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

Constitutional Corner – Musings on the Article V Convention Simulation

Open as PDF

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

 

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/#!

The Constitution’s Week in Review – 16 July 16

Article 1 – The Legislature: Separation of Powers.

Republicans in Congress made great hoopla[1] over passage in the House on Friday of HR-4768, aka the ‘‘Separation of Powers Restoration Act of 2016.’’  The bill makes a seemingly innocuous change to Section 706 of Title 5 of the U.S. Code[2] which will give courts greater leeway in determining when executive agency actions have exceeded the scope of the legislation that Congress passed and presented to the Executive to enforce.  The relevant section of code reads (new wording inserted in brackets and bolded):

“To the extent necessary to decision and when presented, the reviewing court shall decide [de novo] all relevant questions of law, [including the] interpret[ation of all] constitutional and statutory provisions [and rules], and determine the meaning or applicability of the terms of an agency action. The reviewing court shall—

(1) compel agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed; and

(2) hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found to be—

(A) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law;

(B) contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity;

(C) in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or short of statutory right;

(D) without observance of procedure required by law;

(E) unsupported by substantial evidence in a case subject to sections 556 and 557 of this

title or otherwise reviewed on the record of an agency hearing provided by statute; or

(F) unwarranted by the facts to the extent that the facts are subject to trial de novo by

the reviewing court.”

The key words “de novo” mean that the reviewing court will not use previous court precedent to guide their decision but is charged with looking at the laws “afresh.”  The new wording also makes it clear that “rules” are what is to be reviewed, not just “statutory provisions.”

Under what is called the “Chevron Doctrine” (from the 1984 case in which it was devised), the court typically gives deference to an agency’s interpretation of its actions in implementing the provisions of a law (i.e., the agency, and not Congress, knows best).  This is indeed a terrible doctrine and HR-4768 is an attempt by Congress to essentially nullify it.

As predicted, Democrats denigrated the bill as one removing discretion from the judges and potentially delaying “life-saving” rules (gotta have a “crisis,” right?).  They also warned this could lead to “activist” judging.  Coming from a group that has relied on and benefitted greatly from activist judges since the Warren Court, this charge seems disingenuous.

In my opinion, HR-4768, while helpful, attacks the problem from the wrong direction.  Yes, Progressives have done great damage to the republic through unrestrained agency rule-making; and while the court never should have devised the “Chevron Doctrine” to start with, the true problem is executive agencies who are allowed to write rules that have the force of law – period – that is the separation of powers violation at play here.  This legislation does nothing to change that paradigm.  Instead it permits Congress to continue to write overly vague laws and allow executive agencies to “fill-in the details.”  It nearly insures that agencies will continue to do as they please, subject only to someone bringing suit in a court of law, an arduous and expensive process that will not be pursued except when Congress or the states can’t abide the political heat for doing nothing in response to a rogue agency rule.

Since Mistretta v. Smith, executive agencies have been allowed to act as a legislative body, and this Act does nothing to change that.  If someone sees more good in this than I do, please enlighten me.  In a Congress desperate to find something to be proud of, this seems to fall far, far short.  Nevertheless, I encourage you to listen to the Judiciary Committee proceedings on their website as the Committee discusses the Act: partisan politics at its best.  I applaud Chairman Goodlatte for bringing this legislation to a successful vote, but there is much more to do.  Finally, unless Congress can find a way to attach this to some piece of “must pass” legislation, I predict the President will veto it.

Article 2 – The Executive: The Candidates and the Constitution

The ACLU is supposed to be non-partisan, that comes with their 501(c)(3) status.  They even affirm that on their website.  But they slyly created a parallel 501(c)(4) organization that allows them considerably more latitude.  The ACLU’s 501(c)(4) organization has issued an analysis of the “constitutionality” of Donald Trump’s policy positions.  They even warn us: “The ACLU Is Non-Partisan, but We Have to Take Action When So Much Is at Stake.”  You can download the paper here.  As you might expect from the most liberal legal organization in America, they are not too complimentary of Mr. Trump.  Trump positions on immigration, surveillance of Muslims, torture, libel, mass surveillance and abortion are analyzed and, in their eyes, found wanting.

The ACLU’s argument against the constitutionality of Trump’s announced ban on Muslims is sophomoric at best, declaring that it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which forbids establishing a national religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.  Trump’s proposed ban would do neither.  There’s an even more fundamental question at stake: How the Constitution’s protections apply to people who are neither American citizens nor even resident in America remains unexplained.

The ACLU report cites Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228 (1982) as justification for their opinion.  Unfortunately, Larson v. Valente focused on “whether a Minnesota statute, imposing certain registration and reporting requirements upon only those religious organizations that solicit more than fifty percent of their funds from nonmembers, discriminates against such organizations in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

I note two things:  1) the ACLU has published (as yet) no similar analysis of Hillary Clinton’s policy positions (I wonder if they even intend to.  Perhaps it was in a deleted email.),  and 2) everyone should realize that what a Presidential candidate says in the run up to the election is simply, well, talk.  The President’s constitutional powers are quite limited.  Yes, nearly every President, including President Obama, has sought ways to expand that power and “rule by decree,” and yes, the American people have turned a blind eye to egregious violations of these powers in the past, but the President’s success depends more on whether the Congress and Courts go along.  Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, whichever one takes the oath next, will find, as have all other Presidents, that their ability to get anything done depends more on their powers of persuasion than the soundness, or even constitutionality, of their policy positions.

Article 3 – The Judiciary

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg got herself in hot water this week by breaking a cardinal rule that says justices and judges should refrain from commenting on partisan politics.  Ginsburg called Trump a “Faker” and wondered why he had not released his tax returns.  Trump fired back, suggesting the 83-year old Justice resign.  Certainly if this election were to somehow end up in the lap of the High Court, in the manner of 2000, Ginsburg would be expected to recuse herself, but probably would not. A judicial ethics code binds lower-court judges, but not Supreme Court justices; it forbids judges from endorsing or even speaking about political candidates.

Natural News[3] chalked up the Justice’s bizarre behavior (and similar incidents) as evidence of “chemo-brain” a common aliment resulting from chemotherapy, associated with Ginsburg’s 2009 bout with pancreatic cancer.

After none other than the “Gray Lady” herself, the New York Times, published a “smack-down,”[4] the Justice walked her statement back by expressing regret.[5]

The “non-politicization” of the Supreme Court is a standing joke, everyone in America realizes the court crossed that threshold a long, long time ago.  Nevertheless, what constitutes “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” remains undefined.  Did Ginsburg cross the line?

Cultural Issues in the Courts.  Here’s Focus on the Family’s latest take.[6]

1st Amendment – Right of Conscience

Apparently, quoting the Bible’s has become a “crime against humanity,” or will soon be if the Ugandan homosexual plaintiffs win their case against the American pastor who had the audacity to do so.[7]  Hopefully the American judge will not revert to or reference international law in deciding the case.

Progressives have become apoplectic over the First Amendment Defense Act , H.R.2802,[8] which “Prohibits the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”  Has your Congressman co-sponsored the bill?  Why not?

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings on the bill this week, and several homosexuals testified that they agreed in principle that no one should be fired, as Atlanta’s fire chief was, over their personal view on this issue, they didn’t think the FADA was the right legislation to enact that protection.  “OK, you draft a bill that will do so,” is what I’d have said to the witnesses if I were the Committee Chairman.

A similar piece of legislation concerning personal views on abortion, H.R.4828, The Conscience Protection Act of 2016,[9] has passed the House In a bipartisan 245-182 vote, and now faces a tough battle in the Senate.

2nd Amendment – Is it a Right for Everyone?

Gun control fanatics will grasp at any straws to limit the possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens.  The latest comes from Illinois,[10] one of the biggest gun-grabber” states.  If you and your spouse hope to adopt a foster child in that state, prepare to give up any weapons you may own if you don’t wish to render them incapable of being used for home defense.  What will they think of next?

The problem here is that while you may have an unalienable right to “keep and bear” firearms, there is no similar unalienable right to adopt a child, that is something we’ve allowed to come under the complete control of the state.  I’m predicting that the couple will lose at the lower court level and only prevail (maybe) if the decision is appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

Recommendations and Events:

We The People – The Constitution Matters Radio Show.

On Friday, 22 July, we will discuss these words from the Declaration of Independence: “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.”  Which of America’s “Princes” have turned out to be unfit to be “the ruler of a free people?”  What should be our criteria in choosing a President in the future?

I invite you to browse to www.1180wfyl.com  (7-8am EDT) and then join the discussion by calling in.  If you miss the recorded show, aim for the re-broadcast Saturday at 11am and Sunday at 2pm or download the podcast at leisure.

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] https://judiciary.house.gov/press-release/goodlatte-marino-ratcliffe-applaud-passage-bill-restore-balance-branches-government/?utm_source=The+Gavel+Newsletter&utm_campaign=0b47a438e3-July_15_Newsletter7_15_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e2a6777f0f-0b47a438e3-41345745

[2] https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title5/pdf/USCODE-2011-title5-partI-chap7-sec706.pdf

[3] http://www.naturalnews.com/054650_Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg_chemo_brain_Donald_Trump.html

[4] http://conservativebyte.com/2016/07/ny-times-editorial-board-smacks-down-justice-ginsburg/

[5] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/ginsburg-expresses-regret-over-remarks-criticizing-trump/2016/07/14/f53687bc-49cc-11e6-bdb9-701687974517_story.html?wpisrc=nl_most-draw7&wpmm=1

[6] 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

[7] http://www.wnd.com/2016/07/criticizing-homosexuality-now-crime-against-humanity/#!

[8] https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/2802

[9] http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2016/us-house-members-in-bipartisan-vote-pass-conscience-protection-act.cfm

[10] http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2016/07/14/illinois-family-wants-to-adopt-foster-child-but-may-be-forced-to-give-up-their-second-amendment-rights-to-do-so/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Firewire%20Morning%20Edition%20Recurring%20v2%202016-07-15&utm_term=Firewire_Morning_Test

The Constitution’s Week in Review – 9 July 16

Article 1 – The Legislature

A few of you may not subscribe to National Review magazine.[1]  That is unfortunate because NR has some of the best contributing writers in the conservative world.  Each issue is chock-a-block full of interesting articles.  Senator Mike Lee has written a particularly fitting one in the current issue entitled: “The Incredible Shirking Congress[2] (I know, it is easy to read the title as the “Incredible Shrinking Congress” at first glance).

Lee lays out a persuasive argument that our mess in Washington is largely Congress’ fault and won’t be fixed until Congress steps up to the plate and resumes the dominant role the Founders intended them to have in the national government.  Congress writes overly vague laws and allows executive branch agencies to “fill in the details,” which the unelected bureaucrats in those agencies are more than happy to do.  Lee points out that Congress passed and President Obama signed 3,291 pages of new legislation in 2014; but that same year executive agencies issued 79,066 pages of new regulations!  Congress also has abandoned regular order in the authorization and appropriate process.  Despite the President’s desire for deficit spending, Congress must appropriate every penny spent, so the blame for our $20 Trillion in official national debt sits on Congress’ shoulders alone.  Federal programs are routinely re-appropriated which have exceeded their authorized mandate and the annual “Pig Book[3] demonstrates that millions, if not billions, of wasteful spending takes place each year.

I encourage you to read the article in full, and then purchase a copy of Senator Lee’s book: “Our Lost Constitution,”[4] which more expansively lays out the problems that must be solved to return to true constitutional order in this country.

Article 3 – The Judiciary

Cultural Issues in the Courts.  I’ve been commenting on court cases with cultural impact for quite some time.  This week I learned of a website that does essentially the same thing and perhaps even better.  So I’m going to include a link to that site[5] in all future essays and hope you take the time to read their articles.

Here’s a nice analysis[6] of the impact my favorite Justice, Clarence Thomas, has had on the Supreme Court.

1st Amendment – Right of Conscience

More “Bias” Response Groups Appear.

Another “Bias Response Group[7] springs up, this time at Skidmore College, a liberal arts college in Saratoga Springs, New York.  Joining our police and firemen as “first responders,” the groups attempt to point out the obvious: we all have biases.  I’m biased (hopefully consistently) in favor of good over evil.  That is a bias we should wish on everyone.  But the Bias Response Groups are not interested in promoting “good” bias, only calling out “bad” bias (as they define it).

It was news to me to learn that writing the phrase: “Make America Great Again” on a college whiteboard reflects a “bad” bias (rather than support for Donald Trump).  Perhaps we are intended to take from this is that support for Donald Trump himself reflects a “bad” bias.

Regardless, you can see how quickly this can, and has gotten out of hand.  I wonder whether eight years ago a Bias Response Group would have come running if “Fundamentally Transform America” was found surreptitiously written on a college whiteboard.  These are not really Bias Response Groups, as anyone can plainly see; they are “Politically Incorrect Bias Response Groups.”  And Free Speech continues its slow but inexorable death in America.

Representative John Fleming [R-LA-4] and Senator James Lankford, [R-OK] have introduced the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 (H.R.4828 in the House, S.2927 in the Senate)

These bills (and similar ones) will provide legal protection for healthcare workers and organizations that do not wish to participate in or support the abortion industry in any way.  Although there is an email floating around stating that the House bill will be voted on on Wednesday, 13 July, the current House and Senate websites show both bills still tied up in either committee or subcommittee.  Nevertheless, if you support these bills, contacting the members of the committees or your own representatives would be an appropriate way to register your support.

The Effort To Destroy Christian Doctrine Continues.

The effort to push Christianity from the public square continues unabated.  Dating sites, like ChristianMingle.com,[8] with a publically Christian focus must now grant access to homosexuals seeking relationships with their same sex[9] even if that runs counter to the organization’s firmly held biblical standards.

Freedom of conscience continues to be transformed in America.  Soon you’ll be able to think whatever you want, privately.  If you try to express certain beliefs publically, or, heaven forbid, act on them, you will find yourself on the wrong side of the law.  Even some Supreme Court Justices, such as Associate Justice Sam Alito, are becoming alarmed at the mounting anti-Christian bias in the courts.

And Christian pastors remain silent.  Nothing to see here folks, move along.  Where does your pastor stand on this?  Do they deserve your continued support?

2nd Amendment –  Where Do We Go From Here?

Dallas. The tragedy in Dallas, overshadowing the two civilian deaths at the hands of policemen that preceded it (and which may indeed have sparked it), deserves more than a passing remark.

Reactions will be predictable: from the Left: disarm the public, who have demonstrated that they can’t be trusted to resolve anger without the use of firearms; from the Right: arm everyone and prosecute groups, like Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, which advocate violence against anyone, particularly the police.  Neither of these responses addresses the root problem: racial distrust.

In the wake of Dallas, the Minnesota officer’s reaction to the innocuous movement of hands by a black man who had just told the officer he was armed, takes on a new perspective.  Why would any armed white policeman fear a routine traffic stop with a black motorist (over a broken tail light, no less) enough to fire his weapon at the slightest movement of the motorist’s hands?  Is there any better illustration of the state of race relations in this country?  We have heard repeatedly that blacks fear confrontations with white policemen, now we see there is equal fear in white policemen over confrontations with black motorists.

Certainly the nation’s policemen, in the days and weeks which follow, have reason to be cautious, on or off the job, as further shootings of policemen have demonstrated.  And just as certainly, motorists and pedestrians alike must learn to calmly and explicitly comply with an officer’s instructions, avoiding any appearance of confrontation.

These events have revealed deeply ingrained opinions, whether right or wrong, whether justified or not, about other races, which points to the urgent need for dialogue.  We have to come together, talk to one another, and try to better understand each other’s point of view, each other’s prejudices.  We have to understand how these preconceived notions were created in the first place.  And then we need to develop better methods of resolving complaints.

Our nations’ churches are the most obvious and the best place for this dialogue to occur, and no doubt some courageous pastors have already taken steps to facilitate these discussions.  But many will not; many pastors have become so fearful of offending someone, anyone, so fearful of driving away a potential contributor, that they are paralyzed by their own fear.  They will boldly preach the Gospel, but purposefully avoid addressing cultural issues.  This must stop.

Is it a “No-Fly” or a “No-Buy” List?  More information continues to dribble out about individuals unfortunate enough to share a name with a known terrorist and end up on the FBI’s infamous “No-Fly List.”[10]  It is not so much that occasional but inevitable mistakes might be made by nameless unelected bureaucrats, it is the arduous, sometimes years-long process of rectifying the situation and getting your name removed from the list.  If you don’t enjoy the political pull of a Congressman or a state elected official, good luck.  It is called the “law of unintended consequences” and it works in conjunction with the 2nd Amendment as well.

4th Amendment.

I reported on this issue barely a month ago (4 June 16); it refuses to go away.

Could someone tell me why it takes “four years, two congressional hearings, and countless pleas to the IRS and Justice Department” to convince the IRS to return property it never should have taken in the first place?[11]  Pity the poor citizen who doesn’t think to involve his Congressional representatives in staring down this out-of-control agency.

The issue is “structuring,” a term applied to depositing or withdrawing your own money from your own bank account in a way that the IRS believes is intended to avoid mandatory reporting of transactions – such reporting becomes required at the “magic” $10,000 mark.  Disregard the fact that you may be keeping transactions below $10K merely to keep your bank from having to go through the rigamarole, the time and expense, of submitting what you see as unnecessary or even unconstitutional reports.

To the IRS you’re a drug dealer, pure and simple, there could be no other reason for your behavior, so, chucking your right of due process in the dustbin, the IRS seizes your bank account, all of it, apparently so you don’t try to withdraw the money and flee the country.

I’m sure there are many fine upstanding citizens working for the IRS.  I’m equally sure are many partisan apparatchiks trying their best to use the power of their office for partisan ends.  I reported recently (18 June 16) that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed a “Contempt of Congress” resolution against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.  I suspect Speaker Paul Ryan will refuse to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote.  If you agree with the Speaker’s action, do nothing; if you feel that is shirking a duty, the Speaker’s office awaits your letter, phone call or email.

Recommendations and Events:

Constitution Seminars.

I am now scheduling Constitution Seminars for the month of October.  If you want one for your church or community group, please let me know ASAP.

Last Call: Lessons in Liberty.  On Monday, July 11, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. EDT, The Foundation for American Christian Education’s Lessons in Liberty series will welcome Jim Wallis, who will speak on the topic: Was Jesus a Socialist?  You can attend in the FACE classroom in Chesapeake, Virginia, or live online via Livestream.

The lecture will explore the divergence of both Christianity and the Jewish people from their covenantal, Hebraic roots, and will take on related questions such as: “Was the early church communal in the modern Marxist sense?” and “How about the Moses/Joshua Hebrew model, was it a republic or a theocracy?”

The cost to attend, either in the classroom or online, is $10.  Register at http://www.face.net/.

We The People – The Constitution Matters Radio Show.

 

On Friday, 15 July, we will discuss the principle of “petitioning the government for a redress of grievances.”  This principle, mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, had a long history in English law and the colonists felt a moral obligation to use it before claiming the right of separation.  Parliament and the King ignored their petitions and forced both sides into a costly war.  In 1789, James Madison ensured we would continue to enjoy the right by securing it in the First Amendment.

 

I invite you to browse to www.1180wfyl.com  (7-8am EDT) and then join the discussion by calling in.  If you miss the recorded show, it is re-broadcast each Saturday at 11am and Sunday at 2pm.

 

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] https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine

[2] https://www.nationalreview.com/magazine/2016-07-11-0100/legislative-judicial-branch-powers-warped

[3] http://www.cagw.org/reporting/pig-book

[4] https://www.amazon.com/Our-Lost-Constitution-Subversion-Americas/dp/159184777X

[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://dailysignal.com/2016/07/01/25-years-later-clarence-thomas-transformed-supreme-court/?utm_source=TDS_Email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Top5&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWXpGalpUSm1aVEE0TUdSaSIsInQiOiJMVmZNMk12VktHM3hjVHI5Um1CZ1JUb3RjMVhKRnBteUtHb0xtYko4WDRMdXZaOVhweGwrWWs1NG4xXC85ZXFoblZKR29iRWlpSmoyM2hSRFc0MWlxbzY4XC82U1ZrN3o0R2loSEpkdGpYSjM0PSJ9

[7] http://eaglerising.com/34732/read-the-messages-left-on-college-whiteboards-that-were-deemed-to-be-racialized-targeted-attacks/

[8] https://www.christianmingle.com/

[9] http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2016/07/03/several-faith-based-dating-sites-now-required-to-allow-users-to-search-for-same-sex-matches/324760/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Firewire%20Morning%20Edition%20Recurring%20v2%202016-07-04&utm_term=Firewire_Morning_Test

[10] http://dailysignal.com/2016/07/03/fbi-flagged-this-congressman-as-a-terrorist-why-he-opposes-a-new-gun-ban/?utm_source=TDS_Email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MorningBell&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWm1VNVpHSTVPVFF5T0dNMSIsInQiOiJPclV2b0NDSXJSbTZtT2IwOWRxRWpTSDRidmxXSW1JTFNsOFJ6NFwvbXFSMVwveWh2aGZPTFwvSkQ5WklZVFk4clptRXoxUWdhRkp3RVwvYTd1RDloZVlPZ2E2REszMExFMm56WnpwTllHb3liWGs9In0%3D

[11] http://dailysignal.com/2016/06/29/irs-to-return-30k-it-seized-from-maryland-dairy-farmers/?utm_source=TDS_Email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Top5&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWXpGalpUSm1aVEE0TUdSaSIsInQiOiJMVmZNMk12VktHM3hjVHI5Um1CZ1JUb3RjMVhKRnBteUtHb0xtYko4WDRMdXZaOVhweGwrWWs1NG4xXC85ZXFoblZKR29iRWlpSmoyM2hSRFc0MWlxbzY4XC82U1ZrN3o0R2loSEpkdGpYSjM0PSJ9

Constitutional Corner – A Long Train of Abuses and Usurpations

Open as PDF

Mr. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is often quoted in order to expound upon the principles found in its preamble, introduction and closing.  “We hold these Truths to be self evident,” “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” and so on.  These principles are indeed incredibly important to an understanding of our present form of republican government, emplaced twelve years later by the Constitution.  The Declaration is the “thought and spirit” of our government while the Constitution is the “body and letter,” says the Supreme Court in more than one opinion.[1]  It is impossible to have a complete understanding of the Constitution without first understanding the principles of the Declaration.  If Jefferson’s “self-evident” truths are, in fact: truth, they should be as relevant today as they were in 1776.  Truths, like facts, are “stubborn things.”

Yet the middle section of Jefferson’s Declaration, commonly called the “Complaints Section” is often ignored and little studied.  Did the colonists have valid justification to separate from their mother country?  Had they really experienced a “long train of abuses and usurpations” as Jefferson had claimed?  Were the complaints real or imagined?

Jefferson rightly perceived that “all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”  Few people, by their nature, seek conflict and turmoil.  Most of us want nothing more than to be left alone, to conduct our lives with as little interference by government as is possible.  We are reluctant to complain, to cause disturbance; we must be goaded into protesting (unless paid to do so by George Soros).  In this regard, we are no different from Americans of 1776; most of us are reluctant to “upset the apple cart.”

The majority of Jefferson’s complaints in the Declaration trace back no earlier than the 1760s.  To be sure, the colonists had legitimate complaints dating back to the 1630 Navigation Laws, enacted under Charles I.  Interfering with colonial trade, both coming and going, could easily be termed an “abuse,” but to the colonists of the time these were perceived as not much more than an annoyance.  The 1699  Wool Act (enacted under William & Mary) forbade the export of wool from any American colony unless it was sold in the English market, yet the Act itself affected few individuals. Jefferson ignores these.

The 1733 Molasses Act (enacted under George II) affected many more.  It made the cheaper French West Indies molasses, used for making rum, suddenly much more expensive than its British West Indies counterpart.  A vibrant smuggling industry sprang up.  Yet Jefferson only refers to these and other “tax abuses” with the collective complaint of “imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.”

The 1765 Stamp Act (enacted five years after George III assumed the throne) was the first “abuse” with near universal affect.  Every colonist used paper of some sort.  Wills and other legal documents, newspapers, playing cards, everything made of paper would suddenly be considerably more expensive once the Act went into effect.  Protests up and down the colonies served to make matters worse; they steeled Parliament’s resolve to “make laws and statutes … in all cases whatsoever.”[2]

The Declaration was seen by the British as an affront, an embarrassment, emanating from an “ungrateful and rebellious people.”  Thomas Hutchinson, former Governor of Massachusetts wrote a point-by-point refutation.[3] British barrister John Lind also took up the gauntlet so that the King need not “descend to altercation with revolted subjects.”[4]  Did the British government actually aim at the establishment of “an absolute Tyranny over these States?”  Hutchinson and Lind scoffed at the idea.  Today, looking back across 240 years, some conclude: “it is clear that the British government was the furthest removed from despotism of any in Europe.”[5]  Yet, perspective can change everything, and, spurred on by Jefferson’s luminous words, the Americans fought, and prevailed.

Philosopher David Hume wrote: “It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.”  Jefferson’s “long train of abuses” ran for, at most, forty years before the colonists finally decided “enough is enough,” and even up to the day of the vote for independence on July 2nd, many were convinced that the threshold requiring separation had not been reached, that reconciliation was not only possible, but preferred.  But is America of 2016 experiencing its own “train of abuses?” How long has this been going on, and do our complaints rise to the level of those that precipitated America’s first civil war?

It is tempting to look only at the last eight years to construct our “train.”  But that would be unfair to the many abusers of the past: LBJ, who, as a Senator, pushed through the Johnson Amendment which has prevented pastors in America from exercising the right of free speech enjoyed by every other citizen; Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who threatened to pack the Supreme Court with “yes men” if the Court didn’t start finding New Deal legislation constitutional (it promptly did!); Woodrow Wilson, to whom we owe our current Administrative State and the idea of a “living Constitution;” Teddy Roosevelt, who said that the powers of the President were unlimited except for those specifically prohibited by the Constitution; Abraham Lincoln, whose multiple violations of the Constitution were willingly acknowledged – all in the name of “emergency” (the first invocation of “never let a crisis go to waste”); John Adams, whose Alien & Sedition Laws sparked the young nation’s first Nullification Crisis; all the way back to Alexander Hamilton, whose “big government” ideas laid the foundation for today’s Leviathan.  These are only a few; the list is very long indeed.

But America’s “long train of abuses” has one distinct difference from what was experienced by the colonists: our “despotism” is not imposed by a remote government 3500 miles distant (OK, Californians might object to that statement, and Hawaiians/Alaskans clearly have a point); our “despotism” was self-imposed.  If, in America “we are the government and the government is us,” we have no one to blame but ourselves.  Our own ignorance, complacency, and sloth have produced our current constitutional crisis and current state of “soft-tyranny.”  If we are ever to rescue true liberty from its current captivity, we the people will have to also change in the process; otherwise history will most certainly repeat itself.

I will delay my discussion of the specifics of what I feel constitutes our “long train of abuses and usurpations” and what I think we should do about it until this Friday morning, July 8th, from 7-8am EDT.  But I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t just concern the Presidents (and Hamilton) who I listed above.

I will invite you to join us, on “We the People – the Constitution Matters” as we discuss “abuses and usurpations” and decide whether we have reached the point where we have a duty to “provide new Guards for [our] future security.”  You can listen to the live discussion at www.1180wfyl.com and call in with your questions or comments at 610-5398255.  See you then.

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[1] Example: Gulf, C. & S. F. R. CO. v. Ellis, 165 U.S. 150 (1897)

[2] As stated in the Declaratory Act.

[3] http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/1776-hutchinson-strictures-upon-the-declaration-of-independence

[4] John Lind, An Answer to the Declaration of the American Colonies.  Accessed at: https://archive.org/details/cihm_20519

[5] Howard H. Peckham,  Independence: The View from Britain, accessed at: http://www.americanantiquarian.org/proceedings/44498108.pdf

 

The Constitution’s Week in Review – 25 June 16

Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2: Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings

Our Infantile Congressmen (some of them at least)

House Rule XXIII: “A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”[1]

Democrats, upset at not being allowed to vote on gun control legislation they have proposed, threw a childish temper tantrum[2] on Wednesday by “occupying” the floor of the House.  Taking their cue from the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements, the Congressmen and women attempted to shut down House business and were ruled out of order.  I suspect they will not be censured for their violation of rules of decorum.

Article 3 – The Judiciary

On Thursday, the Supreme Court announced opinions in five cases.

In what was described as a “crushing blow” to the Obama administration, the court’s 4-4 opinion in United States v. Texas left intact a lower court ruling that the Obama administration had exceeded its authority in deferring the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants.[3]  Scalia’s vote would have made this 5-4, with the same immediate result, although the tie vote allows the court to revisit the decision after they fill the empty seat.

The Court affirmed the lower court in Fisher v. University of Texas at AustinThis allows the University of Texas to continue discriminating against qualified applicants in the name of diversity without having to demonstrate whether that diversity is needed or has improved the educational experience.  Interestingly, when I heard the decision announced on the radio driving around town Thursday there was great confusion over whether Justice Kagan had recused herself; some thought she had, some that she had not.  The 4-3 decision reveals she did, in fact, recuse herself and SCOTUSBlog confirms.  Kagan’s vote would almost certainly have made it 5-3 with the same result.  Scalia would have brought it up to 5-4 but that would not have changed things.

In three related cases,[4] the Justices ruled that imposing criminal penalties for refusing to take a breath test when suspected of drunk driving is OK but that criminal penalties for failing to take a blood test violate the Constitution.  I’ve not yet had time to read the decisions to see what logic produced the different results, but I suspect the intrusive nature of the blood test over the largely non-intrusive breath test was the discriminator.

1st Amendment – Right of Conscience

We experienced an amazing four-day mini-course at the Foundation for American Education this week as Dr. Gai Ferdon of Liberty University spoke on “The Welfare State – $20 Trillion Later.”  I anticipate FACE will make recordings of the four sessions available in the near future, and you should consider purchasing after-the-fact access.  Dr. Ferdon, covered all the history and the principles of good government that have been violated over the years as the U.S. has moved inexorably to The Welfare State.  A related topic, covered on the last night, is the wholesale violation of Right of Conscience. Right of Conscience is supposedly secured by the First Amendment and Dr. Ferdon took us through some of the arguments that helped shape the exposition of the right during the Founding Period.

Right of Conscience is dying a slow death in this country, as I discussed on my radio show this morning (the podcast should be up on Monday or you can listen to a re-broadcast on Saturday (11:00 am) or Sunday (2:00pm).  Now comes news that California (who’d have guessed?) is requiring churches to pay for abortions[5] for staff members.

2nd Amendment – Never Let a Shooting Go To Waste

The Supreme Court rejected an opportunity[6] to address a state “assault gun” ban, leaving New York’s and Connecticut’s onerous bans in place.  This was most likely done because Chief Justice Roberts foresaw an expected 4-4 tie that would have left the lower court ruling in place.

The quest for a “compromise” bill to prohibit the purchase of guns by those on the No fly List continued this week with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introducing a supposedly “bi-partisan” bill[7].  Question: was Omar Mateen on the nation’s No-fly List?  I’ve not seen anything that suggests he was, so this is just one more attempt at gun control unrelated to recent incidents.  The linked article contains a point-by-point rebuttal of the features of Collins’ bill.

Recommendations:

Constitution Seminars.  I have no Constitution Seminars scheduled at the moment.  If you have a group of 10 or more individuals within a day’s drive of Yorktown, Virginia, and would like one presented, let me know via email to: gary@constitutionleadership.org.   Keep in mind that I’ll be unavailable from 1 August to 18 September.

Lessons in Liberty.  On Monday, July 11, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. EDT, The Foundation for American Christian Education’s Lessons in Liberty series will welcome Jim Wallis, who will speak on the topic: Was Jesus a Socialist?  You can attend in the FACE classroom in Chesapeake, Virginia, or live online via Livestream.

This lecture explores the divergence of both Christianity and the Jewish people from their covenantal, Hebrew roots. And will take on a related questions such as, “Was the early church communal in the modern Marxist sense?” and “How about the Moses/Joshua Hebrew model, was it a republic or a theocracy?”

The cost to attend, either in the classroom or online, is $10.  Register at http://www.face.net/.

STAND Awakening Conference.  Those of you who live in the Tidewater area should try not to miss the STAND Awakening Conference, 1-3 Jul,y here in Chesapeake, VA.  I’ll see you there.

We the People – The Constitution Matters.  On July 1st, I’ll be interviewing Denver, Colorado lawyer and author Jenna Ellis about her recent book: The Legal Basis for a Moral Constitution.  In the book, Jenna lays out a rock-solid case that the Constitution is a moral document and must be interpreted as such.   You can listen to the pre-recorded interview at www.1180wfyl.com on Friday from 7-8am EDT.  On 8 July, we’ll resume our discussion of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

 

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] Rules of the House of Representatives, One Hundred Fourteenth Congress, January 6, 2015.

[2] http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/dems-shut-down-house-floor-to-protest-for-gun-control/article/2594589

[3] http://kfor.com/2016/06/23/supreme-court-announces-split-decision-on-controversial-immigration-programs/

[4] Birchfield v. North Dakota, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Beylund v. Levi

[5] http://www.lifenews.com/2016/06/21/obama-administration-forces-california-churches-to-pay-for-abortions

[6] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-guns-idUSKCN0Z61JE

[7] http://townhall.com/tipsheet/katiepavlich/2016/06/22/the-susan-collins-gun-control-bill-is-a-nightmare-for-innocent-americans-n2182134