What is a Constitutionalist? Simply put, a Constitutionalist believes in the Constitution of the United States as the supreme law of the land.
There are primarily two ways to interpret the Constitution: one method uses the original intent to literally interpret the Constitution, and the other considers the Constitution a living, breathing document, essentially meaning that it is subject to interpretation, and that such interpretation changes with time. I have a problem with this second perspective. When the Constitution is interpreted anew according to the method of legal and judicial Constitutional review which has become quite a pattern in our day, in my view, this essentially rewrites portions of the Constitution upon each new interpretation. If the document was meant to be interpreted that way, it would be very clear, either in the document itself or in the Federalist Papers. Instead, the Founders created an amendment system whereby the Constitution could be changed or modified.
A strict Constitutionalist like myself (or Ron Paul) subscribes to the views of Thomas Woods, a historical scholar for the Mises Institute. We find there are three clauses largely misinterpreted today:
One is the so-called “Commerce Clause.” The Woodsian perspective is that this clause was brought up to smooth trade between states. Under the Articles of Confederation, trade was stiff and unwieldy. New Jersey and Connecticut would pay stiff tarriffs from New York and Massachusetts to get imported goods from those large ports. The purpose of this clause was to support free trade and exchange by reducing or eliminating such tarriffs.
Another is the Necessary-and-Proper Clause. From the Woodsian perspective, this is to ensure that the government would have whatever was necessary to carry out duties explicity specified in the Constitution itself (i.e. revenue, personnel). It does not grant powers to the government that otherwise would not exist.
The third is the General Welfare Clause. Many view this as a “catch-all.” That is, if the government’s activities tend to support the general welfare of the people in some way, then it is Constitutional. Hence, the Departments of Education and Energy, which have at least benevolent motives, would be justified by this clause. Many New Deal programs in the 1930’s were justified in this manner. Of course, a rational person would notice that any type of government program which may have some possible tendency to promote the general welfare could be supported by this ideology. And so we see all manner of expansions in government power, many with the aim of promoting the “General Welfare.” Much to my dismay, this trend continues.
I do not view the Constitution as a failure for these shortcomings. Quite the opposite. Consistent with LDS theology, I view the Constitution as inspired by God, and even necessary for the Restoration of the Gospel. But when we as a people disregard this inspired document and especially its inspired denotations and connotations, we move in dark paths towards an uncertain future. The Constitution becomes anachronistic, outdated, outmoded, and even trivial, which is, sadly, what is has largely become. The Founders would be ashamed.