The Air Force and the Constitution:

One argument that is often made against originalist and textualist approaches to constitutional interpretation is the claim that they would render the Air Force unconstitutional. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution seems to give Congress the authority to creat an Army and Navy, but not an Air Force. It grants Congress the following relevant powers:

To raise and support Armies .....;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

Citing this text, critics of textualism and originalism claim that the Air Force must be considered unconstitutional under these theories of interpretation. I think there are at least two compelling answers to this claim:

1. At most, the argument suggests that it is unconstitutional to have an independent air force. But air forces that are part of the Army and Navy are surely permissible. That is in fact the arrangement we had during WWII, and could go back to again. The mere fact that planes are a new technology that flies through the air surely does not forbid their use by the military, even under a very narrow view of textualism. Planes that fly through the air are no more constitutionally problematic than bullets that fly through the air, or balloons (whose military use was contemplated even at the time of the Founding).

2. Even an independent air force could potentially be justified by the Necessary and Proper Clause. If, under modern conditions, it really is militarily important to have an independent air service (a point I don't express any opinion on), then the creation of an independent air force is "necessary" to the implementation of Congress' other Article I powers even in the narrow sense of the word, and is also "proper" in the sense that it doesn't seem to infringe on federalism or on other aspects of the constitutional structure.

NOTE: Part of the content of this post is reprinted from the Conlawprof e-mail list, where this issue was recently debated.