the economy and impose an individual mandate that levies a fine on anyone who does not enter into a private contract with a health-insurance company. Whatever its merits as policy, there is no doubting its seriousness as constitutional precedent: If Congress can impose such a mandate, is there anything that Congress may not impose upon the individual?