Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Top 10 constitutional questions to answer before the world ends

May 24, 2011 by Dr. Steve Frank


By the time you read this post we will both know whether the end of time is at hand.

Photo by Flickr user Tony the MisfitAs you doubtless have heard, a radio preacher and self-taught biblical scholar named Harold Camping predicted that Saturday would be Judgment Day. Camping is a retired civil engineer, and he arrived at that date through a series of mathematical calculations based on the theological assumption that the world would end exactly 7,000 years after Noah’s flood.

If Camping’s calculations were correct, believers have been transported up to heaven and a worldwide earthquake has struck, ushering in five months of plagues, more earthquakes, wars and famine, before the planet’s total destruction in October.

Frankly, the attributes of that doomsday scenario -- the earthquakes, famine, floods, war and plagues – struck me more as a description of the world we live in than as a prophecy. I guess it’s a matter of degree.

In any case, back when I was a boy similar, although more secular, fears of doom (in the form of nuclear annihilation) prompted a number of families in my neighborhood to build bomb shelters in their basements. My family took half measures, stocking up on water and canned goods instead.

We were halfway prepared, which more or less reflects my attitude today toward Rev. Cumming’s prophecy: I expect that you will be reading this post with the world and its woes fully intact, but just in case on Friday I created a bucket list of 10 constitutional questions I wish we would settle before Judgment Day.

Teacher's corner

Which constitutional questions would you like to add? Are there any unexplained historical events in which you wish there was more information on?

  1. Same-sex marriage: Does the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment give same-sex couples the same right to marry as heterosexual couples?
  2. Presidential war powers: Can the president constitutionally commit troops to combat without consulting Congress?
  3. Commerce clause: Does the commerce clause give the federal government the power to require all Americans to purchase health insurance?
  4. Campaign-finance: What regulations on campaign contributions may Congress devise without violating the First Amendment’s protection of free speech?
  5. Abortion: Can states make it illegal for private insurance companies to cover abortion?
  6. Affirmative-action: Will we ever overcome the need for some forms of affirmative action?
  7. Gerrymandering: Can we create workable remedies to gerrymandered redistricting?
  8. Patriot Act Renewal: Should Congress pass a long-term extension of the Patriot Act?
  9. Death Penalty: Should the death penalty remain available as a punishment for the worst crimes, or is the risk of wrongful death-row convictions too great?
  10. Interpreting the Constitution: How should the Constitution be read, as an embodiment of unchanging principles, or as a document whose meaning evolves with changing times?

Come to think of it, engaging in the constitutional debate is as important as the answers to the questions. Democracy is a conversation. World without end.


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