Constitutional Corner –100 Days of Trump — and the Constitution

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Well, Mr. Trump has survived his first 100 days in office — many on the Left were hoping otherwise — but at least two American cities are now formally calling for his impeachment.[1] What has he accomplished? Better yet, what has he done to deserve calls for impeachment after such a short period? And how does all this relate to the Constitution?

I’m sure you, my alert readers, realize that there is nothing magic about a President’s first 100 days in office; the milestone is an artificial contrivance, totally arbitrary, and essentially worthless in determining the effectiveness of a President and/or his administration. In fact, that we are even stopping to perform an assessment of the President, no matter what the timeframe, points to a hopelessly warped perspective on the office. Did the Founders take time to assess Washington’s, or Adams’ or Jefferson’s first 100 days in office? Of course not; such would be a complete waste of time, as will this one. Part of me wants to stop right here and instead discuss something of actual importance to the future of America. But the precedent has set (first suggested by FDR) and the various media organizations have each filed their reviews, so why don’t I do so as well? Besides, it is doubtful that any of the “professional” assessments will compare Trump’s performance with his Constitutional duties: who cares what the Constitution says anyway?  Why is that even relevant?

But Trump did set himself up for this by announcing a 100-Day Plan[2] on October 23, 2016, as previous Presidents have done. I was surprised to find there’s even a Wikipedia page[3] devoted to this subject, and a similar one on Obama;[4] but apparently none on earlier Presidents. (Spoiler Alert: as might be expected, there is a decidedly negative tone to Trump’s Wiki page when compared to Obama’s).

The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox all did assessments; even the White House posted one.[5]

Today, we see the President as the leader of the government, even those who should know better. On election night, November 2, 2010, Rep. John Boehner, celebrating the Republican victory in Congress, said: “while our new majority will serve as your voice in the people’s House, we must remember it is the president who sets the agenda for our government.” [emphasis added].  The Founders would disagree. To the Founders, Congress, as, to quote Boehner, the “voice of the people,” should set the agenda for the government, not the President.

But before we ask: “How’d Trump do?” Let’s first ask: “What should he have done?” To paraphrase Hamilton: “Why get all excited about someone with the “confined authorities of a President of the United States?”[6]

Presidential Activity

The President’s Constitutional powers are found in Articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution. I’m not going to take the time to list those few powers there; I encourage you to review them.  But I will mention what I feel is the President’s most important duty beyond keeping the country safe from sudden attack: he is to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

You’ll notice in reviewing the President’s powers and responsibilities that there is no mention of issuing Executive Orders, giving speeches, firing officials he has appointed, etc. Although some scholars insist that the mention of “executive power” in Article II Section 1 grants the President no specific power, the Courts have decided the phrase implies certain “traditional powers of executives,“ among them being the power to issue orders that direct the activities of executive agencies, i.e. Executive Orders.

So, assuming Executive Orders to be a legitimate implied power of the President, how has Mr. Trump done in this category?

First, you can find an explanation of each of the twenty-four Executive Orders issued by Mr. Trump in his first 100 days here.[7] This was the most EOs issued in the first 100 days by any President since FDR.

Trump also signed 22 presidential memoranda, 20 presidential proclamations, and signed 33 bills into law. About a dozen of those bills rolled-back regulations finalized during the last months of Barack Obama’s presidency using the authorization provided by the 1996 Congressional Review Act.[8] Here’s a report[9] which concludes the Congressional Review Act could even be used to reverse actions going back to the beginning of the Obama administration. The report concludes: “every regulation, policy statement, and the like that in Congress’s opinion has not yet been properly submitted for its review remains open for invalidation…”

Of the twenty-four EOs, four bear mention:

Trump’s very first order, signed on his first day as President and responding to a campaign pledge, ordered the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) and the heads of all other executive departments and agencies having authorities and responsibilities under Obamacare, to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.” Translation: find ways to waive Obamacare’s mandates.  Did Trump have the authority to issue this order? Remember, his foremost duty is to take care that the law is faithfully executed. Fortunately for Trump (and Obama before him), the law was written to allow the Secretary of HHS enormous discretion in granting waivers; the Obama administration set precedent by granting waivers to politically favored groups and businesses.

Perhaps Trump’s most controversial orders were his two efforts to impose a temporary ban on issuing visas for immigrants from, first seven, then six predominantly Muslim countries. Both orders were halted by federal courts on patently specious reasoning that the temporary bans amounted to bans on Muslims.

Last week we were entreated to listen to oral arguments broadcast on CSPAN from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had been asked by the administration to overturn a nationwide injunction placed on the EO by a federal district judge in Maryland. From the judges’ questions of first, Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall (who did an amazing job, in my view) and then ACLU lawyer Omar Jadwat, it quickly became clear that several of the judges had already decided that statements made by then-candidate Trump established the irrevocable motivation for the Order, and that it amounted to a ban on Muslims — period.

That the EO does not amount to a ban on Muslims is easily shown by the fact that Christians, Jews, Animists, even Atheists from the six listed countries are as affected as are Muslims from those listed countries, while Muslims from any of the scores of the other predominately-Muslim countries around the world not listed in the ban are not affected. In the face of this argument, how anyone can still insist that the order is a ban on Muslims is beyond me. Yet the Left clings to that accusation like a child clinging to his “blankey.” Sad. And a sad commentary on the health of political debate in this country. Perhaps the most revealing testimony during the 4th Circuit hearing was the admission by Omar Jadwat that Trump’s EO would likely be constitutional – if it had been issued by President Hillary Clinton!

Another controversial order is Executive Order 13768,[10] signed on January 25, 2017. It directed the Justice Department to review federal funding given to cities and other localities which declare themselves as sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. I discussed this EO in a previous essay[11] so I won’t go further than to mention that, sure enough, the EO was challenged in court[12] and a partial injunction issued.

The last EO I’ll mention, technically issued two days after the “100 Days” ended on May 1st, is a bit more problematic.  It attempts an end-run around what is called the Johnson Amendment,[13] put in place by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson to make sure ministers who opposed his re-election would be prevented from doing so, at least from their pulpits.  The amendment empowered the IRS to revoke the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status of any church which takes a position in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for office.  Rarely invoked,[14] the amendment is widely mis-understood by ministers across the country and results in a silencing of even permissible political speech from the pulpit.

The Order directs all executive departments and agencies to “respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.” In particular, the Secretary of the Treasury is restricted from taking “any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective, where speech of similar character has … not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office …”  The President was immediately sued by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which argued that the order was unconstitutional because it grants preferential treatment to religious organizations while requiring secular non-profit organizations to still abide by the law. Since there is nothing in the Constitution which prohibits the federal government from favoring a religion or even religion over non-religion, I would hope the argument gets thrown out. But it is more likely that FFRF will find a favorable judge to hear their complaint and Trump will gain yet another nationwide injunction.

The problem I have with this particular EO is that it amounts to an order to “take care that the laws not be faithfully executed.”  A better approach would be to pursue something like the Free Speech Fairness Act (H.R. 781/S. 264)[15] or just urge Congress to repeal the Johnson Amendment outright. Instead, the President chose to use an EO to effectively repeal the amendment. The President is thus legislating in place of Congress. Barack Obama was rightfully criticized for not enforcing illegal immigrant deportation law; Trump can and should be similarly criticized.

Congressional Activity

Presidential candidates can and do make outlandish pledges during their campaigns, promises they have no hope of delivering, at least not by themselves; but that’s politics. A successful President, even one whose party enjoys a majority in Congress, must still propose legislation that a majority in Congress will support. Given that, Trump’s pledge to “repeal and replace” Obamacare was on shaky ground from the outset since some Republicans in Congress were bent on outright repeal, others on replacement, while the Democrats in Congress insisted on retaining the current law despite its many faults and impending failure. The first version of “repeal and replace” in the House failed while the second passed, only to arrive DOA on the Senate floor. Who knows what the final version will look like?

Nevertheless, Congress has been otherwise busy since January 20th. The 115th Congress has passed 33 bills that have been signed into law, 13 of them revoking rules passed by the Obama administration. By contrast, the 114th Congress passed only 11 bills during its first 100 days, none invoking the CRA. This difference is largely due to whether the Congress and President were members of the same party. But compare this with the 111th Congress which, in the first 100 days of Barack Obama’s first term, revoked not a single rule passed in the waning days of the Bush administration.

The other major accomplishment of the administration’s first 100 days was passage of a budget which avoided a government shutdown. But how much of the spending in this budget was constitutional and how much was not? The vast majority of Americans appear to have accepted the claim that everything Congress spends money on is constitutional, and from a Court perspective they are right. Two decisions in the 1930s[16] gave Congress the authority to spend money on anything which enhanced the “general welfare” – as Congress defined it! Perhaps we’ll examine the details of the budget in a future essay.

Judicial Activity

President Trump’s greatest success in the judicial arena had to be his successful nomination and confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill Antonin Scalia’s empty seat on the Supreme Court. In unprecedented fashion, the appointment was opposed en masse by Senate Democrats as retribution for Senate Republicans not proceeding with a confirmation hearing for Obama appointee Judge Merrick Garland. Justice Gorsuch has already made his mark on the Court, joining Justice Alito in not participating in a traditional sharing of law clerks to pool their resources in deciding which cases to hear or deny from the thousands of petitions that are sent to the high court every year. This means Gorsuch’s law clerks will be tasked with reviewing every petition in search of cases warranting the high court’s notice. As a former clerk of Justice Kennedy,[17] Gorsuch is very familiar with the process.

Gorsuch joined the court in time to hear the last 14 cases on the Court’s docket, including one important case for religious freedom proponents: Trinity Lutheran Church vs. Comer.

Of concern now for the President, will be filling the 129 federal judgeships that remain open and by doing so provide some balance for the overwhelmingly liberal federal judiciary.

A list of the opinions rendered by the Court this term can be found here.[18]

A President’s first 100 days may in fact provide a useful measuring stick for some; I’m not impressed. There are 1360 days remaining in Trump’s (first?) term; plenty of time for great success — and great failure.

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[1] http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Richmond-City-Council-Passes-Resolution-Calling-for-Trump-Impeachment–414514223.html

[2] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/10/22/trumps-gettysburg-address-outlines-first-100-days/92596734/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_100_days_of_Donald_Trump%27s_presidency

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_100_days_of_Barack_Obama%27s_presidency

[5] https://www.whitehouse.gov/100-days

[6] Federalist 71

[7] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/executive-orders

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Review_Act

[9] http://www.heritage.org/government-regulation/report/the-reach-the-congressional-review-act?utm_source=THF_Email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=TheAgenda&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTWpKbU1HUmpORE16WldVeiIsInQiOiJjdzFNcW8yV0dZdHA1MmRIQW1HOVFyXC9nMkFLUU96eHpcLzZIdTBuSERuS1dsd1hZYU9pa1IyVTB4ekM0b0FuTFI4UDIxVUFOMXY3NExTcVJyTVhydjJqcFlKQmZhT1B4R0d2Tys4SXBFdElMNUpjWlRGK1FWZFRoSHNRZFpFU002In0%3D

[10] https://www.federalregister.gov/executive-order/13768

[11] http://constitutionleadership.org/2017/04/09/constitutional-corner-sanctuary-cities-and-the-constitution/

[12] http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/25/politics/sanctuary-cities-injunction/

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson_Amendment

[14] Only one church is known to have lost its tax-exempt status as a result of the law, and then only temporarily.

[15] https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/781

[16] U.S v. Butler (1936), Helvering v. Davis (1937)

[17] Gorsuch clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy

[18] https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/slipopinion/16

Constitutional Corner – Healthcare and the Constitution

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There is not a single word in the Constitution which gives the federal government the authority to design and deliver a healthcare system, whether we are talking about Medicare, Medicaid or the Un-Affordable Care Act – there are two words; they are: “general welfare.”

Now that I have your attention, let me clarify: I don’t believe for one moment that the Framers envisioned a national government that would be in the business of providing healthcare to all its citizens or any part of them. To the Framers, providing medical care was not the purpose of government; the purpose of government was, and remains today, securing our rights.

Aw, but what if healthcare is indeed a right, as some people insist. Doesn’t that give the government the authority, even the responsibility to be involved?

In 1765, Sir William Blackstone indeed wrote that a person has a right to the preservation of their health, and protection “from such practices as may prejudice or annoy it.”[1] Does being unable to afford health insurance “prejudice” your health?  Certainly.  Is being unable to afford health insurance a “practice” which prejudices your health? Certainly not.  Besides, Blackstone appears to stand alone among early British political philosophers in declaring the preservation of health to be a right.

“The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health” was part of Franklin Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights, which he proposed during his 1944 State of the Union message to Congress, along with a right to “a useful and remunerative job, the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation (even if you have no skills apparently). If you were a farmer, FDR thought you had a right to raise and sell your products at a return which gave you and your family a decent living; if you were a businessman, you had a ”right” to conduct your business without “unfair” competition; you had a right to a “decent home,” a good education, and protection from the economic fear of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.

Roosevelt felt confident proposing these new “rights” because he had seven years earlier effectively neutered the Supreme Court in the infamous “Court Packing” affair. He wouldn’t have any problem getting the high court to see these as new rights hidden in the 9th Amendment. Unfortunately, a little more than a year later FDR was dead and the idea of a second Bill of Rights died with him.

Had this Second Bill of Rights somehow become part of the Constitution, can’t you imagine the avalanche of cases that would ensue as the courts were called upon to decide what a “decent” home was, what “unfair” competition consisted of, what a “useful” job meant and what “adequate” food and clothing comprised as the government struggled to provide these benefits to those lacking them?

But we all know there are people walking around today, and a growing number of them, who believe providing our essential needs is precisely why we have government. Organizing For America, Obama’s post-presidency cheerleading organization, believes healthcare to be a right and they are aggressively fundraising based on the threat of Obamacare’s repeal.[2] Once healthcare insurance is determined by a majority of Americans to be a right, and last week’s vote on the Republican replacement, the American Healthcare Act, suggests that it may have already become such, there will be no putting that genie back in the bottle. Think of all the poor people who will die if you take away their health insurance, you heartless Republican you.

All this is thanks to two Supreme Court cases in 1936 and 1937: U.S. v Butler and Helvering v. Davis. In the former the Supreme Court decided that the General Welfare Clause was a separate grant of spending authority given to Congress.

Madison and others had repeatedly said, No! The phrase general welfare was not a separate grant of power, it was instead a constraint, a limitation on the enumerated powers. Spending on the enumerated powers would only be legitimate if it contributed to the welfare of all Americans, not the welfare of specific individuals, groups or classes of citizens. But in U.S. v. Butler the Court thumbed its collective nose at Madison, and said Congress could spend willy-nilly on “general welfare.” But what was considered general welfare and what was not? The year after Butler, the court delivered its Helvering decision over the constitutionality of Social Security.[3] In a 5-4 decision, the Court said the line between general and specific welfare would not be determined by the courts; it was up to Congress to decide. So now, anything Congress spends money on is clearly general welfare and not specific welfare, because if it was specific welfare, Congress would not have spent the money on it! See the logic?  There is no effective limit to what Congress can spend money on.  And neither do they have to have cash on hand to do so, as our $20 Trillion in debt demonstrates.

The Congressional Research Service, in a 2010 report called “Health Care: Constitutional Rights and Legislative Powers[4] agreed that there is no explicit right to health care set forth in the original Constitution. However, they note the growing sense by many Americans that today there should be.[5] In 2009, Congressman Jesse Jackson introduced a bill that would amend the Constitution to explicitly guarantee that, quote: “[a]ll persons shall enjoy the right to health care of equal high quality” and that” [t]he Congress shall have power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

Jackson’s proposed amendment didn’t go anywhere, Congress hasn’t been in the mood to amend the Constitution for 40 years. But why do they need to, in this case the “right” is already there in essence.

On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed H.R. 6675, creating Medicare. Former President Harry Truman, who had first proposed the idea of a national health insurance program to Congress, was issued the very first Medicare card during the ceremony.

In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon signed into the law the first major change to Medicare, expanding coverage to individuals under the age of 65 with long-term disabilities and individuals suffering from end-stage renal disease (ERSD).

Medicare and Medicaid coverage have been expanding ever since, with Parts C & D added to the original Parts A & B and disability coverage now including those with amyotrophic laterals sclerosis, aka, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

In 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported the number of Americans on Medicare as just over 55 million or 15% of the population. Another 65 Million, or 20%, are receiving Medicaid benefits. Add to this the people participating in CHIP and veterans’ health care programs and you find there is nearly 50% of the American public on some form of socialized health insurance plan or subsidy.

Why shouldn’t the government get involved in supplying healthcare?  Let me count the ways.

In 2015, a Government Accountability Office report[6] found that $60 billion —10% of Medicare’s budget — was lost to waste, fraud, abuse or improper payments. Among the worse problems, the GAO found 23,400 fake or bad addresses on Medicare’s list of providers — providers, not recipients. In other words, Medicare paid out $60 Billion for benefits claimed to have been delivered by providers who either didn’t exist or couldn’t be reached. And we want more socialized medicine?

Although you’ll find a few reports here[7] and there[8] that insist Medicare is not going bankrupt, you’ll find more which claim it is.[9],[10],[11] Despite this, many are demanding the government provide “Medicare for all.”[12]

With Obamacare imploding[13] and enough Republicans in Congress not willing to rescue it with the AHCA, it is only a matter of time before the American people demand that their “right” to affordable health insurance be supplied by a new single-payer system, like Medicare.

The lesson here, and Barack Obama knew this better than anyone: is once you give someone a government benefit it is probably there to stay; you are not likely to be successful in ending it. Americans love their benefits, even if it is bankrupting them.

Obamacare is indeed on life support. Thoughtco.com recently published a list of the top ten reasons Obama’s signature initiative is imploding.[14] Skyrocketing cost increases have caused some insurers to pull out of state exchanges, in some cases leaving a single insurer still operating. Insurers are responding to these increased costs by raising rates alarmingly. People not qualifying for subsidies will soon be unable to afford their premiums. We all knew this would happen, even those who designed the ACA knew it; Obamacare was designed to fail in order to lead to the demand for single-payer.

Single-payer, as we’ve seen with Medicare and Medicaid, will most certainly bankrupt us. It is almost as though these people want America to collapse in order to create their dream utopia on its ashes.

If you’re concerned about where this issue is going, if you’d like to see the ACA not be replaced with the AHCA, don’t you think it is time you had a talk with your Congressional representatives?

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[1] Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 1. P. 130.

[2] https://www.ofa.us/its-no-accident/?email=gport%40aol.com&zip=23693&utm_medium=email&utm_source=obama&utm_content=2+-+httpsmyofausHealthCareIsARight&utm_campaign=em_x_aca_20170330_x_x_jl_remainder&source=em_x_aca_20170330_x_x_jl_remainder&refcode=em_x_aca_20170330_x_x_jl_remainder

[3] http://archive.lewrockwell.com/orig3/attarian7.html

[4] http://www.ncsl.org/documents/health/LegPowers.pdf

[5] The referenced report contains a good summary of key healthcare-related opinions of the Court.

[6] http://www.investors.com/politics/commentary/medicare-and-medicaid-are-both-in-a-sickly-state-at-50/

[7] http://www.cbpp.org/research/health/medicare-is-not-bankrupt

[8] https://www.medicareadvocacy.org/fact-vs-fiction-medicare-is-not-going-bankrupt/

[9] https://www.rpc.senate.gov/policy-papers/medicare-remains-on-fast-track-to-bankruptcy-

[10] https://www.forbes.com/sites/aroy/2012/04/23/trustees-medicare-will-go-broke-in-2016-if-you-exclude-obamacares-double-counting/#237f21d83d00

[11] http://www.cnbc.com/id/100780248

[12] http://www.medicareforall.org/pages/Home

[13] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/oct/30/obamacares-implosion/

[14] https://www.thoughtco.com/reasons-obamacare-is-and-will-continue-to-be-a-failure-3303662

Constitution Corner – Has Trump Violated the Constitution?

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Is Donald Trump receiving an “emolument” by allowing his hotels and other properties to rent rooms or office space to foreign governments, or their employees?  Is he “increasing his compensation” through his organization receiving tax breaks from the State of New York?  Some on the Left think the answer to both questions is “Yes,” and that such actions are a violation of the Constitution.  Some even call for impeachment.[1]  Are they right?

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington,[2] or CREW has brought suit against the President.  Their suit, which does not seek any monetary damages, asks a federal court in New York to order the President to stop taking payments at his properties from foreign governments. This includes payments at Trump hotels and golf courses; loans for his office buildings from certain banks controlled by foreign governments; and leases with tenants like the Abu Dhabi tourism office, a government enterprise.

They claim doing so violates the “Emoluments Clause” of the Constitution, sometimes also referred to as the “Titles of Nobility Clause,” for reasons which are obvious upon reading Article I, Section 9:

“No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

What constitutes a “present, emolument, office, or title” and why is the receipt of such things from “any king, prince, or foreign state” such a problem?

As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 22: “One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.”  Foreign influence was an area of great concern to the Framers of the Constitution and continued to be so in the eyes of the nation at large for many, many years.

We think the nation is divided today; in the first 20 years after the Constitution was ratified the nation was equally divided between Anglophiles and Francophiles.  Anglophiles, naturally, retained affection for the “mother country,” while Francophiles retained gratification for France’s timely aid in the American Revolution.  Neither side totally trusted the other, both charging that “foreign influence” was behind their words and actions.

You might wish that Mr. Trump’s opponents operated from the highest motives and were truly worried that such hotel rents might influence American foreign or even domestic policy.  You are free to wish that; this is a free country, what remains of it; but you are naïve to think so.  There is no doubt that such suits will be an everyday occurrence over the next 4-8 years; expect them.  The Left intends to confront this President at every turn.

If you consult the standard expositories on the Constitution you find almost nothing written about the Emoluments Clause.  The Annotated Constitution, which includes all pertinent court cases affecting the interpretation of each clause of the Constitution, mentions absolutely nothing concerning the emoluments portion of the clause, only the Titles of Nobility portion.

Warning: you will find constitutional scholars coming down on both sides of this question.  The leftist Brooking Institute,[3] concluded that the situation is indeed a violation, and every progressive website jumped on the bandwagon.  Then there’s a paper published in the University of Iowa College of Law Review[4] which argues that those bringing the suit have interpreted the clause too broadly, relying on a secondary dictionary definition.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary says this:

EMOL’UMENT, noun [Latin emolumentum, from emolo, molo, to grind. Originally, a toll taken for grinding.]

And then it provides both a primary and a secondary meaning:

  1. The profit arising from office or employment; that which is received as a compensation for services, or which is annexed to the possession of office, as salary, feels and perquisites.
  2. Profit; advantage; gains in general.

Which definition should be used?  The narrower one (1) or the broader one (2)?

When determining the meaning of a Constitutional word it is usually safe to look for other uses of that word in the document.  We find “emolument” used two other times.  First, in Article 1 Section 6:

“No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.” (emphasis added)

Clearly the meaning of the word in this clause comes from the primary definition, the “salary, feels and perquisites” of a particular office.

During Hillary Clinton’s time as a Senator, the pay of the Secretary of State was increased.  She was thus ineligible to take the appointment.  In order for her to be confirmed and take that office after appointment by President Obama, she had to accept the original pay level of Secretary of State that was in effect when she became a Senator.  This was, I expect, gladly agreed to, given the alternative.

This “out” is known in Congress as the “Saxbe Fix,” after Senator William Saxbe who was confirmed as Attorney General in 1973 after Congress reduced the position’s salary to the level it had been before Saxbe’s term as Senator began.

So the question becomes: does the actions by the Trump Corporation somehow affect the pay of the President (Trump has declined his $400,000 salary and has instead accepted a $.01/year salary), or the perquisites or other benefits of the office.  Clearly no.

What about gifts as emoluments?

Congress, by statute, allows government employees to accept gifts from foreign governments worth less than $390 received as a souvenir or mark of courtesy.  Congress also allows more valuable gifts to be accepted, such as scholarships, medical treatment, food, lodging, travel arrangements when it appears that to refuse the gift would likely cause offense or embarrassment.  This is all spelled out in the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, Title 5 U.S.C. §7342.[5]

There is also a Congressional Research Service Report on this subject, Report R43660,[6] entitled: “The Receipt of Gifts by Federal Employees in the Executive Branch.”  You’re probably seeing a trend here: the focus is on gifts. But, like everything, “gifts” must be defined. “Gift” expressly includes, says the report, “any gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, load, forbearance, of other item having monetary value.”  Is renting a hotel room at fair-market value a “gift?”  Clearly no.

The late Saudi King Abdullah[7] gave President Obama and his family gifts valued at more than $1.3 million. They included an $18,000 watch for the president and a “diamond and emerald jewelry set including earrings, necklace, ring, brooch, and wristwatch” for Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, estimated to cost $80,000.

Various Chinese officials have also been generous: President Xi Jinping gave Obama two computer tablets during a time his government is believed to have been carrying out large-scale hacking of American computer systems, including the database of federal employees.

Other government officials get gifts too. Gifts given to CIA Director John O. Brennan had the donors’ names removed because they might “affect United States intelligence sources or methods.” Brennan appears to have kept many of the gifts, including a “small decorative sword,” “for official use.”

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain both received 4′ x 6′ rugs worth $4,000 from the attorney general of Qatar, and promptly deposited them with the secretary of the Senate.

Some nameless soul in the government has the interesting job of registering all these gifts; the justification noted for each of them: “non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to the donor and the U.S. Government.”

The CRS Report states: “Because of the considerations relating to the conduct of their offices, including those of protocol or etiquette, the President and the Vice President may accept any gift on his own behalf or on behalf of a family member, provided that such acceptance does not violate  §2635.202(c)(a) or (2), 18 USC §201(b) or 201(c)(3), or the Constitution of the United States.”

Supporters of the President point out that Mr. Trump is not renting these rooms, his corporation is.

Eric Trump, an Executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said Trump Enterprises has already taken more steps than required by law to avoid legal entanglements.  They have set up procedures to donate any profits collected at Trump-owned hotels that come from foreign government or guests, to the United States Treasury.  Is there even a “profit” from a single hotel room if the hotel, as a whole, lost money that night, if the corporation itself is losing money?

The president’s legal team argued that the Emoluments Clause does not apply to fair-market payments, such as a standard hotel room bill.  Echoing what I just concluded, they say the clause is only intended to prevent federal officials from accepting a special consideration or gift from a foreign power.

Of course Congress could defuse this issue immediately by passing a non-binding “Sense of the Congress” resolution stating that it views renting of hotel rooms or office space to foreign governments or entities to be in compliance with the Emoluments Clause.  But I doubt this Congress will do that.  There seem to be as many Republicans in Congress willing to “slow-roll” this President as support him.

There is another occurrence of “Emolument” in the Constitution.  It is found in Article 2, Section 1, Clause 7, and reads:

“The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

Notice the term: “United States” is used to mean both the national government as well as the States.

Critics of Trump point out that his corporation has in the past received close to $1 billion in tax breaks from New York State alone. These critics argue that if New York continues to offer such breaks, they will qualify as emoluments. If other states follow suit with their own tax benefits for Trump Enterprise projects, those will also be a problem.

One problem with all these suits against the President is standing, the plaintiffs have to demonstrate that they have been harmed by Trump’s action.  Have they?

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington argues that the President’s action has forced them to, quote: “divert essential and limited sources” from its regular government watchdog role and that they “will essentially be forced into the role of litigating and educating the public regarding (Trump’s) Foreign Emoluments Clause violations,” or so goes the complaint.

There is an expression in the Air Force pilot world that goes by the euphemism, YGBSM, which I will not explain here, but which expresses exactly how I view the group’s charge that they have been “forced” to bring this suit.  A watchdog group being forced to act as a watchdog? Pllleeeassseee!

Comedian Flip Wilson’s favorite excuse of long, long ago comes to mind: “The devil made me do it.”  Which translates in this case to: “We hate Donald Trump so thoroughly and completely that we intend to find any excuse whatsoever to obstruct his agenda and tie him up in court.”

I predict that if CREW or another group is somehow granted standing, and it is doubtful they will be, they will lose their case simply because of the steps the Trump organization has taken to isolate the President himself from any financial gain.  But what do I know?  Federal judges can be found to do anyone’s bidding these days.

But we should also note that Mark Cuban is being touted as a possible opponent for Trump in 2020.  Businessman versus businessman, mano a mano.  Yet, no one on the Left seems concerned about Cuban’s extensive business holdings, and I suspect that if he does emerge as the leading Democrat contender, some convenient excuse will be offered for why the Emoluments Clause is suddenly no longer a problem.

If there is a silver lining here it is that the American people are getting a good dose of Constitutional education, and it is likely to continue through the next four years.  Keep your seat belts fastened.

To hear the views of my other commentators on “We the People – the Constitution Matters” as we discussed this issue on 17 February 2017, download or listen to the podcast[8] of the show.

“Constitutional Corner” is a project of the Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc.  To unsubscribe from future mailings by Constitution Leadership Initiative, click here

[1] http://www.acslaw.org/acsblog/%E2%80%9Cif-discovered-he-may-be-impeached%E2%80%9D-president-trump-and-the-foreign-emoluments-clause

[2] http://www.citizensforethics.org/

[3] https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/gs_121616_emoluments-clause1.pdf

[4] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2902391

[5] https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/granule/USCODE-2011-title5/USCODE-2011-title5-partIII-subpartF-chap73-subchapIV-sec7342/content-detail.html

[6] https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43660.pdf

[7] http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/12/02/the-king-of-saudi-arabia-gave-over-13m-in-gifts-to-the-obamas-last-year

[8] http://www.1180wfyl.com/we-the-people-2017.html

Constitution Corner – The 17th Amendment Should Be Repealed

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Note: On “We the People – The Constitution Matters” for 6 January we discussed repeal of the 17th Amendment with our guest, Andrew Langer, President of Institute for Liberty.[1]  There just wasn’t sufficient time to cover all the nuances of that issue; hence this essay.

On December 5, 1933, the necessary 36th state (Utah) ratified the 21st Amendment, bringing to an end 13 years of national prohibition and proving beyond doubt that Americans are able to detect and correct errors they have made in their Constitutional order.  If only we were so observant today.

It had not taken long for Americans to realize the folly of trying to modify human behavior by Constitutional amendment; prohibition laws were openly flaunted and juries often refused to convict those accused of violating the law — Americans were determined to drink alcohol.

The 18th Amendment, which created prohibition, had been ratified in 1919 only six years after the 17th Amendment was added to the Constitution; and the 17th came only two months after the 16th.  America had gone nearly 40 years since the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was added and suddenly we were amending with great frequency.

The 17th Amendment, which changed Senators from being appointed to the Senate by their state legislatures to being elected instead by the citizens of the state, was seen by some as anticlimactic; many states had already begun allowing their citizens to elect their Senators, if not directly, at least through a non-binding primary election.  For these people, the amendment only confirmed a fait accompli.

Yet the effort to change the appointment of Senators actually goes back to at least 1826, when New York Representative Henry Storrs first proposed an amendment to provide for popular election. Similar amendments were introduced in 1829, 1855 and 1868.

By the 1890s, support for the introduction of direct election for the Senate began to accelerate, primarily due to the efforts of the Populist Party, which added direct election of Senators to its party platform.  In 1908, Oregon became the first state to base its selection of Senators on a popular vote.  Nebraska soon followed.

William Randolph Hearst threw his weight behind the movement for direct election by publishing a series of articles in his 1906 Cosmopolitan Magazine, attacking “The Treason of the Senate.” “Muckraking” journalists described Rhode Island Senator Nelson Aldrich as the principal “traitor” among the “scurvy lot,” who controlled the Senate through “theft, perjury, and bribes which corrupted the vote in the legislature to gain their election.”

Gradually, more state legislatures began to petition the Congress for direct election of Senators. The House soon had the two-thirds vote necessary to pass just such an amendment; when the joint resolution reached the Senate, however, it failed year after year.  By 1910, 31 state legislatures had petitioned Congress to pass and send the amendment for ratification, while 28 of them applied to Congress for an Article V convention for drafting such an amendment.  This was only three applications short of the threshold that would have required Congress to convene such a convention.  That same year, ten Republican Senators who were opposed to the change were “unelected,” sending a further “wake-up call to the Senate.”  Two years later the Senate finally passed the joint resolution and the proposed amendment was sent to the states for ratification.

The amendment reads: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures…”  The amendment concludes by specifying how vacancies in a Senate seat will be filled.

The framers of the Constitution could have specified election by the people.  In the Convention, James Wilson of Pennsylvania had been the sole advocate for popularly electing Senators; but his proposal to do so was soundly defeated, 10–1.  The Virginia Plan proposed the Senate be elected by the members of the “lower House.” So why did the Framers of the Constitution choose appointment by the state legislatures instead?

Perhaps the reason can be summed up by a familiar Madisonian statement: “Power lodged as it must be in human hands, will forever be liable to abuse.”  In other words: “Checks and balances” were needed.  The people would exert their political power in the House of Representatives, the states would exert theirs in the Senate, and the two bodies would provide a check on each other to prevent excesses.  The interests of the people in the House would be, must be, balanced by the interests of the state governments in the Senate.

Madison confirmed in Federalist #45: “The Senate will be elected absolutely and exclusively by the State legislatures.”

In Federalist #63, Madison discussed the importance of the role of a Senate elected by state legislatures rather than the people:

“To a people as little blinded by prejudice or corrupted by flattery as those whom I address, I shall not scruple to add, that such an institution [a Senate elected by the state legislatures] may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions. … so there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn.”

“In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind?”(emphasis added)

If the Senate could provide a check against the people, it could also provide a check against the Executive, particularly given its unique role in confirming executive appointments and ratifying treaties; especially if the state governments were able to instruct their Senators.

So what has been the result of direct election of Senators?

Here’s where the argument for repeal falters a bit; it is always difficult to state with certainty what would have happened in any situation, “if only.”  But it is not too hard to see some of the effects:

For starters, the states are well on their way to being considered mere administrative units of the national government.  As former Senator Tom Coburn explains in this interview,[2] the federal government has grown to the point where it dominates the states.  As Mr. Langer pointed out on our radio interview, the vast majority of this growth took place after the 17th Amendment was ratified.  We might rightfully ask: would this growth have taken place if the states still controlled the Senate?

State governments rightfully claim responsibility over matters of taxation, education, employment, disaster relief, public safety, transportation, health care, marriage, and property rights, to name just a few.  Yet in all those issues, and many more, the federal government mandates, regulates, or directs policy, and the states are usually forced to obey.  Although state governments bear much of the responsibility for their citizens, they enjoy greatly reduced authority to do anything about the issues they face.  A reinvigoration of state power[3] is long overdue.

A third effect of popular election of Senators was that states, especially those which did not ratify the 17th, lost the “equal suffrage” in the Senate guaranteed by Article 5.  Senators now represent the people who elected them, and the states no longer have a controlling vote in the Senate; they have arguably lost their suffrage.  “But there remain two Senators for every state, every state is therefore equally represented,” comes the refrain.  Because Senators can no longer be recalled by the state legislatures, they no longer must vote as a state delegation, they now “vote their conscience.”  This leads to a hundred individual votes in the Senate instead of what used to be, in essence, one vote per state.  One could argue (and, no doubt, some will) that Senators could always “vote their conscience,” and this must be conceded; but the “persuasiveness” attendant to instructing Senators how their state government views an upcoming measure cannot be dismissed.  Because the dominant party in the state legislature would likely have appointed Senators from that party, Senators would normally share the party’s political philosophy and could be expected to vote alike on most issues.  Today there is even the potential for the two Senators to come from different parties.  Thirteen states in our last Congress, in fact, had Senators from opposing parties.  On strongly partisan issues, their votes could be expected to nullify each other.

Virginia M. McInerney has posted on the LONANG[4] website a well-reasoned article[5] explaining why the 17th should be repealed.  It is worth the read.  She points out: “The national government, having taken on too much power, is unable to properly administer all the areas it has arrogated unto itself. On the other hand, the state governments are impotent in legislating and executing the will of the people because they are subject to unpredictable subjugation by the national government.”

But repeal of the 17th Amendment face several challenges.[6]  The American people have become accustomed to electing “their” Senators, and few Americans today understand or could explain the reasoning behind the original design.

The next challenge is found in the mechanism of repeal.  According to Article V there are two ways to amend the Constitution: Congress can propose the necessary amendment, as they did with the 17th, or the states can petition for an Article V convention to do so.  The first method is problematic; it is almost certain that a repeal amendment will ever gain the necessary 2/3 vote in the Senate; today’s Senators have become accustomed to the corporate donations to their re-election campaigns.  This money would dry up overnight once Senators were once again appointed by their states.  That leaves an Article V convention as the only mechanism with any chance of success.  Due to a perceived risk of untoward results, the Article V Convention method is being fought tooth and nail, most vehemently by conservatives themselves.

In Feb 2016, the Utah Senate passed a resolution[7] calling on their Congressional delegation to push for repeal of 17th Amendment.  I’ve not discovered if this actually happened; if it did, no one took much notice.  Georgia Senator Zell Miller[8] famously tried every year he was in the Senate to pass a repeal measure through that chamber, each time unsuccessfully.

Some, however, urge caution.  David Gordon, writing on Mises.org points out that Repealing the 17th Amendment Won’t Fix the Senate.[9]  Merely repealing the 17th might only place the issue back in the hands of the state legislatures where some could continue to let their citizens elect Senators if they so choose.  “A fundamental problem of the Senate has long been the fact that Senators do not vote as representatives of a state delegation, but as independent legislators.  The status quo should be abandoned in favor of allowing each state delegation only a single vote in the Senate, and that vote should be interpreted as the member state’s position.”  Such a change: one vote per state, could be included in a repeal amendment.  Unless a repeal amendment also gave the state legislatures specific power to recall the Senators, there would be no incentive for Senators to follow their state’s instructions.  The repeal amendment should also address the issue of long-vacant seats, which was an occasional problem prior to the 17th when state legislatures could not agree on who should represent them.

Many on the Left will also fight the idea.  Some worry that repealing the 17th will lead to much stronger republican control of the Senate.  With 68 percent of the 98 partisan state legislative chambers in the U.S. now controlled by Republicans,[10] it seems likely they are right — at the moment.  But remember, only a third of Senators are elected each two years; the composition of Republican vs Democrat control of state legislatures could change dramatically over the next six years.

If you would like to register your opinion on this matter, go to debate.org,[11] where you’ll find an online anonymous poll.  When I registered my vote, 60% of respondents had said “Yes” to repeal, while 40% had said “No.”

In conclusion, just as the American people recognized their error in enacting prohibition, and correcting that error, they will, hopefully, one day realize their error in disrupting the Framers’ plan for a balance of power in the Congress – and repeal the 17th Amendment.  If you agree the 17th should be repealed, if you would like to restore true federalism,[12] speak with your state legislators.

“Constitutional Corner” is a project of the Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc.  To unsubscribe from future mailings by Constitution Leadership Initiative, click here

[1] http://www.instituteforliberty.org/

[2] http://www.conventionofstates.com/tom_coburn_the_federal

[3] http://usconservatives.about.com/od/conservativepolitics101/a/The-Conservative-Case-For-Returning-Government-Power-To-The-States.htm

[4] Laws of Nature and Nature’s God Institute

[5] http://lonang.com/commentaries/conlaw/federalism/repeal-seventeenth-amendment/

[6] http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2016/05/repealing-the-17th-amendment-would-be-no-small-task/

[7] http://www.standard.net/Government/2016/02/24/Utah-Senate-passes-resolution-to-repeal-17th-Amendment-in-states-rights-push

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zell_Miller

[9] https://mises.org/blog/repealing-17th-amendment-wont-fix-Senate

[10] http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-hollingsworth/after-winning-7-more-seats-gop-dominance-state-legislatures-all

[11] http://www.debate.org/opinions/should-the-u-s-repeal-the-17th-amendment

[12] http://www.restorefederalism.org/

Constitutional Corner – Musings on the Article V Convention Simulation

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Although I would have much preferred to have been able to observe the Article V Convention simulation last week[1] from on site, the livestream of the event had to suffice; alas, I have no official affiliation with Convention of States.  But I will admit upfront to being a big fan.  Our nation suffers from a myriad of problems; some of them can only be remedied through amending the Constitution.

I know the words “amend the Constitution” send shivers up the spines of some.  “How could you even consider such a thing?”  After all, the Constitution is the “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man,”[2] is it not?  I answer: “Yes, it was, and no, it is no longer.”

The Constitution has suffered serious injury in the hands of the Supreme Court (and through the people’s neglect).  It no longer represents the limitation, the constraint on government that was intended by the Framers.  Instead, the federal government today can, in the eloquent words of former California Congressman Peter Stark: “do most anything in this country.”[3]

The most convincing evidence of this ability is our nearly $20 Trillion in debt.  “Do[ing] most anything in this country” means spending money with abandon, much of which we didn’t have and which we had to literally print.  But thanks to the Supreme Court, whose decisions have rendered the Commerce Clause, the General Welfare Clause and other key provisions into grants of plenary power over, respectively, business and, well, everything else, the Congress and its executive agency minions can regulate any aspect of business in America, and spend money for any purpose it deems to fit its own definition of “general welfare.”

I don’t care how many conservatives you elect to Congress, nothing is going to change this paradigm.  Short of a rewording of the two relevant clauses, forcing them back to their Founding Era meaning, Congress and the rest of the federal government will continue to do what they do best: drive this country towards economic ruin.

Now, we could sit back and wait for Congress to select “Option One” of Article V.  Those hundreds of “Constitutional Conservatives” we intend to elect, someday, could indeed propose amendments which restore the original intent of both clauses, stripping themselves, the Congress, of near-plenary power over the American economy in the process — but I’m not holding my breath.  There’s a greater chance of Colin Kaepernick getting booted out of the NFL, restoring honor to a sport millions of Americans schedule their lives around.  But, actually, that’s not going to happen either.

No, the only way to return those two clauses to their original intent, their original strength, and restore these two original “chains” on government,[4] is to have the states, in convention, propose modifications to the Constitution’s wording, utilizing “Option 2” of Article V.

“But a convention called under Article V is way too dangerous,” claim the skeptics, whose paranoia over safety inexplicably still allows them to drive on public highways.  “A whole new Constitution could result.  We know such a document is laying in a dusty drawer somewhere awaiting its opportunity to save our nation from itself.”  Poppycock!

As vividly demonstrated last Thursday and Friday at the Williamsburg Lodge in historic Williamsburg (both James Madison and Patrick Henry made appearances), a convention of the states, conducted under the auspices of Article V, will likely be a controlled, measured, ruled, even sometimes boring affair.  Certainly no “running away” or even running around was in evidence.  Instead, the commissioners from 50 states crafted eight well-thought-out changes to our Constitution that would either impose long overdue fiscal restraints on the federal government, reduce the enormous power and horizon-to-horizon jurisdiction of the federal government, or impose limits on the terms of some of its “serving essentially for life” officials — the three criteria which would have been found in the applications of 34 states who insisted Congress call such a convention and, presumably, in the instructions the commissioners carried.

The second day of this two-day event was livestreamed to the Williamsburg Public Library (and thousands of other locations and individual computers around the country).  We witnessed commissioners grappling with the exact meaning of words and the looming specter of “the Law of Unintended Consequences.”  Only six of the eight proposed amendments passed with a majority floor vote of the convention, the remainder being declared “only half baked.”  And even those that passed often underwent drastic modification from their committee versions before a majority of state delegations were happy with them.  Of course, this was merely a simulation, a demonstration for effect, a chance to show that rules for such an event could be promulgated, agreed to, and followed with respect and decorum. 

And they were.  I cringed as the poor parliamentarian and convention president had to sort out layers upon layers of motions to amend the amended amendments.  But it was all done with style and grace and no one was told to “go to the corner,” or “shut up and color.”

Now yes, all these commissioners were there because they believed in the potential efficacy of such an event, even the commissioners from what we consider “hard-core” liberal states.  In the real event (when it occurs — and it must) the discourse is certain to be more rancorous, the debates more strident, and the output perhaps even more sparse, knowing that real changes are being proposed to a real 200+ year old document.

But let’s return to the central question: Do we continue down the path we are on, with a federal government exploiting limitless power, overburdening American businesses, spending money like there’s no tomorrow, with hundreds of unelected judges and career politicians serving essentially “for life,” protected either by the words of the Constitution itself or returned to their elected offices by the sheer power of corporate donations?  Do we continue this way until the “whole house of cards” collapses of its’ own ungovernable weight? 

Or do we pull from the remnants of our tattered Constitution: “Option 2” of Article V? — an option placed there with exquisite foresight, the Framers knowing full well that “a fondness for power is implanted, in most men, and it is natural to abuse it, when acquired.”[5]

Ultimately the choice is ours.  We can work hard to persuade the remaining holdouts that this is our best and perhaps our last chance to restore Constitutional sanity before the Debt Clock implodes, or we can turn back to watching Dancing with the Stars, and hope for the best. 

Which will it be?[6]

“Constitutional Corner” is a project of the Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc.  To unsubscribe from future mailings by Constitution Leadership Initiative, click here.

[1] http://www.conventionofstates.com/cossim

[2] William Gladstone, four time British Prime Minister,  (1809-1898)

[3] Stated at a Town Hall meeting, Hayward California, July 24, 2010.

[4] Thomas Jefferson, fair copy of the draft of the Kentucky Resolution of 1798

[5] Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 1775

[6] For more information of the Convention of States Project, see www.conventionofstates.com.

Constitution’s Week in Review – 27 August 2016

Article 1, Section 2.  Apportionment

The original Constitution set Congressional representation at 1 Representative for every 30,000 persons.[1]  If this formula had remained in effect, the House of Representatives would today contain over 10,000 members.

What would have been the original first amendment had it been ratified in 1791 would have gradually increased the apportionment formula until it reached 1 Representative for each 50,000 persons.  Even at 1 to 50,000, the House would today contain about 6400 members.[2]

Back when communication was somewhat less than globally instantaneous, and telepresence still a science fiction, a legislative body of these proportions seemed unmanageable, and so the Reapportionment Act of 1929 was passed which capped the number of Representatives at 435.  In 1929, when the U.S. population stood at 121.8 Million, this meant each Representative must represent 280,000 persons.  Today, the average Representative must represent the interests of 750,000 individuals.  Good luck with that.

Providing the basis for this apportionment was an enumeration or census, to be conducted every 10 years:

“The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

Our country’s first official census was conducted in 1790[3] and the last in 2010.[4]  The 2020 census is beginning to come onto political radar screens and looks to be as controversial as any previous.  What should be a simple counting project has proven to be anything but.

Certain elements of the U.S. government attempt to use the census to gain additional socio-demographic information they can use to shape their programs.  This means asking census questions that go well beyond a simple “enumeration” and intrude into personal information that some feel the government has no need to know or right to demand.

With apportionment, however, comes political power — 15 states are projected to gain or lose districts as a result of the 2020 census — and that means politically-motivated groups will seek ways to influence the outcome.  It should come as no surprise then to learn that certain political groups hope to influence the 2020 census to gain political advantage.

The Open Society Foundation, founded by George Soros, is funding key progressive groups[5] with the goal of attempting to “influence appropriations for the (U.S.) Census Bureau.” while pushing to change the methods by which racial categories are counted.  One big issue: do you count incarcerated individuals as residents of the jail/prison location or are they residents of their pre-incarceration domiciles?   With U.S. prisons bursting at the seams, this becomes an important question.  Watch for more on this as we get closer to the actual census.

First Amendment. A Win for Religious Liberty?

Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created humans as either male or female.  Although biologists point to several factors involved in determining gender during conception, gender, once set, is set; the idea that someone could actually change their gender after birth is of very recent vintage.  Only advances in cosmetic surgery have made the idea even approachable.  Of course, at the genetic level the idea is preposterous.  Despite all external attempts to portray oneself as the opposite sex, chromosomes have proven more resistant to change.

But now that the issue of homosexual marriage appears to have been settled, in the eyes of many, if not most Americans, gender identity is the new battleground.  Bathroom/shower-room use in the public schools gets a lot of the attention (as a side note: a Texas Federal Judge has blocked the Department of Education’s attempt to inflict gender confusion on the nation’s schoolkids).[6]  But trans-genderism is creating other controversies as well.  For instance, must an employer accommodate an employee’s announcement of gender “transition” at face value and retain that employee in their job?

A U.S. District Judge in Michigan has decided the answer to that question is “No,”[7] the employer can not only fire such an individual, they and can base their decision on their firmly held religious values, even if the business involved is not a church or other religiously-oriented organization.  I’ve no doubt this decision will be appealed and I fully expect it to reach the Supreme Court, where, based on our Society’s emerging hostility to religion, I predict the Court will strike down the decision and state that a firing decision cannot be based on religious views of gender.  But we’ll see.

Two Wins for Religious Liberty in One Week, What’s Happening Here?

The following story shows the strength of grass-roots efforts when properly marshalled.

The California legislature was set to pass SB1146.[8] Among its provisions was one preventing low-income students from receiving Cal Grants, California’s system of need-based education aid, if they attended colleges which restrict campus bathroom use based on biological sex.  Thanks to “hundreds and hundreds of phone calls,” Senator Ricardo Lara, a Democrat  and the bill’s sponsor, agreed to remove the offending clauses.

Kudos to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission which mobilized their members.  It can work!

Why Does the Federal Government Own So Much State Land?

In previous posts and in my seminar I complain about the extent of state land claimed by the federal government: 85% of Nevada, 70% of Alaska, 57% of Utah, and so on.  Article 4, Clause 2 gives Congress the power to “dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”  Notice the words “dispose of.”  These imply that federal territory will not be held in perpetuity, only temporarily until it is either sold off or made into a state.  Environmentalists, of course, have no problem with the federal government sequestering such land from development and keeping it as wilderness “for the people;” otherwise, cash-hungry states would just sell it off to developers, and then “good bye Yellowstone!”  Now we learn there are a considerable number of conservatives[9] who see things the same way.  Apparently willing to put aside the issue of big government, they see these lands as a “national birthright” and demand they be protected from economic development, principally by keeping them under federal ownership.  What’s a Republican platform-writer to do?

Upcoming Events:

Note for those in the Hampton Roads area: On Tuesday, 6 September, our Natural Law Discussion Group, having finished a look at Natural Law, will undertake an abridged version of Institute On The Constitution’s Duty of the Jury Course.  This course explores the traditional power of juries and how it has changed over the years.  In the colonial period and even into the 1860s, juries routinely exercised the power to judge both the law and the facts.  Not so much today; primarily because juries are routinely and specifically instructed by judges that they do not have this power.  The discussion group is (and has always been) open to anyone with an interest in studying what we’re studying.  The group meets from 6:30-8:30 pm in the Oyster Point area of Newport News, VA.  For the address details, send an email to: gary@constitutionleadership.org.

12 Sep, Lessons in Liberty – The Electoral College

The functioning of the Electoral College today bears little resemblance to the Framers’ intentions.  But rather than completely eliminate the “College” with an amendment, which would be the “constitutional” thing to do, groups like National Popular Vote have decided a final end-run is all that’s needed.  Can the Framers’ intent be restored?  Come find out on Monday, 12 September, 7-9pm at the Foundation for American Christian Education in Chesapeake, VA.  For those outside the local area, the presentation will be livestreamed.  Registration is $10 either way at www.face.net.

19 Sep, Christian Financial Concepts Webinar – The Electoral College Once Again

The following Monday, I give a one-hour abbreviated version of my Electoral College presentation for the Christian Financial Concepts[10] webinar series.  Participation is free, but this will by necessity be a more truncated view of the subject.

WFYL Radio: We the People, the Constitution Matters.  Having completed a look at the principles of the Declaration of Independence, our intrepid commentators take on the topic of “Progressivism in America.”  Join us Friday mornings from 7-8am beginning 26 August, as we cover the sordid history of Progressivism, how it gained a foothold in America, the damage it has already done and where its acolytes plan to take this country given the chance after November.

The “Constitution’s Week in Review” is a project of the Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc.  To unsubscribe from future mailings by Constitution Leadership Initiative, click here.

[1] The word “residents” is not used, however, giving rise to the question of whether representation was intended to be based on “residents,” however temporary may be their residency, or “citizens,” or some other designation.

[2] For more on ratifying the original first amendment today see: https://americaagain.net/

[3] The U.S. population in 1790 was 3,929,214.

[4] The U.S. population in 2010 was 309,300,000.

[5] http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/08/22/leaked-doc-soros-open-society-seeks-reshape-census-electoral-districts/

[6] http://patriottribune.com/44167/texas-judge-blocks-transgender/

[7] http://www.gopusa.com/?p=13949?omhide=true

[8] http://dailysignal.com/2016/08/12/what-conservatives-did-to-pull-off-religious-liberty-win-in-california/?utm_source=TDS_Email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Top5&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWmpRME5qSTRPR001TTJNdyIsInQiOiJFbE9iRSsyekZicFlMNzByTUMza2xVQzlmSm1MOTdRSEpCY3NFNU5reVBzclI2QU5hRm5KSk1SNHB0WUtTcEVIcElLZXhEcW5wMTVyMmtnZXJyZ0lST1JEdHd6QnZxWHQyR25jOUxqTGFicz0ifQ%3D%3D

[9] https://www.yahoo.com/news/conservatives-split-over-u-land-transfers-western-states-104946810–finance.html

[10] http://www.christianfinancialconcepts.com/webinars.php

 

Constitutional Corner – “With a Firm Reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence”

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On “We the People – The Constitution Matters,” my Friday morning radio show on WFYL AM1180 radio, we’ve been picking apart and discussing each of the principles of government we find imbedded in the Declaration of Independence.  It has been a wonderful, rewarding project.  We studied each and every principle we discovered, whether part of Jefferson’s original thoughts or a result of the final “wordsmithing” by the Congress.  These foundational principles are easy to discern, and it is equally easy to see their importance to the success of republican government.  On the other hand, it has been quite disconcerting to realize the extent to which we have departed from these principles and, as we look around the American landscape today, to see the results of doing so.

These many principles of government, principles that even define our human existence, are as true today as they were in 1776; principles, like John Adams’ facts, are “stubborn things.”  During the Founding Period the principles were readily accepted – they were interwoven into American society.  You encountered them in letters, speeches, essays, and newspaper articles of the time.  Today — not so much.  Today, they have largely been replaced by the principles of humanism, progressivism and globalism.

Although some of these principles were hotly debated at the time, such as whether a strong national government or a loose confederation of sovereign states, or some combination of both, was the better form of government for the united States, other principles were accepted as self-evident truths, such as that God was the source of unalienable rights and that He oversaw the affairs of men.

We knew there would come a time when we would find ourselves at the end of the document; it was inevitable; that is where I find myself today.

After laying out the colonists’ philosophy of government, rehashing the complaints the colonists had repeatedly expressed to King and Parliament, and showing how a break in their political bands was both necessary and appropriate, the Declaration concludes with these words:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

But as presented to Congress by the committee on 28 June, the second clause (“with a firm reliance… “) was absent.  It had not been in Jefferson’s rough draft, nor had it been added by anyone on the committee.  Jefferson had written:

“And for the support of this Declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

While Jefferson later in life complained that Congress had “mangled” his work, in this specific case, I believe the additional clause was a great improvement.  The added clause contains a key principle of colonial thought and deserves discussion even today.

But if Mr. Jefferson did not intend the colonists to proclaim “a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence,” who did?  There are fifty-one candidates.

Perhaps it was New Jersey delegate and Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon, whose 1776 sermon “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men,” widely published in the colonies, brought him enough attention to be appointed a delegate to this Second Continental Congress.  Serving as President of the College of New Jersey (later, Princeton) from 1768 to 1779, Witherspoon had taught such prominent men as future President James Madison, future Vice-President Aaron Burr, nine cabinet officers, 21 senators, 39 congressmen, three justices of the Supreme Court, and 12 state governors.

Perhaps it was Massachusetts delegate Robert Treat Paine, who would go on to serve as a military chaplain during the war.  Perhaps it was Georgia delegate and ordained minister, Lyman Hall.  New Jersey delegate Francis Hopkinson was a church music director and choir leader who had edited a famous American hymnbook.  I could see him suggesting the new clause.  Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman had trained as a minister and had written the doctrinal creed for his denomination, a creed that no doubt contained a similar sentiment.  Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Rush began the first Sunday School in America and founded the country’s first Bible Society; his co-delegate, James Wilson, was trained as a clergyman before leaving Scotland for the new world.  In fact, at least 29 of the Declaration’s signers had been educated in schools whose primary and declared purpose was the preparation of Christian ministers.  But the phrase need not have been suggested by someone with a strong Christian faith. A belief in divine providence was commonplace.

Whoever added the clause will forever remain a mystery, since no notes survived of the day’s deliberations.  But what of the thought the clause contains?  Did the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration indeed share a “firm reliance on the protection of divine providence?”

Jefferson called his essay “an expression of the American Mind,” an amalgamation of the “harmonizing sentiments of the day.”  The entire Congress had participated in the editing.  If the protection of divine providence had not been a widely shared sentiment, it is unlikely it would have been suggested, or retained.  I believe it safe to conclude that these men did indeed feel it appropriate to call on God’s protection in this way.

Were they justified in doing so?

An honest appraisal of early American history is replete with examples of individuals and groups calling upon God for favor, guidance and protection, from the first settlers to the first Congress.  The settlers were, by and large, Christians who understood their covenantal relationship with the Creator of the universe.  They asked for, they expected, and they received, God’s protection.

The first official act of the Jamestown settlers in 1607 was to erect a cross at Cape Henry and thank God for their successful crossing.

The first session of the First Continental Congress in 1774 opened with this prayer:

“O Lord! our  heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth, and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all kingdoms, empires, and governments. Look down in mercy, we beseech thee, on these our American States who have fled to thee from the rod of the oppressor, and thrown themselves on thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on thee … All this we ask in the name, and through the merits of Jesus Christ thy Son and our Savior.  Amen”

Protection or provision, both were part and parcel of God’s providential care.

There was perhaps no greater single beneficiary of that providence than General George Washington himself.  Whether it took the form of an inexplicable fog that enabled the successful withdrawal of his forces from Long Island, the sudden snowstorm that kept Hessian troops hunkered down in their quarters at Trenton, or the run of shad that fed his desperate troops at Valley Forge, Washington experienced repeated examples of divine providence. In a 1778 letter to Thomas Nelson, he wrote: “The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”[1]

We do not have the time here to recount the many, many examples of divine providence in the history of colonial America.  I refer you to books like: “America’s Providential History,” by Stephen McDowell and Mark Beliles; “The Light and the Glory,” by Peter Marshall and David Manuel; “The Christian History of the American Revolution,” By Verna M Hall, and “What Hath God Wrought” by Dr. William P. Grady, to cite just a few.

Suffice it to say that to the Americans of the Founding Period, God’s providence was an ever present fixture of their lives — kept there by frequent prayer.

Another question comes to mind: For whose benefit was this clause added?  Parliament’s?  The King’s?  Their “Brittish (sic) brethren?”  I think not.  Neither the King nor the Parliament would care much one way or the other whether these “rebels” invoked the name of God in their action.  I submit the clause was added instead with the American people in mind, to reassure them that the step their leaders were about to take would not fall outside the will of God, but lay wholly within it.  This was the message Americans had heard from the pulpits of colonial America for the previous 15-20 years: they had a Christian duty to resist tyrannical government.  And now that the fateful day had arrived, it would have been comforting for the people to see that their leaders were not so “puffed up” as to think they could pull of so momentous an act without divine partnership.

As President, George Washington would proclaim: “It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors.”[2]

In 1816, First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court summed it nicely by writing: “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.  National prosperity can neither be obtained nor preserved without the favor of Providence.”[3] (emphasis added)

Pledging their “lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” certainly signaled the gravity of the situation, but these were finite resources pledged by finite men.  By contrast, the  signers were also asking the One who owned “the cattle on a thousand hills” to bring His infinite resources to bear.

So where is God’s Providence today?

“I am the Lord, I change not.”[4]  I think we can safely affirm that God’s providential hand is as available today as it was in 1776.  Yet, American society today, at least publically, sees no need to ask for God’s providential help. Under these circumstances, can we expect God to provide it?  God promises in 2nd Chronicles 7:14[5] to heal the land if His people will but humble themselves, pray, seek His face and turn from their wicked ways.  And certainly many American Christians have responded to this admonition. But how many more of our 320 Million Americans must do so before God will act?

In Rev John Witherspoon’s 1776 sermon: “The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men,” referenced earlier, he concludes: “Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.”

America can move forward with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, or we can “roll the dice” and see what we can do on our own; the choice is ours.

At the end of the radio show on August 19th my two commentators and I discussed what topic to explore next; there are so many topics relevant to the problems America faces.  We decided to take on the topic of “Progressivism” and its effects on America.  What were the origins of progressive thought?  Who were the great expositors of that thought?  And what have been the effects?  I hope you’ll join us as we begin this new discussion on Friday, August 26th at 7-8am.  We’d love to hear your view.

“Constitutional Corner” is a project of the Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc.  To unsubscribe from future mailings by Constitution Leadership Initiative, click here.

[1] letter to Thomas Nelson, August 20, 1778.

[2] Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1789.

[3] October 12, 1816.

[4] Malachi 3:6 KJV.

[5] “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

Constitutional Corner – Impeaching Hillary

 

Andrew McCarthy has an article in the latest National Review magazine entitled “Impeach Her” – the “Her” of course refers to none other than Hillary Clinton.[1]  McCarthy argues: “If the government were functioning properly, Congress would impeach Hillary Clinton, not refer her misconduct to the same administration that indulged it in the first place.”  While I highly respect McCarthy’s impressive track record of fighting corruption and terrorist threats, on this constitutional point, I believe he’s wrong.

Impeachment had been a part of English politics and law for centuries (at least since 1376).  Under the British Constitution, Parliament could (and still can) impeach anyone for any crime, even after they had left office.  Fortunately, Parliament doesn’t seem to have run amok with this unrestrained power.  In fact, it appears Parliament has impeached fewer officials than has the U.S. Congress.[2]

If you read Madison’s notes of the Grand Convention and/or Hamilton’s two Federalist essays which address the subject,[3] you clearly see that impeachment in the U.S. Constitution was intended by the Framers as a way to remove someone from federal office.  It follows therefore that someone no longer in federal service can’t be (or shouldn’t be) impeached.  Unfortunately for that theory, Congress has indeed impeached at least one federal official who was no longer in office.

In 1876, the Secretary of War, William W. Belknap, was accused of graft and corruption.  As articles of impeachment were being prepared in the House of Representatives, Belknap, knowing this, tendered his resignation to President Grant, literally hours before the House was scheduled to vote.  Instead of dropping the matter, as later Congresses would do when the accused party resigned,[4] the 1876 Congress continued with their impeachment.  Belknap was acquitted in his Senate trial.

I hesitate to point out that just because Congress does a thing doesn’t make it Constitutional.   I hope we can all agree on that point.  Just because the 1876 Congress failed to view impeachment correctly (in my opinion) and continued with a proceeding intended to discover, apparently, if now-citizen Belknap should be “removed from office,” this doesn’t make their action constitutional.

The eminent jurist, Joseph Story, seems to back me up, stating in his 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution that the impeachment power should be confined to “persons holding office.”[5]  In another place Story writes: “If, then, there must be a judgement of removal from office, it would seem to follow, that the constitution contemplated, that the party was still in office at the time of the impeachment.  If he was not, his offence was still liable to be tried and punished in the ordinary tribunals of justice.  And it might be argued with some force, that it would be a vain exercise of authority to try a delinquent [6]for an impeachable offence when the most important object, for which the remedy was given, was no longer necessary, or attainable.”[7]

But let’s recall that there are actually two penalties connected to impeachment in our Constitution: removal from office, AND “disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States” (Article 1, Section 3, Clause 7).  As written, imposition of the first penalty is clearly intended to precede imposition of the second.  But can an impeachment proceed for the sole purpose of imposing the second penalty?  The Constitution is silent on this question, so I’ll admit it resides in a gray area.  But I believe it would violate the whole tenor of impeachment to proceed on the basis of the “disqualification” penalty alone.

By the way, of nineteen Congressional impeachments of federal officials (excluding two Presidents), only two of the eight removed from office were additionally disqualified from future office-holding; Congress seems reluctant to permanently penalize someone removed from federal office.

A similar question came up recently on Quora,[8] with an important difference.  The requester asked “Could Hillary Clinton’s mismanagement of highly classified information be grounds for Day One impeachment proceedings against her?”  While it might be improper and unconstitutional to impeach Hillary now, as a private citizen, could she be impeached once she is re-established in federal service, even as President?

In other words, are the actions sparking the impeachment linked in some way to the office the individual held or are they attached to the individual herself (in this case)?

Most of the respondents on Quora said “No,” she couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be impeached.  But they based their opinion on the fact that Hillary was not indicted by the Justice Department (acting on the recommendation of the FBI).  No one approached the question from a Constitutional perspective.

Constitutional impeachment is appropriate when “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” have been committed.  “Crimes” are the violation of statute law and “misdemeanors” are maladministration or misconduct falling short of criminal activity.  Either, committed by a “high” official, constitutes grounds for impeachment.  The FBI decided only that Hillary was not guilty of criminal wrongdoing because she did not display criminal intent (mens rea).  They did not address (because it wasn’t their responsibility) whether Hillary was guilty of committing a “high misdemeanor” in the context of impeachment.

If Hillary Clinton was still performing as Secretary of State, it is clear she could and, I think, should be impeached, despite the FBI’s findings.  As long as she remains out of federal service I think she remains unimpeachable.

But what happens when Hillary resumes federal service in a capacity other than Secretary of State?  Does she then become impeachable?  Clearly she becomes impeachable, but on what charges?  Would her misconduct, her gross negligence in handling classified information of several years prior still be impeachable?  Obviously there is no statute of limitations on “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Given the sparse words of the Constitution and a compliant Court, Congress now has the power to do most anything it wants, and I’m sure the Supreme Court would find the impeachment of a President Hillary Clinton, for her failures as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to be non-justicable.  So in the end, the judgment of propriety would fall on the owners of the Constitution: the people.  For a Republican-dominated Congress to proceed this way would be political suicide.

It is indeed unfortunate that Hillary Clinton’s recklessness with the handling of classified information, information she knew to be classified, even to the Special Access Program level, information almost certainly now in the hands of foreign governments and/or independent hackers, did not come to light until after she had left office.  Had the sequence been different I think it likely she would have, and should have been impeached and at least removed from office, if not disqualified from further office for that egregious breach of trust.  But I think the impeachment ship has sailed.

If you want to “impeach” Hillary, you’ll have to do so at the ballot box.  And that means you’ll have to show up; there is no sitting this one out.

“Constitutional Corner” is a project of the Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc.  To unsubscribe from future mailings by Constitution Leadership Initiative, click here.

[1] Note: I can’t seem to locate the article on National Review Online, but a slightly modified version is found here: http://www.ruthfullyyours.com/2016/07/30/impeach-her-why-the-e-mail-scandal-should-bar-hillary-from-high-office-by-andrew-c-mccarthy/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment#United_Kingdom

[3] Federalist #65 and #66.

[4] In 1926, Congress stopped impeachment proceedings when federal Judge George English resigned.  In 1974, the Senate terminated impeachment of President Richard Nixon when he resigned the office, and in 2009, Congress once again terminated proceedings when federal Judge Samuel Kent resigned.

[5] Joseph Story, Commentaries on the U.S. Constitution, 1833, §788.

[6] “One who fails to perform his duty, particularly a public officer who neglects his duty; an offender; one who commits a fault or crime.” Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

[7] Joseph Story, Commentaries on the U.S. Constitution, 1833, §801

[8] https://www.quora.com/Could-Hillary-Clintons-mismanagement-of-highly-classified-information-be-grounds-for-Day-One-impeachment-proceedings-against-her

The Constitution’s Week in Review – 23 July 16

Article 1 – The Legislature: Apportioned Representation

I discussed on my radio show not too long ago and in these pages the fact that there is at least one proposed Constitutional Amendment floating around out there without a time limit for ratification.  Just as the original 2nd Amendment became, 200 years later, our 27th Amendment, so could the original 1st Amendment become our 28th.  David Zuniga, of America Again.net is proposing we ratify that old amendment and begin restoring truly representative government to America.  Communications technology has advanced to the point where it is feasible to have telepresence meetings of thousands of participants.  Imaging only having to drive a few minutes to sit down with your Congressman in a district office, instead of communicating with them in a distant Washington, D.C. office.

Well, I was investigating a Quora question recently when I chanced upon this article[1] from a few years ago which argues that the original First Amendment was indeed ratified by the requisite number of the states back in 1789.  Evidence came to light recently that both Connecticut and Kentucky may have ratified the Amendment but failed to send their ratification instrument to Congress and thus their ratification was never recorded.

What would this Amendment do if put into effect?  It would permit the ratio of representation in America to change from the average of 1 to 750,000 residents to 1 to 50,000 residents.  The House of Representatives could grow to around 6400 members.

Congress would have to revoke the Congressional Reapportionment Act of 1929 that set the current limit at 435 Representatives, but that is a simple (?) legislative process.

The discoverer of the lost documents, Frederick John LaVergne, has taken his case to court and lost, so it is likely the original ratifications will never be judged sufficient, but that does not prevent the Amendment from being ratified today by the additional states needed to bring the total to 38, as college student Gregory Watson discovered with the original 2nd Amendment in the late 1980s.

One complaint I have with the linked article is that the version they cite of what is commonly called the Congressional Apportionment Amendment (originally titled Article the First) is not the final version passed by the joint houses of Congress but rather the version passed in the House alone, as this Wikipedia article[2] makes clear.  The substitution in the final version of the word “more” for the word “less” changes the effect substantially, but not fatally.

According to the linked article, an opinion piece published in 2010 in the New York Times complained that “Americans today are numerically the worst-represented group of citizens in the country’s history.”

You can’t argue with the math, but what do you think of the proposed solution?  How about chatting with your representative and see what he or she thinks?

Article 2 – The Executive: The Candidates and the Constitution

On Friday, we had a great discussion of character as it relates to Presidential candidates.  The show gets rebroadcast on Sunday, 24 July at 2pm and I expect the podcast to be posted sometime Monday on the station’s podcast page.[3]

Article 3 – The Judiciary

Sometimes the decisions of courts seem to defy logic.  Usually this is due to the abject politicization of judges.  It would appear that a federal judge in Michigan succumbed to this common ailment.[4]  Michigan had been one of only ten states that offered citizens the opportunity to vote for a straight partisan ticket, i.e. mark their ballet with a single stroke to record a vote for all Democrat or Republican candidates in a particular election.  In my view, this panders to those too ignorant or lazy to walk into a polling station informed of the candidates, their respective parties, and the issues at stake.

The Michigan legislature passed and Governor Synder signed into law a measure striking down this feature of Michigan balloting, but U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin A. Drain ruled instead this would place a “disproportionate burden on African Americans’ right to vote.”  Right.  That says more about African American voters in Michigan than it does the legislature’s actions.

Cultural Issues in the Courts.  Here’s Focus on the Family’s latest review.[5] A new update was posted Friday.

1st Amendment – Right of Conscience

You may recall I’ve followed the plight of a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, who was convicted of violating Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and sentenced (and his staff) to “re-education” classes.

On Friday, Phillips, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, petitioned the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of his case: Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.[6]  ADF’s website[7] contains a nice synopsis of the case.

4th Amendment – Illegal Search

The government of Highland, California has decided[8] they can inspect the apartments and rental homes of the city’s landlords at will to determine their compliance with city ordinances.  Hmmm.  A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there used to be a country where your “persons, houses, papers, and effects” were secure against warrantless search and seizure.  Perhaps no more, at least for the residents of Highland, CA.  One more reason to “Come East, young man!”

Recommendations and Events:

Christian Financial Concepts Presentation – The Constitution as Solution

Monday night, 25 July from 8-9pm EDT, I’ll be presenting a webinar on the topic of “The Constitution as a Solution to Problems.”

Few Americans take time to reflect on the fact that the Constitution was not created ab initio, it was created within a historical context.  That we have a Constitution at all illustrates that the Articles of Confederation had proven inadequate.  Although the Articles had been designed to make amendment difficult (unanimous consent was needed), in the end needed improvements proved impossible to enact.   Conditions in the thirteen states deteriorated to the point where talk of splitting the federation into three began to be heard.  Something had to be done, and the result was the Constitution of 1787.

But what exactly had been deficient about the Articles and what problems did this create?  By studying and understanding the problems created by the Articles we will better understand the solutions proposed by the Constitutional Convention to fix those problems.

What was Shay’s Rebellion and what role did it play?  Who sat down and analyzed the deficiencies in the Articles to prepare himself for the “Grand Convention?”  Did American troops really mutiny and march on Congress?  What did America’s Founding Fathers have to say during this period?  These questions and more will be answered in this exciting presentation.

Go to https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7811182755684673537 to register for this free event.

We The People – The Constitution Matters Radio Show.

On Friday, 29 July, we will discuss the next paragraph we encounter in the Declaration of Independence; here Jefferson recounts the attempts of the colonists to enlist the aid of their “Brittish Brethren,” to no avail.  If you have complaints or petitions for the government, to what extent should you make those known and should you try to enlist the help of fellow citizens?  Please join the discussion by browsing to www.1180wfyl.com  (Friday, 7-8am EDT). If you miss the recorded show, aim for the re-broadcast Saturday at 11am and Sunday at 2pm or download the podcast at leisure.

Lessons in Liberty – Preserving America’s Religious Liberty.

On August 18th, the Foundation for American Christian Education’s Lessons in Liberty series will play host to Mrs. Victoria Cobb, President of the family Foundation of Virginia, located in Richmond, Virginia.  Victoria will speak on “How We Can Preserve America’s Religious Liberty.  How do Christians navigate a world trying to redefine marriage and even gender?  Victoria will discuss how we got to where we are with these issues and how Christians should respond.  The event, as all Lessons in Liberty presentations, will be livestreamed to those who register. Registration and cost information can be found on the FACE website at www.face.net.

The “Constitution’s Week in Review” is a project of the Constitution Leadership Initiative, Inc.  To unsubscribe from future mailings by Constitution Leadership Initiative, click here.

[1] http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/14223-article-the-first-is-congress-ignoring-an-amendment-ratified-by-the-states

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Apportionment_Amendment

[3] http://www.1180wfyl.com/we-the-people.html

[4] http://www.gopusa.com/?p=12881?omhide=true

[5] http://www.focusonthefamily.com/socialissues/understanding-the-issues/cultural-issues-in-the-courts-2016/cultural-issues-in-the-courts-july-2016-update?utm_campaign=Supreme+Disappointment+on+Abortion&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl_thrivingvalues

[6] http://adflegal.org/detailspages/case-details/masterpiece-cakeshop-v.-craig

[7] http://adflegal.org/detailspages/blog-details/allianceedge/2016/07/22/5-reasons-the-u.s.-supreme-court-should-agree-to-hear-christian-cake-artist-jack-phillips%27-case?sourcecode=05K30001

[8] http://www.wnd.com/2016/07/city-surrender-4th-amendment-rights-or-else/#!

Constitutional Corner – The Character of a Prince

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“A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

As I pointed out in my last essay, the English government of the late 1700s would hardly be called tyrannical or despotic by an impartial, dispassionate judge.  The twenty-seven “abuses and usurpations” that Jefferson levies against the King and parliament struck at the heart of colonial expectations of self-government, but those actions could hardly be called tyrannical by modern standards (see North Korea, Soviet Russia, etc.).  Nevertheless, King George III was a useful and necessary target for the opening salvo of the Declaration’s “long train of abuses,” with repeated references to: “He has refused…, He has forbidden…, He has dissolved…, He has obstructed….,” and so on.  Jefferson had an admittedly tough assignment: convince colonial Americans, many of them firmly devoted to their King, to instead seek independence.  A tyrant was needed and so a tyrant the King became, at least from the Declaration’s perspective.

Yet a different picture of George emerges from other voices.  The blogger “Mad Monarchist” writes:

“King George III was as far from being a cruel, despotic tyrant as any man could be. He was, in fact, an upright, generous man of simple tastes, extremely devoted to his family and could, with relatively little opposition I think, be considered the most able and admirable monarch of the Hanoverian dynasty of Britain. This monarch who came to be so hated in America was very popular in Britain, even beloved.”[1]

Once the American Revolution was over, the King re-established diplomatic relations with his rebellious former subjects (you may recall the depiction of George receiving newly appointed Ambassador John Adams in the HBO movie, “John Adams”).  He also worked to ensure the United States remained a major trading partner of the British Empire.

The fact that two distinctly different portraits of George III exist is illustrative of the dilemma we face in judging the character of candidates for elective office today: good character does not equate to effective leadership and success in government.

Jimmy Carter is widely regarded as a sincere man of faith; generous and compassionate.  His Christian witness was readily apparent before, during and after his single term of office.  Yet his four years as Chief Executive are generally regarded as a policy disaster;[2] inflation ran into double digits yet economic growth stagnated, leading to the coining of the term “stagflation;” long lines were the norm at gas stations across the country; the Shah of Iran was removed from power, transforming the most progressive Muslim country in the Middle-East into the leading sponsor of Islamic terrorism; the Panama Canal, built with American dollars and technology was given away.

How could a good man be such a failure as a President that he was denied a second term?

How could George III, devoted father and husband, make such horrible decisions as King that he lost from his empire what eventually became the world’s leading economic power?

To one writer,[3] “being the American President is all about character.”  If that is the case, then Jimmy Carter had a fabulous presidency.

No, it is clear that good character is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for success as President, or as King; capability – capability that produces results – is equally important.

So, as Americans prepare to select a new President this fall (as well as 33 Senators and 435 Representatives), perhaps a review of Presidential character would be in order.

Christians are familiar with the guidance Jethro gives Moses in the Book of Exodus concerning the men to be chosen for Israel’s first republic: “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness”[4]

In Deuteronomy, the guidance is complimentary: “wise and discerning and experienced men.”[5]

This is admittedly not a lot to guide us.   But there is still more we can glean from the Biblical record.  Once the people of Israel demanded that Samuel appoint a king over them, “like all the nations,” the people soon found out (though they were warned[6]) that their experience with kings would generally not be favorable.  It appears from this listing of the kings of Israel and Judah[7], the people of Israel got the bulk of the “bad” kings while the people of Judah had a few good experiences.

Fortunately, our Constitution creates a President, not a king.  While Alexander Hamilton’s “British Plan” included a Chief Executive serving essentially for life (“during good behavior”), the Framers knew enough about man’s fallen nature to guard against a “President for Life.”[8]

There was little talk in the Constitutional Convention concerning the character sought in a Chief Executive — qualifications, yes, but discussion of character was handled with kid-gloves; the heir-apparent, George Washington, “the first character in the world,” was sitting before them on the dais.  While George III may not have been the perfect picture of a tyrant, America’s first president is generally regarded as the perfect picture of a gentleman.  Which other President, as a child, drafted Rules of Civility — and tried to follow them the rest of his life?

By the time of the Constitutional Convention, Washington’s character had reached near-mythic proportions and was well beyond reproach.  Nevertheless, Dr. Franklin observed that even if the President were not to receive a salary, the country “shall never be without a sufficient number of wise and good men to undertake and execute well and faithfully the office [of President].”

George Mason cautioned, however, that a way of removing an “unfit magistrate” was made necessary by “the fallibility of those who [elect the Executive],” as well as by “the corruptibility of the man chosen.”  Washington’s reaction on hearing these words is undocumented.

On the question of whether to give the Executive the power of a complete legislative veto, Roger Sherman was against it because “no one man could be found so far above all the rest in wisdom.”

The U.S. President enjoys nothing approaching the powers of King George III; the Framers were intent on that.  A relatively weak chief executive becomes a problem, however, when Americans start viewing their President as a King.  In such circumstances, he is doomed to fail; he finds he is powerless to produce the reforms the people demand or those he foolishly promised.  Then, out he goes, hat in hand after a single term.

Over the years, Americans have elected some enormously flawed Presidents, but should we celebrate those flaws as this article from the Washington Post[9] suggests?

The upcoming election is shaping up to be as much about character as policy, perhaps even more so.

Hillary Clinton’s behavior during her eight years as First Lady, eight years as Senator and four years as Secretary of State has provided ample opportunity for her character to be questioned.

The list of books and videos discussing flaws in Clinton’s character is long.  Therein she is variously described as “ruthless,” “vindictive,” “mendacious,” “venal,” “sneaky,” “ideological,” “intolerant,” “deceitful,” and an “inveterate liar.”  Some writers take pride in pointing out that Hillary was the first First Lady to come under criminal investigation during her stay in the White House. You can find an analysis of Hillary Clinton’s character/personality here.

Donald J. Trump, on the other hand, has been variously described as “ambitious,” “racist,” “sexist,” “narcissistic” (also said of Hillary), “arrogant,” “haughty,” “patronizing,” “obnoxious braggart,” “contemptuous,” “borderline psychotic,” and many others unfit to print.  One analysis of Donald Trump’s personality can be found here.

What character traits would I prefer to see in someone charged with leading the world’s most powerful military force?  They include the following:

Honesty.  First and foremost, we must be able to trust, explicitly, everything the President says, or every word and deed becomes suspect, including words about….

Faith.  Despite the words of Article VI, Clause 3 (“no religious test”), the President of a predominantly Christian nation should be one himself.  And so far, all but a few[10] of our forty-three presidents (Grover Cleveland served twice) have been church-going Christians.  Faith in a universe-creating omnipotent God produces humility and compassion (or it should), two essential traits for such a high office.

Fidelity.  No, not marital, although that is necessary as well; rather I feel a President should have fidelity to the Founders’ Constitution.  He should understand and be willing to uphold the principles of the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitutional limitations of his office.  These principles, by the way, are incompatible with democratic socialism.

Bravery.  Not necessarily bravery in battle — although that should be seen as a “force multiplier”– but bravery when confronting difficult decisions, decisions that will affect the lives of millions of Americans, born and unborn.

Well spoken.  The President must be a communicator, and a superior one, and not just when reading teleprompters.  He must have sufficient command of the English language and the pertinent facts to speak clearly and forcefully — extemporaneously.

The character of our “Prince” is exceptionally important to our success as a nation.  I encourage all citizens to spend time over the next three months identifying and then pondering the character traits they feel should be exemplified by the next President of the United States of America, the greatest nation the world has yet seen.

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[1] http://madmonarchist.blogspot.com/2009/07/monarch-profile-king-george-iii.html.

[2] http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2007/08/jimmy_carters_human_rights_dis.html.

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2015/07/24/donald-trump-and-the-decline-of-american-character-a-cautionary-tale/#6d97af521557.

[4] Exodus 18:21, KJV.

[5] Deuteronomy 1:13 KJV.

[6] 1 Samuel 8:10-18.

[7] http://www.ldolphin.org/kings.html.

[8] For a great example of “President for Life” look up Idi Amin.

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/presidents-are-every-bit-as-flawed-as-all-of-us-lets-celebrate-that/2015/02/05/56d7e834-86d9-11e4-a702-fa31ff4ae98e_story.html.

[10] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/12/almost-all-u-s-presidents-have-been-christians/.