Jonah Goldberg has a piece defending Lindsey Graham's recent proposal for a Constitutional Amendment (one that would revise the 14th Amendment's citizenship clause so that children born of illegal aliens are not citizens). More importantly, Goldberg is out to defend our responsibility to revise and interpret the Constitution as the cases demand. Now, this should come as a surprise to all the conservatives who take themselves to be strict "Constitutionists" — this sounds all too much like the old 'living document' take on the Constitution conservatives hate so much. Goldberg anticipates this:
...this "living document" argument is a straw man. Of course justices must read the document in the context of an ever-changing world. What else could they do? Ask plaintiffs to wear period garb, talk in 18th-century lingo and only bring cases involving paper money and runaway slaves?
Goldberg's a little confused about straw men, as straw-manning depends on how you portray your opposition, not how obvious your views are. But his point is reasonable enough — if the options are, on the one hand, seeing the world and the Constitution's relevance through the lenses of 18th Century Yankees and, on the other hand, looking at the world with the judgment of 21st Century Yankees, we should take the 21st Century perspective… given that we're out to deal with 21st Century problems. So Jonah Goldberg has made a nice point and also has highlighted a straw man argument. Oh, but then he steps right back into the straw man mode, himself:
When discussing the Constitution on college campuses, students and even professors will object that without a "living constitution," blacks would still be slaves and women wouldn't be allowed to vote. Nonsense. Those indispensable changes to the Constitution came not from judges reading new rights into the document but from Americans lawfully amending it.
Even professors? Really? Even professors? Goldberg owes us at least one name for this charge. But he provides no documentation, no names, no nothing, just vague allegations of intellectual incompetence. Nobody said that living document interpretation of the Constitution was the solution to those things — we had Constitutional Amendments to solve those problems. Only utter morons would say those were cases of living document work. But how about, say, Brown v. Board, or pretty much every privacy rights case? Or, maybe Gregg v. Georgia, with the notion of an evolving standards of decency in punishment? Those are all cases of reading the document of the Constitution in a way that keeps its core commitments but also extends them to the cases that the framers did not anticipate. Ignoring these cases (and actual discussions of them on academic campuses) not only distorts what the "living document" interpretation is, but it makes it impossible to make sense of what Goldberg's own views on the Constitution are. For someone out to prevent straw manning about Constitutional interpretation, Jonah Goldberg is an expert at constructing and knocking the stuffing out of them.