Maine Senator Angus King visited Maine Law as part of the school’s annual Constitution Day Lecture Series in October. The signature event brings in guests from outside of the Maine Law community to discuss facets of the U.S. Constitution.
King expounded on the remarkable history of the document as well as its flaws. The essential question of the treatise is how to create a governing body that will protect the people while also safeguarding the public against abuses of power.
“Our system, from a historical perspective, is an anomaly,” King said. “Dictators and autocrats are the norm in world history. Trying to govern ourselves as the public is unusual and it’s not guaranteed. It’s fragile.”
He continued to discuss the importance of interpreting the Constitution in its contemporary context and through the lens of evolving morals and values. While relying on an originalist interpretation of the constitution stalls progress, King argued, the architecture of the founding document does protect against the whims and wiles of human nature.
“Can we always count on having the right person in the right role at the right time do the right thing,” King asked. “Our system is a good one and protects us against the foibles of human nature, but it also has its vulnerabilities in terms of who sits in positions of power.”
The road of progress, he continued, is represented by Constitutional Amendments, especially in terms of who can vote. The history of America, he suggested, is like a network of concentric circles, widening access and representation.
None of this means there isn’t room for improvement.
King suggested that the sluggish pace of government today was in part by design, to prevent kneejerk reactions, but it has become too congested and lethargic. To honor the spirit of America’s founding document while building a more effective and just country, King said the rules governing the legislative branch should always center American people and their interests, not the egos of individual lawmakers.
“Today’s obstruction can be tomorrow’s precious shield,” King allowed. “Our constitution is a work of genius, but it is not and should not be a lock. It will always take people who will administer and work within the system to keep us from sliding towards authoritarianism.”