High School Essay Contest: 1st Place

This semester, the Buckley Program held a high school essay contest with the topic: If you could propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, what would it be? The following essay by Andrej Elez, a sophomore at Montgomery High School, won 1st place. 

Although the country is dealing with hurricane relief, gun control, and health care reform, the most pressing long-term domestic issue that leaps out to the casual observer is the massive growth of the Federal government into areas in which it was never intended to intervene.

These interventions take two primary forms, those that regulate behavior and those that regulate economic transactions. The economic regulations undoubtedly impoverish our society and reduce its innovative capacities, but they do not contribute to the dramatic loss of freedom that behavioral regulations do. Behavioral regulations have reduced civic, political, and economic freedom through their stringent definitions of what is acceptable and what is not.

The regulations of behavior have gradually become more suffocating until they, to paraphrase Alexis de Tocqueville, “do not destroy a society, but prevent existence: they do not tyrannize, but compress, extinguish, and stupefy a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Not only do these rules sap the will of the people, they also slowly draw away the freedom of the people, in amounts small enough to prevent notice, but over time result in a dramatic loss of liberty. Does anybody truly believe that the Founders wrote the Constitution so it could be interpreted one day to force a business owner to serve a customer with whom he does not wish to conduct business? Nobody has the right to lay claim to another’s labor, yet the federal government is on the verge of cementing that sickening idea into law. In addition, civil asset forfeiture and eminent domain have been expanded throughout the years by the federal government to the point where they constitute a severe threat to individual liberty.

Once the problem (a severe overregulation of society by the federal government) has been identified, a proper solution must be found. Some may advocate for an amendment requiring the federal budget to balance so as to reduce the spending (and therefore the size) of the federal government, yet that is an invitation for higher taxes and unchanged spending. In times of war it could also precipitate a death sentence or constitutional crisis. In addition, an amendment that proposes term limits for members of the Legislative branch would do much to alleviate the current focus on campaigning that seems to be the norm in Washington. However, such an amendment would reduce the amount of “firm-specific skills” so to speak, causing members of Congress to have reduced policy making aptitude, and contribute to them being even more inclined to “make their mark” and push for the kind of destructive short-termism all too common in our political system.

I propose that the following amendment is added to the Constitution:

“The 10th amendment shall now read: The powers not expressly 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.”

This amendment differs in one important way from the 10th amendment, namely the inclusion of the word “expressly”. How has the federal government eroded so many of our freedoms if the Constitution limits it so effectively? The answer lies in the court system, where left-leaning judges have slowly but surely interpreted the Constitution to have meanings that were clearly not intended at the time of its writing. This amendment shuts off that avenue of ruinous change through its clear statement of how the Constitution is to be interpreted. Only the will of the vast majority of Americans, not a group of unelected judges, should be able to fundamentally shape our society.

The classic response to Constitutionalism, and therefore this amendment, is that societies and times change, and so government must evolve with it. However, the ideals underlying a free society never change. There is no need for antitrust legislation if there are no government sponsored barriers to entry. There is no need for a massive welfare state if destructive government policies such as the minimum wage and Department of Education are erased. To undo the damage done by an overweening administrative state, and to preempt such debasing of our founding documents in the future, America must return to its roots.