The phrase, "Constitution in Exile", is used to describe the idea that the current Constitution is not enforced as it was originally meant to be. It is meant to signify that the Constitution places strict limits on what the federal government may and may not do, but that these limits have been ignored in recent times. The main contrast is between judicial rulings with regard to the Constitution pre-1937 and those following the New Deal.

The phrase appears to have originated among conservative writers, but has been adopted by those liberals critiquing the concept as something to be forgotten rather than striven for. The phrase stretches over a number of areas of contention between the two camps. Some of these issues are environmental law, reproductive rights, gun control, campaign finance reform, and the signifigance of the Commerce Clause. Liberals fear the return of the Constitution in Exile will mean the rolling back of environmental protections, the repealing of Roe v. Wade, and the removal of worker protections such as those instituted by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Conservatives trumpet an era of limited government and the return of states' rights.

Whether the transition will be good or bad, it does appear that the Supreme Court is moving toward a stricter interpretation of the Constitution. One of the most telling signs of this was the recent decision limiting Congress' use of the Commerce Clause to make law on essentially any matter. In the case of United States v. Lopez, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that Congress could not pass a law making it illegal to posses a gun in a school zone. They held that because the action did not involve commerce in any way, despite its possible indirect effect on commerce, it was not under Congress' jurisdiction. Furthermore, it appears that decisions such as these will only be increased under a Supreme Court that will be gaining a number of new justices during the Bush Administration.

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