Intergenerational Justice in the United States Constitution,
The Stewardship Doctrine:
III. Constitutional Text

A. THE PREAMBLE - analysis 2

A second possible reading (hereinafter Analysis 2) would have "to ourselves and our posterity" modify only "the blessings of liberty." According to this interpretation, only these "blessings," amongst all the goals of the Preamble, would be explicitly secured for both "ourselves and our posterity." This interpretation has a superficial appeal, since the 'blessings' phrase and the 'posterity' phrase occur between a pair of commas. If the interpretation were valid, it would be important to know what precisely the "blessings of liberty" are. f225 Unfortunately, this interpretation leaves the nature of the "blessings" somewhat ambiguous. The "blessings of liberty" might be the sorts of political freedoms that we somewhat loosely label today as 'civil liberties.' They might be the unalienable rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" referenced in the Declaration. f226 Several writers have suggested that the "blessings" could be expected to include, at a bare minimum, the preservation of essential environmental systems. f227 (Perhaps this last is just an alternative formulation of the requirement that "life" be preserved for posterity.) Or, the phrase "blessings of liberty" might be considered as a summarization of the preceding five Preamble goals, in which case the policy implications of Analysis 1 would be identical with those of Analysis 2. f228 As one commentator explains:

"This would be equivalent to a restatement of the Preamble as: . . . 'form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure THESE blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity'." f229

However, there are significant problems with Analysis 2, in spite of its superficial grammatical appeal (the 'comma argument'). The first objection is a problem of what might be termed 'legislative history.' The posterity clause was included in the earliest drafts of the Preamble, before inclusion of the "blessings of liberty" language, f230 and therefore must have been intended to serve some purpose other than modification of the 'blessings'. Also, it is unreasonable to assign much importance to the placement of commas in the Preamble in light of the complete disregard shown for the comma scheme in the states' ratification proclamations. f231

Passing now to a third possible reading of the text (hereinafter Analysis 3): "to ourselves and our Posterity" can be construed as modifying the phrase "ordain and establish." To make this sense clearer, we may paraphrase the Preamble as follows: "We the people of the United States, in order to [accomplish a list of goals], do ordain and establish [this constitutional system] to ourselves and our Posterity." While ordaining and establishing advantages to persons might constitute awkward grammar today, it was standard usage a few hundred years ago. f232 This reading, like the other two readings, supports the idea that the federal government in all its aspects is intended to operate for the benefit of the entire intergenerational community.

While the posterity clause, like the larger Preamble, does not itself confer substantive powers or affirmative duties upon government, it does indicate who the beneficiaries of powers and rights enumerated elsewhere in the constitution should be -- "ourselves and our posterity." It follows that all subsequent constitutional provisions should be construed, where possible, in an intergenerational light. All government action and policy (and judicial review of the same) must take into account the ramifications of said actions and policies upon the entire intergenerational community, and seek to balance burdens and benefits fairly between generations. f233

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