LetterFromAmerica

Declaration_of_arbroath

WHEN I tell my fellow Americans that people in the UK are taught that a constitution is a set of nebulous undefined principals rather than a written legal document the responses I get range from disbelief and confusion to raucous laughter.

After all, our laws are built on the English, Scottish, and French legal systems. We’re taught about English Common Law and the Magna Carta in school. The Declaration of Arbroath is cited as the inspirational document for our Declaration of Independence. The UK calls itself a “Constitutional” Monarchy so it must have a constitution of some sort, we assume.

People living in the UK are the only people on earth who teach their children that a constitution is a set of principles. America, like most of the rest of the world, thinks a constitution is a legal document that exists to both enable and constrain the government. The constitution is the source of the government’s rights and responsibilities, as well as a wall of separation between the government and our rights. A set of nebulous principles cannot enable a government, it cannot be a social contract between the people and the government, it cannot lay the foundations for government, nor can it by law keep the government within due bounds.

But it serves a secondary function. The arguments over devolution in the UK which are breaking up Britain aren’t possible in the US. With some very sad exceptions, such as American Samoa, some other US colonies and Washington DC, each region of the US is fairly equal in terms of representation in government and political power.

The USA with a population of some 320million has only 535 legislators. There are 435 in the lower House of Representatives but each of the 50 states has just two Senators in the Upper House putting each State on an equal footing in the upper chamber of Congress.

However, simply having a constitution isn’t enough. Violations of basic human rights are commonplace in the US, from innocents being killed by police to domestic spying and wiretapping.

Where Americans have decided to draw the line is to make freedom of speech an absolute. Almost all of us like our First Amendment, even though it causes no end of grief. There’s been recent movement among bigoted conservatives in the US to ban transgender Americans from using the bathrooms appropriate to their actual gender, as opposed to their sex at birth.

From May 2015 Edition

House_of_Lords