We know that liberals like to ignore the Constitution. And when they’re not ignoring it, they’re misinterpreting its true meaning.

To help clarify some of the liberal misconceptions that have developed over the last 224 years, The Heritage Foundation’s Julia Shaw separates fact from fiction.

Myth:  The Constitution is racist: There is no better way to end a heated conversation about the Constitution than to claim that the Constitution is racist. In his feature on the Constitution, Time magazine managing editor Richard Stengel dismissed the Constitution because the Framers “gave us the idea that a black person was three-fifths of a human being.”

Fact: The Constitution does not classify people according to race. Free blacks in the North and the South were counted on par with whites for purposes of apportionment. Southern states wanted slaves to count as full persons to inflate pro-slavery representation in the House of Representatives. The three-fifths compromise was designed to prevent Southern states from magnifying their political power. The word “slave” or “slavery” never appears in the Constitution. When the 13th Amendment was ratified, not a single word of the Constitution needed to be deleted. As the escaped slave turned abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, once commented: the Constitution “was never, in its essence, anything but an anti-slavery government.”

Myth: There is no way to know what the Constitution means: When asked on MSNBC to comment on the 112th Congress’s decision to read the Constitution aloud, Washington Post writer Ezra Klein replied “The issue of the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they want to get done.”

Fact: Thanks to commentaries, pamphlets, letters, well-documented debates, and drafting records from the Founding, the meaning of the Constitution is, in fact, knowable. The Federalist is one of the clearest explanations of the meaning of the Constitution. The Heritage Guide to the Constitution offers a clause-by-clause explanation and analysis of the Constitution.

Myth: The Constitution is an outdated, 18th century document: Certain that the Constitution is trapped in the 18th century, one publishing company warns readers of its pocket Constitution: “This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today.”

Fact: Assuredly, the daily habits of American life have changed since 1787. But technological advances do not necessitate a new Constitution.  The Constitution contains no outdated, 18th century policy prescriptions and is not tied to the material and social conditions of a bygone age. Rather, the Constitution establishes the process by which our elected officials make policies. Through these processes, the American people of any era can deliberate, via their elected representatives at the state or federal level, on the issues of the day.

Myth: The Constitution’s meaning evolves with the times: To the extent that the American left praises the Framers, it is because they “wisely left the Constitution open to generations of reinterpretation.” The left presumes that the Constitution can address today’s questions only if its meaning evolves.

Fact: The Constitution means the same thing today as it did two hundred years ago: a republican framework of government that addresses the political questions of the day, whatever these questions may be. The Constitution’s words have a fixed meaning: they do not support perpetual reinterpretation. As former Attorney General Edwin Meese III explains, our written Constitution merits a particular interpretive approach: “where the language of the Constitution is specific, it must be obeyed. Where there is demonstrable consensus among the Founders and ratifiers as to a principle stated or implied in the Constitution, it should be followed. Where there is ambiguity as to the precise meaning or reach of a constitutional provision, it should be interpreted and applied in a manner so as to at least not contradict the text of the Constitution itself.”

Myth: Judges determine what the Constitution means: As Representative Bob Brady (D-PA) quipped: “Let the Supreme Court deal with the Constitution. Congress passes laws. That’s what we do.”

Fact: The Constitution is not whatever judges say it means. All members of the government take an oath to defend the Constitution: as a result, the president and the legislature have a duty to interpret and follow the Constitution. In reality, the Supreme Court’s decisions are binding on the parties involved, but these decisions do not rise to the status of supreme law of the land “binding on all persons and parts of government henceforth and forevermore.”

Comments (26)

Martha C Smith - September 23, 2011

I was just contacted by phone at 4:25 today, Mike Huckabee is solicitating signatures on a petition for Citizens United to save American taxpayers 3 Billion
Dollars Anualy by defunding the United Nations and requiring them to locate in another Country…they want 1 Million signatures……….sounds like a good idea to me
actually I have advocated this for years, no one took me seriously, just maybe this might be the correct time.

Joseph Daigneault - September 23, 2011

The word “slave” appears in section 4 of the XIV Amendment. So your comment that it does not appear in the Constitution is wrong unless you believe that the Amendments are not part of the Constitution. It should read , ” never appears in the original document.”

WILLIAM H. LAUDEL - September 23, 2011


Harvey Stephens - September 23, 2011

Liberal ignore the Constitution because the constitution does not support their agenda. So when forced to recognize it’s veracity, they begin misinterpreting it’s true meaning.

Angela Rickerson - September 23, 2011

I have tought the Constitution for over 25 yrs. The way this admin. is circumventing it, even ignoring it is a travesty. Apparently, some members of Congress & even our Courts have dishonored their oath in favor of boot licking. It is time for these globalists to make a decision: either we are a sovereign nation, or we are not. The USA is exceptional in all ways.

Martin Jones - September 23, 2011

The Framers could have never foreseen the future as we know it today. Planes, computers, trips to the moon etc. But they did know the devil within mankind. And that’s what the Constitution protects us from.

Jim Kea - September 23, 2011

Thanks so much for the clarification. It is very helpful.

Donald Wright - September 23, 2011

Excellent. As always, those on the Left parrot the baseless mantras about the Constitution and about our Founding Fathers that they’ve heard from their leaders until those mantras become generally accepted by the uneducated. Heritage, by contrast, investigates and strips away the untruths propagated by the Left. The Left, ever vigilant in their demands for “tolerance” and “acceptance” of their perverse viewpoints in others, is itself intolerant of any truths but its own.

Eric Hill - September 23, 2011

I am very comfortable accepting the Constitution as written. I don’t believe the founders meant it be a “living’ document to evolve according some future generations foolish whims. It is the supreme law of the land, but I believe it is also more. A design, a plan, a set of rules-an owners’ manual about our country. And to the extent we follow those rules, things will go right. Stray from the rules, as we are currently doing and things will go wrong. When we allow enough things to go wrong, we will lose the blessings the Constitution provides us as Americans.

My own pet gripe is the 17th Amendment. Woodrow Wilson, a progressive, wanted it. A really bad idea. It gave the fed. govt. more power and destroyed the nearly perfect balance of the power between the fed. gov’t and the states. As the senators owed their offices to the legislature of their home state, there was a different
view. Representatives are elected by district based on population (my district is shaped like a horseshoe to make a safe district for a Hispanic representative). Each state has 2 senators-population is not an issue. Thus the senators belonged to the states in a way that representatives don’t.

Charles Morris - September 23, 2011

What a wonderful piece of journalism. I am an elected official in my little ‘burb here in Michigan, and I am continually impressed by what the HF puts out. I wonder how many people/constituents know the background of the 3/5 clause in the constitution, how many are knowledgeable about the constitution and more importantly how many will take the online educational experience offered by Professor Larry Arne of Hillsdale on the Constitution. I hope everyone of them.Electile Disfunction is a scary thing. Be full of Wonder at His Greatness.

Mary-Jo Wiese - September 23, 2011

I am beginning to think that most, if not all, Democrats and most Liberals have been Brainwashed for so long that they can’t understand the written word. What is so hard about understanding the Constitution? Maybe if we put it’s study along with a good Old Fashioned study of CIVICS back into the classrooms, like I had as a kid, these people would know what the Constitution says. It is not so difficult that we need judges to interrup it, nor is it a liquid, where it means one thing this year and something else next year.

I am getting so angry with the stupidity coming out of D.C. anymore I could just scream!

JACK - September 23, 2011

Thanks for these meaningfull myth-busting truths. The constitution is granite for liberty and limited government. It is not “fundimentally flawed”.

Joseph Krumenacker IV - September 24, 2011

Regarding an “outdated” Constitution–Our Founding Fathers understood “human nature,” probably better than anyone today. It is my understanding that in framing the Constitution the Fathers knew that human nature does not change and therefore focused on the nature of humans (a.k.a. citizens for all times) in the creation of the document knowing that that approach would enable The Constitution to stand the test of time.

RetiredEngineer - September 24, 2011

As another example of the anti-slavery provisions of the constitution, check out Article 1 section 9, first paragraph. It explicitly enables the federal government to abolish the slave trade after 1808, and to immediately impose a tax on such trading. Even the slave states relented and agreed to this compromise

Jerry Keogh - September 24, 2011

Thank you for the myth busters. They were helpful to me.

JJ - September 24, 2011

The United States Constitution is timeless deriving it’s truths from the forces of light, under constant attack by the forces of darkness. JJ

Dwight Boud - September 24, 2011

Why would the framers have provided procedures for amending the constitution if they had meant for it to be open to generations of reinterpretation?

Ronald Baker - September 24, 2011

The information that you provide is priceless! While names and dates are important, it is more important for our students to be taught the truth about our Christian heritage, a whole semester on our founding documents, and the basics of socialism, communism, and capitalism. Moral capitalism wins hands down! Thank you Heritage Foundation!

Jeff Yetter - September 24, 2011

Moral equivocation and endless liberal rationalization have followed another very important document down through the ages. The truths in it, also, remain immutable. May it ever remain thus.

curtis nunley - September 24, 2011

This article is one reason I joined the “Heritage Foundation”. Congress has broken their oath to the Constitution because they know the majority of the citizens are ignorant of it’s protections to our rights. Great article. Please keep up the good work.

Christopher Plante - September 24, 2011

Anyone who cannot understand the Constitution as it is written, either has a serious reading comprehension problem or has a head so full of PC stupidity that meaningful insight is utterly impossible.

Most of what the “Legal Establishment” has done with the Constitution is twist it’s words, which were written with utmost clarity, into ambiguous and grotesque shapes, attempting to cram them into the gaps in the reasonings of activists and self-serving manipulators of the public’s trust. Even as the Pharisees did with Moses’ Law, so do these legal con-artists strain at gnats and completely neglect the weightier contextual meaning of the document.

In their maniacal dividing of the letter, they wholly ignore the spirit and as Paul said, “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”

Because of their total rejection of absolutes, they cannot accept the literal interpretation of the Constitution, which is riddled with absolutes. They are driven to find grey or to manufacture grey if there is none to be found. Black and white hurts the eyes through which they envision their relativistic utopia.

Orville - September 25, 2011

This article says more about the myths created about liberals than it does about myths about the constitution. I have seen more attacks on the constitution in my lifetime by powerful conservatives than by powerful liberals. But my point is that power, not political ideology, brings about those attacks.

Marilyn Wootton - September 25, 2011

The Constitution is clear and should be followed by each and every one of us who considers the United States of America our home.

Gerald vencius - September 25, 2011

I just get so aggravated when those liberals keep saying that the constitution states that we are suppose to keep religion out of the government and the public square when they know that it says no such thing, it says that the government is not suppose to establish any one religion that we are to worship by. Was not even in the constitution, but the bill of rights.

Richard Krumm - September 26, 2011

What if the Second Amendment read, “Well regulated abortion clinics, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of women to an abortion, shall not be infringed.”
How many liberals would say the Constitution was outdated, there is no way to know what the Constitution means, the Constitution’s meaning evolves with the times, or Judges determine what the Constitution means?

Greg Hines - September 26, 2011

The Constitution is just as valid today as is was over 220 years ago, our technilogy has changed but our basic human nature has not. The US Constitution – an inconvienent TRUTH (to those who cannot handle truth)!

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