The Department of Education, federal regulations on the size of toilet flushes, federal gun-free school zones, national drinking ages – where are these things defined in the US Constitution? In the more than 200 years since the Constitution was adopted, the size of the federal government has grown steadily, much to the detriment of individual rights. In The Constitution in Exile, Judge Andrew Napolitano starts at the infancy of our country and explains how the federal government has grown over time, citing key laws and Supreme Court decisions that were truly insulting to the original intent of many of our founding fathers.
Napolitano holds no punches in this book. He travels back in history to show that many of the controversial issues facing us today, like the current War on Terror, are nothing new, and that some of the presidents that history shows as great trampled on our civil liberties as much, if not more than, George W. Bush is accused of doing now. Even Abraham Lincoln is not spared, when the author refers to him as an emperor and shows that he never cared about freeing the slaves, only that it was just a convenient means to an end. The final chapters of The Constitution in Exile look at some key Supreme Court cases that were just decided or are currently pending, and also examine the US Patriot Act.
The Constitution in Exile covers several of the major abuses of the Constitution, and how these holes have been gradually expanded over time. From expanding the commerce clause to controlling the private growth of wheat in farms and weed in California, to using “general welfare” to bribe states to do what they don’t want to do, you’ll be surprised at the ways the federal government has been allowed to go where it was never intended.
It is obvious that Napolitano is very passionate about Natural Rights, and is a very strict constitutional constructionist. However, as the story unfolds, what had started as a well-reasoned and documented critique of constitutional law turns into more of a rant as more contemporary issues are discussed towards the end. He makes several claims about current events, sometimes with little supporting evidence in footnotes, which is unfortunate because much of what he discusses is very weighty, and pulling in more evidence would have certainly helped.
His conclusion is also very lacking. The entire book is filled with many examples of where Congress and the Supreme Court have wrongly interpreted the Constitution, but Napolitano doesn’t provide many details as to how he would improve the system. He simply provides a few brief bullet points without much explanation as to how it would help, or how it would have helped in the examples he cited throughout the book. In the end you’re left with a long history on where things have gone wrong, but few ideas on where to go from here. His idea of repealing the 17th Amendment, which allows for the direct election of Senators, is very intriguing, but is not supported by any facts earlier in the book. Nowhere does he correlate an increase in government size to Senate actions taken since the 17th Amendment was passed.
Overall, civil libertarians and anyone who is interested in the Constitution will find this a very interesting read. Of course, anyone who is shocked by their tax bill every April should read this book to see how their money is being spent. Understanding what the Constitution was originally intended to do, and how it has been distorted over time is something that every citizen should know.