CIVICS Q&A

First, to address a question concerning the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Is it the Constitution truly considered ‘above’ the Bill of Rights and amendments, or are these constitutional changes considered ‘original’?”

The Amendments to the Constitution ARE changes (additions or subtractions) to the Constitution, so once they are ratified they are literally a part of the Constitution, they are not separate in anyway. The first ten Amendments get the title of “the Bill of Rights,” but there are 27 Amends. In total. None have any supremacy over another, save the 21st over the 18th because one repeals the other. However, the Constitution itself is the “supreme law of the land,” (Article VI Clause 2, the Supremacy Clause) and all other legislation, executive action, or judicial ruling (from Federal on down) can be scrutinized against it.  

 

Next, Ratification, “I know some number of states must ratify a Constitutional Amendment.  Please explain the process, timeframe, and ‘how close we are’ to the number of states who might be inclined to support federally-passed amendments.”

The Process (covered in Article V):

Step One: An Amendment is proposed by either 2/3 vote of both Houses of Congress or 2/3 of States petition an Amendment to Congress (this has never happened yet).

Step Two: Ratification occurs either by a 3/4 vote by State Legislators or Congress allows for States to hold Special Constitutional Conventions (where the populace of the States elects delegates just for this Convention) and they vote 3/4 in the affirmative (this method has only been used for the 21st Amend.)

As for timeframe and ‘how close’ it entirely depends on the Amendment proposed (is there some thing specific you were thinking of). For example the 21st Amendment was proposed in Feb. 1933 and ratified in Dec. of that same year. 

 

Third: Where and how does the Constitution address ethics?

This question is the most difficult to answer because the Constitution sets before us the structure of our government. What its intent is, as well as what it can and can’t do. However, the Constitution was not developed in a vacuum, it was addressing the ethical questions presented to the founding parents by the clash between Absolute monarchy and Enlightenment ideals. This clash is well illustrated by the Declaration of Independence. 

Beyond this, if the Constitution is our government, politics is how we run said government. Were “ethics” considered in the framing of the Constitution? Yes. As it addresses things the government can and can’t do to itself and its citizens. What it can't do to its citizen is addressed mostly in the Bill of Right (the first ten Amendments). And these could be considered ethical statements as they are checks against government overreach. 

As for things the government can't do from a structural standpoint the Constitution is littered with “can'ts.” Article I Section 6 Clause 2 discusses Legislative “emoluments.” Section 8 of the same Article lists things Congress can do and Section 9 things it can’t. Article II Section 4 concerns what a President and V. President can be impeached for. Article I Section 2 Clause 5 deals with the beginning of Impeachment, basically that the House begins the process, and that process is not clearly laid out, save that the House has “sole power” to impeach. The impeachment trial is held in the Senate (Art. I Sec. 3 Cl. 6). If it is the President that is being impeached the Chief Justice serves as judge, and the Senate as jury. 

Further, both Houses have the right to make rules of conduct for their members (Art. 1 Sec. 5 Cl. 2), and can expel an unruly member with a 2/3 vote, but I'm not sure if that is a permanent expulsion or not.  

Articles II and III discuss what the Executive and Judicial branches can do respectively. 

 

And, lastly, originalism”

From my research “originalism” is the brain-child of Scalia. He stated that he saw the Constitution as a “dead” or “enduring” document, instead of the living document almost everyone else would argue it is. He further states that, “It [the Constitution] means today... what it meant when it was adopted.” I disagree entirely and though I’m sure he had fantastic arguments to think this way the Constitution has an amendment process to allow us to change it as we need, though we rarely do. Scalia is also most famous for his dissents to the opinions of the Court, so that might tell us something in and of itself. But, again, as far as I’m concerned “originalism” is absurd, full-stop. Now, from what I can gather “originalism” is strict construction taken to the extreme. Strict and Loose Construction have to do with how one interprets the Constitution. “Strict” the Constitution says what it says, “Loose” the Constitution was written in the late 1700s, what it “says” must be considered through the lens of the present.