Constitutional Corner – The War in the Courts

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In his 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution,[1] the eminent jurist Joseph Story wrote:

“The truth is, that, even with the most secure tenure of office, during good behavior, the danger is not, that the judges will be too firm in resisting public opinion, and in defence of private rights or public liberties; but, that they will be ready to yield themselves to the passions, and politics, and prejudices of the day.”

It is no secret that the Left has declared war on Donald Trump. From his election on November 8th onward it has been “open season” on all things Trump, whether rampant vandalism[2] at his various commercial properties to perpetual protests to snide remarks over Melania’s choice of apparel at official functions.[3]

It is also no secret that certain federal judges have “yield[ed] themselves to the passions, and politics, and prejudices of the day.” Not content with that, some seem to have actively enlisted in the Left’s “army.” While rank-and-file Progressives can only don sackcloth, wail and gnash their teeth over Trump’s dismantling of the Progressive edifice Obama labored eight years to erect, progressive federal judges are actually in a position to act with effect.

Not that they should be. Alexander Hamilton, in one of his most famous statements, called the judiciary the “least dangerous branch.” How wrong he was. Today, federal judges are the “go-to guys” for bypassing representative government; helping Progressives achieve in the courtroom what they have no chance of achieving in the Congress. But this is the doctrine the American people have been lulled into embracing:

“To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy,” said Jefferson.

Progressives seem quite comfortable with “despotism of an oligarchy” – particularly when the oligarchs share their own progressive views.

Which brings us to District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith.

Judge Goldsmith, nominated by Barack Obama, has ordered a temporary injunction[4] against the Justice Department’s attempts to deport hundreds of illegal immigrants they either have in custody or whose locations are known.  Judge Goldsmith believes that the courts should have a say in whether a particular alien should or should not be deported. He even carved out a new Constitutional duty for the courts: “Constitutional First Responders:” “Under the law, the federal district courts are generally the ‘first responders’ when rights guaranteed by the Constitution require protection.” Really? I’ve searched Article III high and low; neither the term “First Responder” nor the concept are to be found therein. I can’t think of a better example of a “judicial activism.”

“First Responder?”Congress takes a different view. The law in question, Title 8 U.S. Code § 1227, prohibits interference in deportation cases; it flat out says:

“No court shall have jurisdiction to review a [deportation] decision of the Attorney General to grant or deny a waiver …”

This is called “jurisdiction stripping,” a power the Congress was granted in Article 3, Section 2:

“In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.” (Emphasis added)

This little-known provision of the Constitution has even been tested in the Supreme Court. During the Reconstruction period, Congress withdrew jurisdiction from a case the U.S. Supreme Court was in the process of adjudicating (ex parte McCardle).[5] They had heard oral arguments but had not yet rendered a decision. Upon being informed of the bill Congress had just passed limiting their jurisdiction in the matter at hand, lo and behold, the high court shut down the case mid-stream. Congress has the power and the Supreme Court agrees.  Or you could say: the people, through their elected representatives, have the power, the courts must follow orders. Abraham Lincoln would agree:

“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” (Emphasis added)

One might argue that judicial stripping only applies to the Supreme Court, since that is the only court mentioned in the clause, that it does not apply to the federal courts below. But recall that the Constitution requires only “one supreme Court, and … such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” All these “inferior” courts exist at the pleasure of Congress; Congress created them and Congress can dissolve them through a simple act of Congress (provided the bill survives a Presidential veto). Sort of like the angry Mom saying to the up-start child: “I brought you into this world, I can take you out.” Does it make sense that the lower courts would enjoy a power denied the Supreme Court?

Apparently Judge Goldsmith believes this feature of the Constitution is, well, unconstitutional. To be clear, he admitted he was not completely certain whether or not he had jurisdiction in deportation matters, but he then went on to announce that it was up to him to decide this question! Say what? To give him time to figure it out, he ordered a stay to the deportations. Wrong answer, judge.

Certainly when Judge Goldsmith went through law school he was exposed to a legal principle called: “Nemo judex in causa sua;” which translates to “no man should be a judge in his own cause.”  This is a universal principle of justice; the saying itself was first attributed to Sir Edward Coke in the 17th century. Rendered another way: “no person should judge a case in which they have an interest.”

So what do we the people do when we have federal judges “going rogue,” making indefensible decisions, judging their own jurisdiction in a matter?  The word that comes to mind is “impeachment.”  In Federalist 65, Alexander Hamilton calls impeachment “a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men.”

Can you impeach a judge for an improper decision?  That’s where it gets tricky.

We’ve impeached a bunch of federal judges and justices over the years.  Wikipedia puts the count at sixty-one as of 2003.[6] But none of these were impeached for their decisions, only for misbehavior. There’s an unwritten rule – a sort of “gentlemen’s agreement” — to help keep the courts separate from partisan politics, judges (and justices) will not be impeached for their decisions.

But where is the line between a horrendous decision and judicial malpractice?  Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, Roe v. Wade, and few other decisions come to mind.

Over the years Congress has impeached (and the Senate convicted) federal judges for all sorts of misbehavior; Drunkenness, graft/corruption, Tax evasion, to name just a few. There have also been judges impeached for “abuse of power.”  The impeachment of district Judge James H. Peck[7] provides an example.  Peck was impeached for “usurping a power which the laws of the land did not give him.”  He was subsequently acquitted, but “usurping power” sounds suspiciously similar to “deciding one’s own jurisdiction.”

If there is any good news to this story, it is that there are over a hundred vacancies in the federal court system (120) and Trump has begun to fill them, with conservatives.  The only wrinkle is an archaic Senate rule that requires both of a state’s senators to agree to advance a judicial nomination of someone from their state by forwarding what are called “Blue Slips.”[8]  No “Blue Slips,” no nomination.  To their credit, Republicans have threatened to revoke the rule if Democrats start using it to stop otherwise qualified nominations.  Like the filibuster, time to get rid of another archaic Senate rule.

If you are upset by any of this, what can you do? Term limits on federal judges might solve some of the problem, or at least minimize the chances for continued judicial malpractice, but even that could backfire.  Might a judge facing a limited term be even more tempted to misbehave knowing he has only a short time to do so and face any consequences?

Opening up impeachment in response to decisions which clearly do not respect the original understanding of the Constitution (its not that hard to discern) would be another remedy.  One or two impeachment proceedings would send a strong message to judges that it’s time to dust off those old copies of Federalist.

And of course you can ask your two Senators whether they intend to use the Blue Slip method to block judicial appointments.

The last remedy I’ll mention comes from my co-commentator on my radio show: “We the People – the Constitution Matters,”[9] Phil Duffy. Phil is convinced that Article 3 was drafted in haste and is woefully deficient in delineating the powers of the judiciary.  It is hard to argue given the problems we’re experiencing today with these black-robed tyrants. Article 3 begs a complete re-write.  That would require either an Article V convention or a full-blown Constitutional Convention, both extremely high hurdles in today’s environment.

America has to come to grips with what the federal judiciary has become. It is not what the Framers intended. Both sides of the aisle are guilty of “judge-shopping” and that only exacerbates the problem. Only judges who pledge to interpret the Constitution in the context of its original meaning should sit on the federal bench.

The American people need to step up to the plate and once again become “the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts.”  Just saying.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commentaries_on_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

[2] http://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-vandalism-golf-courses-walk-fame-star-567057

[3] http://www.westernjournalism.com/melania-trumps-fashion-choice-at-wounded-warrior-event-makes-waves-on-social-media/

[4] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jul/12/judge-rules-courts-can-stop-trump-deportations/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex_parte_McCardle

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment_investigations_of_United_States_federal_judges

[7] http://tinyurl.com/y99vts4h

[8] https://www.getamericapraying.com/blog/senate-blue-slip-procedure-and-judicial-appointments/

[9] http://www.1180wfyl.com/programs.html

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

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

Open as PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were they justified in doing so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where is God’s Providence today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1789.

[3] October 12, 1816.

[4] Malachi 3:6 KJV.

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

Constitution’s Week in Review – 20 August 2016

As I watched some of the Olympics coverage this week I couldn’t help reflect on the central role “rules” play in an ordered society.  Image if two soccer teams showed up for their match and the refs announced that the rules were mere “guidelines,” that the public expected them (the refs) to “keep up with the times.” “In the end,” says the Head Ref, “the final score will be determined by how well we think each team played.”

I suspect: “Say what?” would be the mildest of the reactions from the players.

Yet the American public seems to not care much whether our government plays by the rules of the Constitution or not.  Just saying.

It Seems To Be All About The First Amendment This Week.

Can a church operate on Biblical beliefs? I wonder how many states, besides Iowa, have a “Civil Rights Commission.”  My guess is that most do.  Does your state?  If so, you might want to start monitoring it to see if its members intend to follow the lead of Iowa’s Commission (ICRC).

In 2007, the Iowa legislature expanded the state’s Civil Rights Act to make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The ICRC then issued an online brochure[1] that stated churches would “sometimes” be held accountable for the guidelines.  Naturally, this caused great confusion among the state’s churches, with some charging that the ICRC was forcing gender-neutral bathrooms on them[2] and even that the ICRC intended to monitor sermons for compliance.  Those on the Left called it a non-issue.[3]  With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, other churches filed suit to have the brochure clarified.[4]

It appears the ICRC has no intention, for now, of filing complaints against churches for failing to allow gender-confused individuals to use the bathroom of their choice or for preaching bible-based admonitions against homosexuality.  But there remains great confusion over whether churches must become “members-only” in order to be totally immune.

How’s gender-confusion being dealt with in your state?

Mosques vs Churches.  Does the First Amendment require government at every level to accommodate every religion equally?  I know what the Framers of the Constitution would have said.  We’ll soon find out what today’s courts think.

Muslims of Sterling Heights, Michigan, asked for a zoning waiver that would allow them to build a second mosque in the city, and were turned down.  Claiming bigotry, the Muslims filed suit[5] and, rather than wait for the suit to be resolved, the Obama administration jumped into the fray and launched their own investigation of the claim.

If a Christian Church had instead been denied a zoning variance for similar reasons, I doubt the result would be a lawsuit.  But the way things are going in this country, with Christians being told to “shut up and color,” I won’t be surprised to see churches being similarly restricted and reacting similarly.  But back to the central question: must government, in this case city government, treat all religions equally?  If a variance is given to one religion or denomination must it then be given to all?  Can there still be valid reasons for turning down a zoning request?  Or to avoid any hint of bias, must we allow Muslims in America to erect mosques wherever they desire?  The landscape of America is changing, and the pace of that change is quickening.  At some point Americans will have to decide whether they wish to retain some sort of a national identity.  What do you think?

What does Free Speech Include?  People often point to Canada as our “enlightened neighbor to the north.”  Sporting a nationalized healthcare (from which the wealthy flee to obtain their care in America) and a bold, brash young Prime Minister, it is easy to overlook the “dark side” of Canadian life.  Like this:  would we be comfortable in America with unelected commissioners dispensing fines when comedians’ jokes start crossing imaginary lines in the sand?

Quebec’s Human Rights Tribunal fined a Canadian comedian[6] $42,000 for joking about a disabled boy.  Unfortunately, the boy he chose to joke about really existed and was sort of a national icon; that certainly didn’t help.  But I think we can all agree that while such a joke is clearly in poor taste, we’re headed down a steep, steep slope if we start prosecuting people for poor taste.  On the bright side, the aisles of Walmart would quickly empty,[7]

That Nasty Bible Again.  Mikey Weinstein[8] of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation continues to wage his one-man crusade against Christianity in the Air Force, this time complaining about a Bible left in plain view on an Air Force Major’s desk.[9]  Official Air Force policy says Bibles on desks is acceptable, but that didn’t stop Mr. Weinstein, who hoped to capitalize on a ruling last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces which upheld the bad conduct court-martial of a Marine who displayed Bible verses on her computer workstation.  Weinstein’s complaint will fail, but I predict the publicity-hungry ex-Air Force officer (you don’t know how much it pains me to acknowledge Weinstein was such) will not be dissuaded.

Upcoming Events: It is shaping up to be a busy Fall.  I will be putting on at least one Constitution Seminar in either September or October in the Tidewater area, but the date and location are not yet certain.

On Tuesday, 6 September, our Natural Law Discussion Group, having finished a look at Natural Law, at least for the moment, will undertake an abridged version of Institute On The Constitution’s Duty of the Jury Course.  This course explores the traditional power of juries to judge both the law and the facts.  In the colonial period and even into the 1860s, juries routinely exercised this power.  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 next bi-monthly meeting will be 6 September from 6:30-8:30 pm in the Oyster Point area of Newport News, VA.  For the exact address, 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.  Rather than complete its death blow with a Constitutional Amendment, 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

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 issues involved.

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 in the very near future.

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.christianpost.com/news/churches-sex-segregated-bathrooms-transgender-feel-unwelcome-closed-to-public-iowa-commission-166167/

[2] http://thefederalist.com/2016/07/06/iowa-bureaucrats-force-trans-bathrooms-on-churches-forbid-non-pc-preaching/

[3] https://stream.org/iowa-civil-rights-commission-spokesperson-urges-churches-trust-wont-target-sermons-religious-practices/

[4] http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/10015

[5] http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/macomb/2016/08/10/muslims-sue-sterling-heights-mosque/88526616/

[6] http://heatst.com/culture-wars/comedian-fined-42000-for-telling-a-joke/

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj0QGecsg3Y

[8] http://www.christiannewswire.com/news/38272018.html

[9] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/aug/18/air-force-orders-investigation-bible-officers-desk/

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

 

Constitutional Corner – The Contingent Election

What if neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump receives a majority of electoral votes on November 8th?  Can’t happen?  Oh yes it can!  Our country has had two elections where none of the candidates for an office received a majority of the electoral votes (and one where there was a tie).[1]  Let’s look at a what could happen.

First, we should dispense with the notion that the popular vote for President will count for anything.  It does not.  A popular vote is not even contemplated in the Constitution.  To be precise, having the people vote for President is not even required under the Constitution.  “Electors” elect the President and Vice-President, and the selection of those electors is left entirely up to the states.  For many years the electors were appointed by the state legislatures.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution states:

“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.”

There are currently 538 electors, corresponding to 435 Representatives, 100 Senators and (by means of the 23rd Amendment) 3 electors for the District of Columbia.  A candidate receiving a majority of electoral votes (270) becomes President (the same for Vice-President).  When no candidate receives the necessary 270 electoral votes, the House of Representatives gets to choose the President and the Senate chooses the Vice-President.

In the House, a vote is taken of the three candidates receiving the most votes overall, with each state delegation allowed one vote.  The winning candidate must receive a majority of the votes, meaning 26.  If no candidate receives 26 votes on the first ballot, the voting continues until a candidate does receive that number of votes.

In 1800[2], due to mis-communication in the Democratic-Republican party, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received an the same number of electoral votes, sending the election to the House.  In the contingent election neither man initially received the necessary nine votes needed to be declared the President.  Thirty-five votes and seven days later, Jefferson still lacked the one vote needed to put him in the White House.  The efforts of Representative Alexander Hamilton broke the logjam and Jefferson was able to claim the prize.  There’s a lot more to the story and it makes a good read.

A recent poll by RealClearPolitics[3] found more than one third-party candidate “surging” in the polls (their definition of “surging” differs from mine).  If this trend continues for the next three months, however, the chances of an outright win of 270 electoral votes by either Hillary or Donald diminishes significantly.

So let’s say, for the sake of the discussion, that Donald Trump receives 265 electoral votes, Hillary 260, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson receives 15 and Green Party candidate Jill Stein the remaining 8 votes.  The contingent election in the House would occur on 6 January 2017, immediately after the joint session of Congress officially counts the cast electoral votes (see 12th and 20th Amendments).  Senators would immediately head for their chamber to conduct an election of the Vice-President (the Vice-Presidential candidates would presumably receive the same number of votes as their running mates).

In the Senate, Senators would vote individually, not as state delegations, and would select from only the top two Vice-President candidates.  Fifty-one votes would be required and the sitting Vice-president would preside, but not vote.

What would be the outcome?

If the contingent elections were held with the present Congress, Donald Trump and Mike Pence would likely win their respective elections.  Republicans hold a slim majority of 53/47 in the Senate and a wider majority of 273/162 in the House;[4] as long as no Member “defected,” the outcome would likely be Republican.  Except that these contingent elections will be conducted by a new Congress, which will have taken their seats on January 3rd.  Every single Representative and one third of the Senators are up for re-election in November and the new mix is anyone’s guess at this point.  I should also point out that Congressmen would not be bound to vote by party affiliation, they could vote anyway they feel led.  Of course, they would be expected to explain their vote to their constituency.

One final note: in the House, voting is by state delegation.  Where a delegation is split between the two major parties (Maine has one Republican and one Democrat, New Hampshire the same, and New Jersey six of each) the delegation would presumably cast a null vote, which would count for no candidate.

Over the next three months it would behoove everyone one to keep an eye on the polling for third-party candidates.  This is a critical election for America; it could even be an exciting one.

There is a lot more to discuss.  If this short essay piqued your interest, on September 12th I’ll be speaking on the “Genius of the Electoral College” as part of the Foundation for American Christian Education’s Lessons in Liberty series.  From 7-9pm, I’ll discuss the history of the College, why “contingent elections,” as we call them, now were expected to be the norm, and the project gaining traction across the country to replace the Electoral College with a National Popular Vote (without amending the Constitution!).  You can attend this event in person in Chesapeake, VA or online via Livestream.com.  Cost either way is a whopping $10 per person.  Hope to see you there.

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

[1] In 1824, Andrew Jackson received a plurality of the electoral votes but not a majority.  The House elected second-place candidate John Quincy Adams instead.  In 1837, “faithless” electors prevented Vice-Presidential candidate Richard Johnson from gaining a majority of electoral votes.  The Senate easily elected him.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1800#Results_2

[3] http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/289859-third-party-support-surging.

[4] I’m counting Independents with the Democrats.

Constitutional Corner – Impeaching Hillary

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Federalist #65 and #66.

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

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

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

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

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

The Constitution’s Week in Review – 23 July 16

Article 1 – The Legislature: Apportioned Representation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article 2 – The Executive: The Candidates and the Constitution

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

Article 3 – The Judiciary

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

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

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

1st Amendment – Right of Conscience

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

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

4th Amendment – Illegal Search

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

Recommendations and Events:

Christian Financial Concepts Presentation – The Constitution as Solution

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

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

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

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

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

We The People – The Constitution Matters Radio Show.

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

Lessons in Liberty – Preserving America’s Religious Liberty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constitutional Corner – The Character of a Prince

Open as PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] Exodus 18:21, KJV.

[5] Deuteronomy 1:13 KJV.

[6] 1 Samuel 8:10-18.

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

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

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

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

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