Account Login

3,771,051 Views
Sep 6, 2015
Presented by
Robert George

Was the Constitution written in a way that was designed to protect freedom and limit the government's size? Has it been effective in doing that? And what's the Supreme Court's record when it comes to protecting our rights? Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, answers these questions and more.

The Constitution does not address abortion, thus it is a states’ rights issue. 

  • The 10th Amendment makes clear that the federal government does not have the authority to make laws on anything it is not expressly empowered to address.View Source
  • Abortion is not addressed in the Constitution; thus, it should be a states’ rights issue. Roe v Wade (1973), which imposed a nation-wide ruling on abortions has been condemned as an unconstitutional overreach by leading legal experts.View Source
  • Read constitutional scholar Robert P. George on the 9th and 10th Amendments.View Source

The 9th Amendment prevents tyranny by establishing that citizens’ rights are not limited to those listed in the Bill of Rights. 

  • The 9th and 10th Amendments were created to make sure the Bill of Rights would not be used to undermine the liberty-preserving principle of limited government.View Source
  • The 9th Amendment establishes that the rights listed in the Constitution are not the only rights of citizens.View Source
  • Read constitutional scholar Robert P. George on the 9th and 10th Amendments.View Source

The 9th and 10th Amendments were designed to prevent the federal government from becoming tyrannical. 

  • The 9th Amendment establishes that the rights listed in the Constitution are not the only rights of citizens.View Source
  • The 10th Amendment makes clear that the federal government only has the powers granted to it by the Constitution; all other powers are granted to states and citizens.View Source
  • Read constitutional scholar Robert P. George on the 9th and 10th Amendments.View Source

By imposing law from the bench, the Supreme Court has repeatedly overstepped its bounds.

  • “Judicial review,” determining whether laws are constitutional, is the sole purpose of the Supreme Court. It is designed to act as a check on the powers of the legislative and executive bodies.View Source
  • The Supreme Court has repeatedly overstepped the bounds of the Constitution by “legislating from the bench,” such as in the cases of Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), Roe v. Wade (1973), and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).View Source

The Constitution does not address the definition of marriage, thus it is a states’ rights issue.

  • The 10th Amendment makes clear that the federal government does not have the authority to make laws on anything it is not expressly empowered to address.View Source
  • The definition of marriage is not addressed in the Constitution; however, Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) imposed a nation-wide ruling on the definition of marriage.View Source
  • Read constitutional scholar Robert P. George on the Supreme Court’s overreach in the ruling.View Source

The 10th Amendment prevents tyranny by giving states and citizens authority on powers not specifically granted to the federal government.  

  • The 9th and 10th Amendments were created to make sure the Bill of Rights would not be used to undermine the liberty-preserving principle of limited government.View Source
  • The 10th Amendment makes clear that the federal government only has the powers granted to it by the Constitution; all other powers are granted to states and citizens.View Source
  • Read constitutional scholar Robert P. George on the 9th and 10th Amendments.View Source

When the Supreme Court misinterprets the Constitution, protected freedoms get trampled.

  • Reading the Constitution without considering the Founders’ intent can lead to the erosion of freedom.View Source
  • Read constitutional scholar Robert P. George on “judicial despotism.”View Source

The more powerful the federal government becomes, the less free Americans become. 

  • The framers of the Constitution created it to make sure the federal government would not grow too large. They did so through the principles of enumerated powers and checks and balances, designed to protect the rights of citizens.View Source
  • WATCH: PragerU founder Dennis Prager on "the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen."View Source

Obamacare is an unconstitutional overreach by Congress. The Supreme Court failed to do its job by protecting it.  

  • The Supreme Court was created to keep the other branches of the government in check.View Source
  • For example, in its 2015 ruling on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the Supreme Court misused the commerce clause to inappropriately uphold the law, which forces people to buy health insurance on pain of financial penalty.View Source
  • Read George Will on how Obamacare ruling “overthrew the Constitution.”View Source

How did the framers of the Constitution of the United States seek to preserve liberty and prevent tyranny? Pretty basic question. Here's the answer I usually get from my students.

"Well, Professor, to protect the individual and minorities against the tyranny of the majority, they added the Bill of Rights; and they gave the power to enforce those rights to the Supreme Court."

Are my students correct? The editorial boards of the New York Times or the Washington Post and many members of the U.S. Congress would say yes. Unfortunately, the answer is wrong. I say "unfortunately" because it reflects a common misunderstanding of the Constitution. And that misunderstanding has led to a serious erosion of our freedom. 

Let me explain. Both the Bill of Rights and judicial review -- the idea that the courts can decide if a law is Constitutional or not -- were hotly debated items when the Constitution was being drafted in 1789. The Federalists, the group led by Alexander Hamilton that wanted a national constitution, opposed including a Bill of Rights.  They feared it would actually undermine what the Federalists regarded as the main protections against tyranny in the document -- the limited nature of the national government itself. 

The Constitution did not envision a national government of general jurisdiction -- meaning a government that could do whatever it wanted -- but rather, a government of enumerated and delegated powers -- a government that had authority over only specific areas of American life. All other powers were to be beyond the scope of the national government and reserved to the States or to the American people themselves. That's why, when political necessity forced the Federalists to yield to demands for a Bill of Rights, they took care to add two important amendments -- the ninth and tenth: 

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people," and "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

These amendments reinforced the idea that the national government couldn't just assume powers it had not been specifically granted by the Constitution. Unfortunately, these amendments have not stymied the expansion of the national authority. The power grab the Federalists feared -- the national government taking more and more control over more and more areas of American life -- took place. Not immediately, but over time, and especially beginning in the second half of the 20th century. 

That same time frame has seen a similar concentration of power in the judiciary, especially in the Supreme Court -- so that now, most Americans think of the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of almost every social and political dispute. The Founders never envisioned the court in this role.

How has the Court fared in playing it? Well, there have been moments of glory, to be sure, such as in the racial de-segregation case of Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950s But it has also handed down decision after decision -- from Dred Scott v. Sandford in the 1850s, which facilitated the expansion of slavery, to Roe v. Wade in the 1970s, which legalized abortion throughout the United States -- in which the justices have plainly overstepped the bounds of their authority by creating law from the bench, thereby further expanding their own power and that of the national government.

Moreover, the Supreme Court has done little to stop the executive and legislative branches of the national government from unconstitutionally overreaching.  Recently, the Court found a way, by a bare majority, to uphold an obvious case of constitutional overreach by the national government -- the imposition of a law -- or individual mandate, as it is known -- requiring every citizen to purchase health insurance coverage as part of President Obama's signature "Affordable Care Act." The government defended this mandate as a legitimate exercise of its expressly delegated power to regulate commerce among the states. The trouble is that the mandate does not regulate commerce at all; rather, it forces people into commerce on pain of a financial penalty. 

But why did the issue get to the courts at all? Congress and the president should have recognized and honored the fact that the Constitution simply does not empower the national government to impose a mandate on the people to purchase products, whether health insurance or anything else. 

We've drifted a long way from the original vision of the Founders. The further we've drifted, the more powerful the national government has grown, and the less free Americans have become. Freedom can be taken away, but it can also be given away -- out of sheer ignorance. If we Americans, we the people, want to get some of that freedom back, we need to read America's founding documents. All the freedom we ever wanted is there. 

I'm Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University for Prager University.

You Earned A Badge

Course: Why We're Losing Liberty

Join PragerU now to claim it

  1. Watch The Video
  2. Claim Your Badge
  3. Take the Quiz
  4. Gild Your Badge

Like what you see? Support PragerU today