Melanie Sturm
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

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June 20, 2012
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Melanie Sturm: Think Again

Last month, the day before National Doughnut Day, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to tackle obesity by banning the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. Eager for the newly nicknamed "Soda Jerk" to Think Again, comedian Jon Stewart joked that Bloomberg's proposal "combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect."

The website "Renegade Chicks" reflected citywide disapproval in asking, "Weren't there bigger issues at hand (like) ... say the declining economy and rising unemployment rates? If this soda ban is passed, what's next?" Apparently, milk drinks and popcorn, which goes to show that there is nothing so bad that politicians can't make worse. At least New Yorkers can move to a different city.

Not so for Americans wishing to escape the interventionist sweep of the Affordable Care Act, whose constitutionality we'll soon know. Perhaps more important than whether the law stands is whether the Supreme Court decision will enable the steady mission and power creep of the federal government beyond the boundaries set by our constitutional framers.

Those who advocate such creep believe in a "living Constitution" that allows government to concentrate power in order to meet societal challenges, a noble goal. The ends justify the means for such advocates as UC-Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who asserts, "Congress can force economic transactions" and "in theory ... use its commerce power to require people to buy cars. Power can be used in silly ways, and the Constitution isn't our protector against undesirable government actions."

One needn't be a constitutional scholar to know that unlimited and unchecked federal government power was the evil our founders wanted to prevent. They designed the government to limit federal authority to enumerated purposes, leaving remaining powers to sovereign states and individuals. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor explained, "The Constitution protects us from our own best intentions: It divides power among sovereigns and among branches of government precisely so that we may resist the temptation to concentrate power in one location as an expedient solution to the crisis of the day."

Embedded in our founding documents is a uniquely American and revolutionary set of governing principles designed to protect our natural rights and liberties, not create man-made ones. This philosophy created the freest and most prosperous society on earth by proclaiming that every human being is born free, equal, and independent with inalienable rights that are permanent parts of our nature. Because we're equal, no one - not a king, a neighbor or a mayor - can be the ruler of any other human being, and each of us is equal in our natural rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

Since a just government derives its power from the consent of the governed it must be, as Thomas Jefferson said, a "wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned."

Nevertheless, the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which empowers Congress to regulate interstate trade, has been used to justify dramatic federal government expansion. Congress wants to stretch this power further to include the regulation of individual choices never before considered commercial or interstate - like deciding not to purchase health insurance. If Congress can mandate Americans to purchase health insurance simply because we're alive, what constitutional principle prevents government from forcing individuals into other purchases?

The debates surrounding this question, and other constitutional issues like executive privileges and orders, are instructive. Not only have Americans learned more about the Constitution, we've discovered that many lawmakers neither understand nor respect the document they're sworn to uphold. Even worse, we have leaders intent on fundamentally transforming the relationship between the citizen and government in a manner the Constitution doesn't allow.

By allowing these politicians to create and impose solutions better left to sovereign states and individuals, we permit their government-driven agenda to trump our liberties and their Leviathan government to limit our choices and make our decisions. This is not the fulfillment of our Founder's dream - it's their nightmare.

Americans must ask: Do we want a government whose role is limited by the sovereign people to certain designated purposes, or an amorphous and unlimited one that can do to us whatever it wants? How long before the federal government deems a 32-ounce soda oversized or worse, a $320,000 salary excessive?

On July 4, Americans celebrate the liberty and natural rights for which our Founders fought. They gave us a brilliant political system which, to paraphrase William Gladstone, was the most perfect ever devised in the history of mankind. Now, it's up to us to reclaim it.

Think Again - your liberty depends on it.


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The Aspen Times Updated Jun 21, 2012 07:05AM Published Jun 20, 2012 10:47PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.