Does the Constitution Echo Republican Views? – Bloomberg
Maybe this question can be answered. Maybe current affirmative-action programs, including the one at the University of Texas, are meaningfully different from the measures enacted by Congress after the Civil War. But to invalidate current programs, constitutional originalists have to say more. They must show that such programs are fatally inconsistent with the original understanding. Maybe they can do this, but remarkably, they haven’t even tried.
How can we explain this conspicuous lack of historical curiosity? A tempting answer would point to the Constitution’s text, which bans states from denying any person the “equal protection of the laws.” Perhaps any effort to consider race is, by definition, inconsistent with this requirement. Yet that argument is hopelessly unconvincing. As the historical debates reveal, whether colorblindness is required by a commitment to “equal protection” is the question, and the words themselves don’t provide that answer.
In the context of affirmative action, conservative constitutional thinkers appear to have adopted the approach of some of their liberal adversaries. They are giving a moral reading to the 14th Amendment.
This is far from the only area in which they have been doing so. For example, many conservatives believe in strong protection of property rights. They want courts to use the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause to strike down regulations that interfere with property rights — even though some leading historical accounts suggest that when originally ratified, the Fifth Amendment was limited to actual physical takings of property, and didn’t restrict regulation at all. Here too, Justices Scalia and Thomas have made no serious inquiry into the original understanding.
Conservatives tend to believe the First Amendment requires courts to invalidate many restrictions on commercial advertising. But until 1976, the Supreme Court didn’t believe that the First Amendment protected commercial advertising at all. It would take a lot of work to establish that the constitutional protection that some would give to commercial advertising can be traced to the original understanding in 1791.
In short, the constitutional judgments of many influential conservatives show an uncomfortably close overlap, not with the original understanding of those who ratified the Constitution, but with the political understandings of the Republican Party in 2012. Who, then, believes in the living Constitution?