Constitutional Corner: Natural Law Today – A Question of Rights

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We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable (as Jefferson wrote in his first draft of the Declaration), that all men are created equal, that they are endowed (i.e., gifted/supplied/blessed) by their Creator (that would be God) with certain unalienable (i.e., non-transferable/inherent/innate/implicit) rights, among which are (at least the right to) life, (the right to enjoy) liberty, and (the freedom to pursue) happiness.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary tells us truth is “Conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with that which is, or has been, or shall be.”  Sacred meant “Entitled to reverence; venerable, inviolable.” Undeniable? That speaks for itself.

The Supreme Court in 1897 called Mr. Jefferson’s little 1300-word essay “the thought and spirit of our government,” relegating the Constitution itself to merely the “body and letter” of our government.[1]  I (and others) contend that the Constitution can only be rightly understood and interpreted in the illumination provided by the Declaration.

But let’s not take Jefferson’s view on the matter; it is, after all, rather sparse. You might prefer Alexander Hamilton’s more expansive view:

Good and wise men, in all ages, … have supposed that the deity, from the relations we stand in to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever. This is what is called the law of nature … Upon this law depend the natural rights of mankind: the Supreme Being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beatifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things, as were consistent with his duty and interest, and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety … The Sacred Rights of Mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the Hand of the Divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”[2]

Too verbose? Something more succinct? Perhaps that of John Adams:

“You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.”[3]

Declaration of Independence and Constitution signer, and drafter of the Articles of Confederation, John Dickinson, put it this way:

“Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness… We claim them from a higher source – from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives. In short they are founded on the immutable maxims of reason and justice.”[4]

Or perhaps from Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia:

“[C]an the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties (i.e. rights) are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.”[5]

The Founders who proclaimed their belief in natural law/natural rights are too numerous to list.  As Chester Antieau writes in an essay entitled Natural Rights and the Founding Fathers – The Virginians, “It would be amazing if any Revolutionary leader of the Commonwealth could be found who did not subscribe to the doctrines of natural law and right.  Moreover, the doctrine was widely held and continually expressed by the popular assemblages throughout the Commonwealth during Revolutionary days.”[6]

As Thomas West argues in his new book The Political Theory of the American Founding: Natural Rights, Public Policy, and the Moral Conditions of Freedom, “the founders shared a ‘theoretically coherent understanding’ of politics rooted in natural rights philosophy.”

So is this essay about law or rights?  Both; law begets rights and natural law begets natural, unalienable rights. The Founders understood this, nearly to a man.

As Jefferson would write late in life, the thoughts he expressed in the Declaration were nothing more than the “harmonizing sentiments of the day…an expression of the American mind.”[7]

The dual concepts of natural law and natural rights were not discovered by the Founders, these ideas had been expounded upon for millennia. Plato (427–347 B.C.), Aristotle (384–322 B.C.), Cicero (106–43 B.C.), St Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), William of Ockham (1280–1349), Richard Hooker (1554–1600), Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and Matthew Hale (1609-1676), all these men contributed to natural law thought long before John Locke (1632 –1704) — upon whom Jefferson largely relied — took up his pen. Frenchman Baron de Montesquieu (1689–1755) and Swiss thinker Emmerich de Vattel (1714-1767) later added to the assembled wisdom. The Founders studied them all.

But another set of “enlightened” political philosophers: David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant and others, were hard at work during this same timeframe dismantling the classical-traditional view of natural rights. These philosophers of the Enlightenment (who inspired the bloody French Revolution) rejected God as the author of the Natural Law, or at least diminished His significance, and elevated human reason, the “general will” that was found in legislative majorities, to the pinnacle of authority. The Enlightenment philosophers, in the words of noted historian Carl Lotus Becker, “deified nature and denatured God. Since Nature was now the new God, source of all wisdom and righteousness, it was to Nature that the eighteenth century looked for guidance, from Nature that it expected to receive the tablets of the law; and it was just as necessary now as ever for the mind of the rational creature to share in the mind of this new God, in order that his conduct, including the ‘positive laws of particular states,’ might conform to the universal purpose.”[8]

But the Founders rejected this notion. For them, natural law was “antecedent to all earthly governments,” it preceded even the creation of man; and it gave rise to natural, unalienable rights. Around that concept they built our government.

They agreed with Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), who wrote in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, published in America in 1771:[9]

This will of [man’s] maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the…direction of that motion; so, when he created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws….Such among others are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to every one his due.”[10]

Ergo, Jefferson’s “Laws of nature and Nature’s God” which gave the colonists the right to “assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station” to which they felt entitled.

But was natural law enough? Was Blackstone’s “faculty of reason” sufficient “to discover the purport of those laws?”

Blackstone himself conceded it was not. He added:

“[D]ivine providence… in compassion to the frailty, the imperfection, and the blindness of human reason, hath been pleased, at sundry times and in diverse manners, to discover and enforce its laws by an immediate and direct revelation. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the holy scriptures.”

Which leads us to the Law of Moses, i.e. the Ten Commandments.

When God inscribed: “Thou shalt not murder” on a block of stone it became “revealed or divine law,” in Blackstone’s view, and this particular commandment enshrined a right to the preservation of one’s life. “Thou shalt not steal” affirmed a right to retain property, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” affirmed a right to receive honest testimony.

But did the Israelites or even we today really need an inscription in stone to confirm that murder and lying are wrong, that human life should be preserved? When Cain slew Abel, 1500 years before Moses delivered the two tablets, did Cain really need God to personally come and tell him he had violated natural law? Abel’s blood is said to have cried out from the very ground upon which it had poured. Cain needed no reminder of the gravity of his action, as Romans 2:15 reminds us, the natural law was written on his heart, as it is ours.  But due to the “frailty” of our ability to naturally discover the natural law purely through reason, some key features had to be revealed to us.

And this was the view of the Founders.

But as we all “know,” Jefferson and the others of his time were writing in what is today considered “Founders’-speak,” a “dead language” consigned to the “dustbin of history” along with Koine Greek and Babylonian, the language of an “unenlightened age” where men had only recently cast off the geocentric theory of the solar system and still owned slaves. Or so the critics of natural rights theory would have us believe.

Today we know better, they say. “There is no god and there is no soul. Hence, there is no need for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, then immutable truth is dead and buried. There is no room for fixed and natural law or permanent moral absolutes,”[11] wrote Father of the modern public school, John Dewey.

Despite these attacks, the idea of natural law and unalienable rights still persisted.  In his January 1961 Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy reminded us that:

“The world is very different now. [M]an holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

Two years after Kennedy’s inaugural speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:” “We have waited for more than 340 years for our … God-given rights,… To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” As we will see, Dr. King is merely reciting Blackstone.

Though he did not live to enjoy the final fruits, King’s movement achieved its long-awaited goal: unjust laws were repealed and God-given rights restored. Why? Because the rights they sought were grounded in natural, immutable law — they were unalienable.

In 1991, when Clarence Thomas was nominated to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court, the New York Times noted that Thomas was “the first Supreme Court nominee in 50 years to maintain that natural law should be readily consulted in constitutional interpretation.”

His confirmation hearing put natural law back in the spotlight, with Joe Biden calling it a “dangerous” view.

For more recent evidence of this “enlightened” view we can turn to noted “political philosopher” (and lawyer) Chris Cuomo of CNN, who proclaimed recently: “Our rights do not come from God, your honor (he told Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore), and you know that. They come from man… Our laws come from collective agreement and compromise.”[12]

Did you notice Cuomo’s slight-of-hand there? He begins his statement speaking of rights and ends up talking about laws. At least he sees the connection; but since in Cuomo’s world (and many today join him in so thinking) there is no such thing as natural law, there is no such thing as a natural right. If a civil, man-made law doesn’t create a right, the right simply does not exist. Cuomo’s thinking is a natural outgrowth of the Enlightenment.

Instead of natural rights we have substituted, ala Cuomo, rights created by civil law. The rights mentioned in the Bill of Rights have become a “gift” of the Constitution. As proof: for the last ten years at least, the Whitehouse website proudly proclaims: “The 2nd Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms.

Now, to be fair, we must admit that civil law can indeed create rights, I would call these civil rights, although that term is also sometimes used to describe natural rights.  But there certainly are rights created by the consent of the governed. If we are honest we will also acknowledge that “what the government giveth, the government can taketh away.”  Civil, man-made rights, are clearly alienable; here today and perhaps gone tomorrow.  Rights bestowed by those representating the “will of the majority.”

If there is no natural law, as Thomas Aquinas put it in Summa Theologiae,, “Whatever the Prince wills, is the law.”

But let’s approach that idea with caution.  As James Madison warned: “In Republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.“ Madison called the Declarations of Rights of his time, “Parchment Barriers,” which had been violated “by overbearing majorities in every State” whenever they were “opposed to a popular current.”

If our rights are nothing more than an expression of civil law, then one moment it can be: “You have a right to life,” and the following moment it can be “We’ll decide whether life-prolonging medical care will be provided you.” One year it can be “you have a right to property” the next “you have a right to retain some portion of your property.” Your rights become whatever a majority in Congress deem important at that moment, they are neither enduring nor immutable. This is wonderful as long as your view of what’s important happens to align with that of the majority; but what if you find yourself in the minority?  What then?

So where has been the legal profession in all this?

Many, if not most lawyers of the founding period, and there were about 30 of them in the Constitutional Convention, held to Blackstone’s view.  They were called “Blackstone Men” if they did so. There were more copies of Blackstone’s Commentaries sold in America than in England.

But I would contend that most lawyers today, if asked, would not subscribe to Blackstone’s view of the law. Our nation’s law schools and a British import, legal positivism, are to blame.[13]

Enter English jurist and philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832).  Bentham, a contemporary of some of the Founders,[14] is generally regarded as the founder of the British legal positivist movement. Bentham’s “fundamental axiom” was: “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” In other words, morality, and the rights attendant to it, is determined by majority rule.

The tenets of legal positivism include:

  • There are no divine absolutes in law, or if there are, they are irrelevant to a modern legal system.
  • Law is constructed – not discovered or revealed.
  • Law evolves as man evolves.
  • Judges guide the evolution of law through their decisions.
  • To study law the scientific way, go to the original sources, i.e., the decisions of judges.

Christopher Columbus Langdell, Dean of Harvard Law School, having studied in England with Bentham’s acolytes, is credited with bringing legal positivism to American law schools. From Harvard, it quickly spread.  Today’s law schools, with a few exceptions, teach natural law in their History of Law course.  It is certainly not studied as a living, breathing part of contemporary law.

A final point: is there a relationship between natural law and civil law. We heard Dr. King insist that “An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”  Sounds a lot like Blackstone, who wrote: “This law of nature…is of course superior to any other…. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this: and such of them as are valid derive all their force…from this original.”[15]

Let that last point sink in:  No man-made law is valid unless it comports with natural law.  And since natural law and revealed law have the same “adorable source,”[16] it follows that no man-made law is valid if it contradicts revealed law found in the Bible in any way.  What does this imply about “laws” which allow for the killing of the unborn?

Like the rest of God’s creation, natural law and natural rights remain with us, in the background perhaps, waiting to be rediscovered and returned to their rightful place of prominence in our society.

If you are content to have your rights decided by a vote of the majority, to have the majority decide whether you may speak freely, whether or not you can assemble or associate, whether you may follow your conscience, then there is nothing further to do. That is the path our society is on. But if you prefer to have natural rights, as determined by the Creator of the Universe, the One who brought mankind into existence, the One whose image we bear, then there is work to do.

And here are the “marching orders,” not from a Founding Father, but a Founding Mother. In 1805, Mercy Otis Warren, sister of the great patriot James Otis, Jr., wrote: “It is necessary for every American, with becoming energy to endeavor to stop the dissemination of principles evidently destructive of the cause for which they have bled. It must be the combined virtue of the rulers and of the people to do this, and to rescue and save their civil and religious rights from the outstretched arm of tyranny, which may appear under any mode or form of government.”  Translated from “Founder-speak” this means we must stop teaching or otherwise promoting a false view of natural rights and natural law.

That is our charge today, the charge to every freedom-loving American: to stop the dissemination of principles, wherever they are found being promoted, that are destructive of the cause for which the Founders bled, the preservation of their rights as Englishmen.

Does natural law exist today?  It’s really a question of rights.[17]

 

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[1] GULF, C. & S. F. R. CO. v. ELLIS ,  165 U.S. 150 (1897)

[2] The Farmer Refuted, February 23, 1775

[3] A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1765

[4] John Dickinson, An Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados, 1766

[5] Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18, 1781

[6] http://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3506&context=wlulr

[7] Letter to Richard Henry Lee, 1825

[8] Carl Lotus Becker, The Declaration of Independence, A Study in the History of Political Ideas, p. 51.

[9] More copies of Blackstone’s Commentaries were sold in the American colonies than in the rest of the British Empire.

[10] Commentaries on the Laws of England, Introduction, Section the Second

[11] John Dewey, “Soul-Searching,” Teacher Magazine, September 1933, p. 33

[12] http://www.cnsnews.com/blog/curtis-kalin/cnn-anchor-our-rights-do-not-come-god

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

[14] Bentham died only three years after James Madison.

[15] Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 1, Chapter 2

[16]The law of nature and the law of revelation are both Divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is indeed preposterous to separate them from each other.” Declaration of Independence and Constitution signer James Wilson, Law of Nature, 1804.

[17] For further reading on this subject I recommend two books: “Written on the Heart” by J. Budziszewski, and “Retrieving the Natural Law” by J. Daryl Charles.

Constitutional Corner – A Brief History of Virginia’s State Constitution

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If you want an introduction to the philosophy of government as understood by America’s Founders, don’t read the U.S. Constitution, instead read a Declaration of Rights from one of the original thirteen states, especially those of Virginia, Pennsylvania or Maryland.  Instead of first laying out a plan of government, as the U.S. Constitution does and as the state constitutions eventually do, these state Declarations of Rights explain “why” we have government and what its true goals should be.  Reading these will be time well spent.

As dismal is the typical American’s knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, greater still is their ignorance of their state’s constitution.  Yet, at one point in our country’s history the state constitutions were all that governed Americans.  For five years, from 1776 to 1781, the Articles of Confederation remained unratified; Maryland refused to complete the unanimous consent required to put them into effect. Finally, France threatened to pull out of a treaty and Maryland finally relented.  Even in 1781, however, the thought of a truly national constitution was still a misty dream in the minds of a select few men.

From its founding in 1607 up to 1776, Virginia was governed by a series of proprietary and then royal charters.  In 1619, Virginia’s House of Burgesses was established, creating the first representative government in the colonies and “the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World.”[1]  The House of Burgesses would operate over the next 157 years, governing the people of Virginia until the call for independence went out.

Virginia’s Declaration of Rights was also the first in our nation’s history. Both New Hampshire and South Carolina adopted Constitutions before Virginia, in early 1776, but those documents were published, at least initially, without Declarations of Rights. The Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted June 12, 1776, and the new Constitution followed on June 29. This original declaration of rights, with a few additions, still forms Article 1 of Virginia’s Constitution today.

In begins with these words:

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

Isn’t that a beautiful paragraph? Don’t you wish the U.S. Constitution began with something similar? So did James Madison.

Madison tried unsuccessfully to add something similar to this wonderful proclamation to the preamble of the U.S. Constitution as he drafted what would become the new Bill of Rights.  Unfortunately, this introduction was left on the cutting room floor. Madison knew the paragraph well; he had been appointed to represent Orange County at the convention in Williamsburg and had worked on George Mason’s drafting committee, where he made a major contribution to religious liberty by insisting on a change to one of the later articles (that we’ll discuss in a moment). The only quibble I have with this paragraph is Mason’s choice of the word “inherent.” “Inherent” can be construed to mean “part of the human condition,” and this meaning avoids assigning these rights to a transcendent source, i.e. God. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson framed these “inherent” rights much better, as an inalienable endowment of our “Creator.” Jefferson’s construction comports better with the thoughts of Locke, Blackstone and others.

Speaking of Jefferson, had he been given the choice, he would have opted to remain in Williamsburg writing Virginia’s Constitution rather than represent his state at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. But I believe history confirms that the Virginia Assembly made the right choice in sending him northward. As proof that his heart was still in Williamsburg, after arriving in Philadelphia, Jefferson sent his ideas for the new state constitution down to Williamsburg. Unfortunately, they arrived too late to be incorporated. But part of what he sent was used; if you read Virginia’s original preamble to their Declaration of Rights it is clear that what Jefferson sent them included a copy of at least the “complaints” section of his draft Declaration of Independence. Virginia’s version closely follows Jefferson’s draft. At that time in our history, plagiarism was considered a sincere form of flattery.

Another of my favorite passages in Virginia’s Declaration, one I’ve written about on numerous occasions, is Section 15:

“That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”

America is a nation with amnesia. We have forgotten our rich history of self-government and individual freedom. We are being pushed and prodded instead towards collectivism and socialism. Do you want America to survive as a free republic? easy; have everyone frequently review our nation’s “fundamental principles.” I’ve written about these principles in numerous essays; they can be found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, even in the Articles of Confederation and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. By an act of Congress, these four documents form our country’s “Organic Law,” so it behooves us to know what they say, what principles they contain, and how these principles should inform our actions as a self-governing people.

A final passage from the Declaration of Rights that I should discuss is Article 16:

“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”

This passage interests me for several reasons.  First, my favorite Founder, James Madison played an important role in “tweaking” the wording of this section to provide for greater religious freedom in the state.  Mason’s original draft called for “toleration” of religious views; Madison argued that did not go far enough and his wording was adopted instead. Second, as you see, according to our Constitution, Virginians of all faiths have a “mutual duty” to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity towards each other. Kind of neat, huh?

When they ratified the U.S. Constitution in June of 1788, Virginia sent Congress a copy of their Declaration of Rights and suggested it help form a new Bill of Rights for the Constitution. In March of 1789, newly elected James Madison, representing Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, took his seat in the Congress.  He found Virginia’s suggestions for a Bill of Rights waiting his arrival, along with those of several other states.

Of the approximately twenty-six separate rights secured in the ten Amendments that eventually made up the U.S. Bill of Rights, Virginia’s 1776 declaration covered seventeen of them. Notably absent from Virginia’s declaration were:

  • Any prohibition of an established state religion. What became the First Amendment only prevented Congress from declaring a national religion, state religions were OK and most states had one. The Church of England was the established church in Virginia. It would eventually be disestablished and the prohibition against an established state church would be added to the Virginia’s Declaration of Rights in 1830 and expanded in 1971.
  • Any protection of free speech. This would not be added to the Virginia’s Constitution until 1971, as would freedom of assembly, and the right to keep and bear arms.
  • Virginians from 1776-1791 (when the Bill of Rights went into effect) had no right of due process and no right of the assistance of counsel. These would also be added later.
  • The only glaring deficiency of the present Virginia Constitution when compared with the U.S. Bill of Rights is that there is, to this day, no assurance of a grand jury indictment when charged with a capital crime. Virginians are of course assured of such an indictment today by virtue of the U.S. Bill of Rights and the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

Standing opposite these omissions, Virginia’s Declaration of Rights includes several statements which indicate Mason’s drafters were a cautious lot who understood the danger of a too-powerful government; they added statements nowhere to be found in the U.S. Constitution or its Bill of Rights.  They include:

  • That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people (it’s nice to be reminded of this).
  • That magistrates should at all times be amenable to the people (i.e., willing to accept suggestions).
  • That government is instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation or community (how easily this is forgotten today).
  • That a majority of the community has a right to reform, alter or abolish their government (and they have from time to time).
  • That no individual or group is entitled to exclusive or separate benefits or privileges from the community (a later amendment was added to Virginia’s Declaration which would seem to do precisely that. See the 2010 amendment discussed below).
  • That citizens should evidence a permanent common interest in, and attachment to, their community before being allowed to vote (although no legislation was ever passed to put this into action).
  • That citizens are not bound by any law to which they have not assented through their representatives or which is not for the public good.
  • That citizens have duties as well as rights.
  • That there should be an effective system of public education (I wonder if today’s system qualifies as “effective?”)
  • That no government separate from, or independent of, the government of Virginia, ought to be erected within the state. (Review the creation of West Virginia)
  • That the state has no power to suspend the execution of laws without the people’s consent.

As you can see, there many protections found in Virginia’s Constitution that are missing from the U.S. Bill of Rights.

In 1783, Jefferson sent his friend “Jemmy” a draft of a new state constitution in which he proposed “fixes” for the weaknesses he saw in the 1776 version.  One of those weaknesses lay in limiting the right to vote to property owners, which essentially meant only men of wealth could vote.

This limitation proved a perpetual irritant, as did discordant representation of the western counties, whose thinner populations left them under-represented and thus dominated by the Tidewater region. A constitutional convention was finally called in 1829–1830[2] to fix these two problems. Seventy-eight year old James Madison was invited to attend, as were “giants of the revolution” James Monroe and John Marshall.  Madison urged wider suffrage, but his voice was so weak he could hardly be heard. The new constitution expanded suffrage somewhat but retained the property requirement; it left the representation problem unresolved. Note: The 1829 Constitution was the first to be ratified by a popular vote; 1776’s had been adopted without putting it to a vote of the citizens.

Another new Constitution in 1851[3] finally eliminated the property requirement for voting, resulting in extending the vote to all white males of a certain age. The 1851 Constitution also established popular election for the Governor, the newly created office of Lieutenant Governor, and all Virginia judges.

After seceding from the union in April 1861[4] and ratifying the Constitution of the Confederate States of America in June, Virginia’s Confederate government proposed changes to the state constitution, such as changing “United States” to “Confederate States.” The citizens rejected them.

During the war, citizens upset at Virginia’s secession from the Union formed the “Restored Government of Virginia,”[5] situated in Fredericksburg, and in 1864 they drafted and “passed” a new state Constitution. Due to doubts over its legality, it is not considered valid and is not listed in Virginia’s constitutional history.

After the war, while under military rule, another new constitution was drafted in 1867/68. Opponents called the result the “Underwood Constitution” or the “Negro Constitution”, since it gave freed slaves the vote (the Fifteenth Amendment would not be ratified until 1870). The new constitution expanded suffrage to all male citizens over the age of 21, it established a state public school system, and provided for judges to be elected by the General Assembly rather than by popular vote. The Governor was granted full veto power and a constitutional amendment and revision procedure was established.

By the turn of the 20th century, despite the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, many Southern states had essentially eliminated their black vote through use of poll tests. Pressure mounted among whites in Virginia to do the same. The 1901 constitutional convention[6] met in this climate. Delegates focused on how to restrict black voting rights without violating the Fifteenth Amendment or disfranchising poor whites in the process. The convention created the requirement for poll taxes and a literacy test — an exemption was granted for military veterans (of either Union or Confederate Armies) and their sons.

The prospective voter, before he or she could even register, had to prove “able to read any section of this Constitution submitted to him by the officers of registration and to give a reasonable explanation of the same…” I wonder how many of Virginia voters could do this today? (Note: any persons who had fought a duel or accepted the challenge of a duel were prohibited from voting.) This change effectively disfranchised many black voters, though many illiterate whites were similarly affected. In the years which followed, Virginia’s electorate was reduced by half.

Other significant provisions of the 1901 Constitution were the creation of racial segregation in public schools and abolishment of the county court system. Due to concern over African-American opposition, the proposed constitution was not put to a popular vote and the Virginia Supreme Court upheld this action in 1903.

In 1926, a commission was appointed to recommend further changes to Virginia’s Constitution and the proposed changes were submitted to a vote of the people in 1928. New limits in how the legislature could incur debt for capital improvements and a prohibition on taxing real estate or tangible personal property were approved. The State Treasurer, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Commissioner of Agriculture were now to be appointed by the Governor.

A limited Convention was held in 1945 for the sole purpose of ensuring that members of the armed services would not be prevented, by registration and poll-tax requirements, from voting in state elections in 1945.

In response to the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs Board of Education decision (which ruled segregated schools unconstitutional), another limited convention was held in 1956 to amend Section 141 and allow for the expenditure of public funds for the education of students at private, non-sectarian schools (i.e. all-white schools).  This was part of a massive resistance[7] Virginia put up to the Brown decision.

In 1968, the Virginia General Assembly established a commission to revise the constitution once again. The Commission on Constitutional Revision presented its recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly the following year. The proposed Constitution was overwhelmingly approved by the voters and took effect on July 1, 1971. This remains Virginia’s Constitution today.[8] As I’ve noted, several changes were made to the Declaration of Rights.  Since then, the constitution has been amended at least twelve times.

  • An amendment in 1972 reduced the voting age to eighteen (the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age to eighteen in national elections, had been ratified the previous year).
  • In 1976, an amendment modified the state’s residency requirements. 1980 and 1994 amendments set procedures for reconvening the General Assembly.
  • A 1994 amendment brought the constitution in compliance with the new national Motor Voter Act.
  • A 1996 amendment established rights for victims of crime.
  • A 2000 amendment established that all the state’s residents had a right to hunt, fish and harvest game.
  • In 2002, amendments were approved which concerned claims of actual innocence presented by convicted felons and allowed local governing bodies to grant tax exemptions for property used for charitable and certain other purposes.
  • A 2004 amendment established decennial redistricting and added a list of persons who may serve as Acting Governor.
  • In 2006, an amendment was approved by 60% of the voters prohibiting same-sex marriage (ostensibly nullified by Obergefell v Hodges).
  • A 2010 amendment provided property tax relief for certain persons with income and/or financial worth limitations and certain veterans. This almost certainly violated the earlier constitutional provision that “That no individual or group is entitled to exclusive or separate benefits or privileges from the community.” Another amendment set a maximum amount for the Revenue Stabilization Fund.
  • Reacting to the Supreme Court’s Kelo v City of New London decision, a 2012 amendment prohibited the taking or damaging of private property for public purposes.
  • In 2014, the people approved an amendment to exempt surviving spouses of soldiers killed in action from paying property tax.
  • Finally, in 2016, a similar property tax exemption for spouses of certain emergency services providers was approved.

We can see from Virginia’s constitutional history that a constitution can at times be used as a weapon.  Democrats controlled the Virginia legislature from at least the mid-1800s until 2000,[9] an amazing 150-year stretch (except for a short period of military rule during re-construction).  During the Jim Crow era, they used the state constitution to, first, suppress the black vote, and then to extend de-facto segregation by facilitating segregated schools.

In their 1981 book “The Constitutional Convention as an Amending Device,” editors Kermit Hall, Harold Hyman and Leon Sigal identify a great disparity in American constitutionalism, namely, Americans show great interest in “tweaking” their state constitutions, sometimes by amendment, sometimes by complete replacement. Conversely, they seem to reluctant to replace or even amend the U.S. Constitution. “Between 1776 and 1976 some 226 state constitutional conventions were convened, 136 constitutions ratified, and more than 5,000 amendments adopted.”[10] Virginia itself has had five Constitutions since 1776.  Yet the U.S. Constitution, never replaced, has been amended only 27 times since its ratification in 1788 (18 times if you count the first ten amendments as a block) and the last amendment was 25 years ago.  Why the disparity?

Perhaps we revere our national constitution too much (or our state constitutions too little).  Given that the U.S. Constitution is today a shell of its former self in terms of limiting the national government, creating a government that today “can do most anything in this country,” perhaps it is time we reassess our reluctance to consider long overdue amendments that will help put the national government “back in its box.”  Perhaps we should take a lesson from our state experiences and once again make the U.S. Constitution serve the people who provide its political power. Just saying.

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

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_General_Assembly#History

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Constitutional_Convention_of_1829%E2%80%931830

[3] http://vagovernmentmatters.org/primary-sources/519

[4] http://www.janus.umd.edu/Feb2002/Cote/01.html

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

[6] https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Constitutional_Convention_Virginia_1901-1902

[7] http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/xslt/servlet/XSLTServlet?xml=/xml_docs/solguide/Essays/essay13a.xml&xsl=/xml_docs/solguide/sol_new.xsl&section=essay

[8] http://hodcap.state.va.us/publications/Constitution-01-13.pdf

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_House_of_Delegates

[10] The Constitutional Convention as an Amending Device, Kermit Hall, Harold Hyman & Leon Sigal, ed., American Historical Association, 1981, p.69.

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 – The Left’s War on Speech

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The Progressive Left is engaged in a war on free speech. Don’t take my word for it, the headlines are ubiquitous: “Attack on conservative speaker stuns Middlebury College,” from the Boston Globe; “Commencement speakers: Conservatives need not apply” from the LA Times; “Protesters disrupt town-hall healthcare talks,” from Reuters.

If these articles don’t convince you, read a couple of books on the topic, one by a liberal herself. Kirsten Powers, whose liberal credentials are impeccable even if she does appear on Fox News, has written “The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech.” Another recommendation is “The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech,” by Kimberley Strassel. Another is “Shut up, America – The End of Free Speech” by Brad O’Leary. I’ve not read Powers’ or O’Leary’s books, I only glanced at them on Amazon, but I have read Strassel’s, and it’s a real eye-opener.

If these books don’t convince you, check out British commentator Jonathan Pie on YouTube. The segment is called “How and Why” and I warn you right now that Pie’s language is not for the faint of heart. Through his profanity he reveals “how and why” Donald Trump got elected, in his view of course, and he minces no words.

Here are a few of Pie’s G-rated quotes: “We have made people unable to articulate their positions for fear of being shut down.” “Every time someone on the Left says ‘You mustn’t say that’ they are contributing to this culture [of being shut down].” “It’s time to stop silencing your opponents… Engage in the debate; talk to people who think differently to you and persuade them of your argument.” Even with 3.3 Million views, it is obvious that most on the Left have either not listened to Pie’s YouTube rant, or have, and have dismissed it out of hand and gone back to business as usual.

I’m certainly not the first to use the “War on Speech” phrase, and I doubt I’ll be the last.  The war takes place on many fronts and involves many tactics but the most common tactic is intimidation. Intimidate public speakers into silence, intimidate people and businesses into abstaining from making political contributions. In short, intimidate everyone who believes differently than you. Force them to shut up, lock their doors and stay out of politics.

Brendan Eich worked for years as Mozilla’s Chief Technology Officer. In 2008, he gave $1,000 in support of California’s Proposition 8. Proposition 8, you may recall, amended the California Constitution to affirm marriage to be between a man and woman.  This was in response to passage of Proposition 22, which made the same affirmation through a simple resolution, but which the California’s Supreme Court had struck down. Prop 8 passed with 52% of the vote and California’s Constitution was amended.

Six years later, Brendan Eich was appointed Mozilla’s CEO. Immediately, an online “shaming” began over his then six-year old contribution to the Prop 8 campaign. Eich lasted 11 days as CEO before being forced to step down.

Eich was fortunate all he lost was his job. Other Californians were less fortunate once the Prop 8 contributors list was made public. Leftists could now use Google Maps to search for neighbors who had contributed, and then the “fun” began:

  • A restaurant manager made a modest $100 donation in support of the proposition. Bad move. The restaurant suffered a boycott, trash-talking reviews on the internet, and mobs who blocked their doors and shouted “Shame on you” to arriving customers. Restaurant owners were forced to cut hours and lay off employees, some of them, ironically, homosexuals.
  • Activist groups launched boycotts of the Sundance Film Festival, based in Utah, solely because some Prop 8 donations had come from that state.
  • The owner of a chain of small grocery stores noticed flyers appeared under the windshield wipers of customers, maligning him for his donation. Three different Facebook pages sprang up urging a boycott of the store. Protestors occupied the entrance to the store, handed out flyers and demanded people not shop there. Customers were harangued to sign boycott petitions. One activist loaded up a shopping cart full of groceries and, once it was rung up at the register, refused to pay. The owner of the stores had to install security cameras over fear of product tampering.
  • Lawyers who had worked on the Prop 8 campaign naturally received hate emails and phone calls, including recommendations to “Burn in hell.”
  • A New York artist who donated and who, ironically, made her living by painting drag queens and gay parades suddenly found two reporters waiting outside her house asking why she contributed. Reviews of her art took on a new tone.
  • A teacher who supported Prop 8 was told by activists that they would call all the parents of students in her school and inform them of her “despicable” action.
  • Flyers appeared on trees in the neighborhoods of contributors telling neighbors of their support. A flyer was wrapped around a brick and thrown through the window of a Lutheran church.
  • A statue of Mary was defaced on the eve of the election. Car windows were smashed, cars keyed, tires deflated, all because people had the audacity to “speak” through their political contributions.

Realize that these were not donations to a candidate or his campaign; there was no possibility of encouraging corruption or gaining a quid-pro-quo; this intimidation sent a simple message: don’t donate to, i.e., don’t speak politically about causes with which we disagree.

Of course, the homosexual lobby got their ultimate revenge when the Supreme Court struck down all constitutional restrictions over same-sex marriage in the Obergefell v Hodges decision.

But lest you think this is all about Prop 8, it certainly is not.

Conservative and even some liberal speakers are routinely dis-invited to College campuses when some “offended” group complains. Those that are allowed to speak encounter infantile disruptions by groups and individuals who attempt to shout them down. Even the Chancellor of Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks, whose liberal credentials we can assume are also impeccable, was prevented from holding a campus forum on Civility.  “Civility? We don’t need no stinking civility, we be college students.”  Unfortunately, this group of babies will one day be in leadership positions.

Riots in Berkeley over a scheduled talk by homosexual conservative Milo Yiannopoulos caused hundreds of thousands worth of damage and the same was promised if Ann Coulter was allowed to speak.  She was given the opportunity to speak when few students would be available.  She declined.

TV host and transgender-rights activist Janet Mock, conservative writer Ben Shapiro, Illinois state attorney Anita Alvarez, writer Charles Murray, Palestinian activist Bassem Eid, rapper Action Bronson, Massachusetts General Hospital physician Emily Wong, then CIA Director John Brennan, black conservative Jason Riley, and many, many others have all been uninvited to speak or disrupted when they tried.

One of the complaints of these children-in-adult-bodies is that they are only trying to stop “speech that hurts.” The problem here is that, much to these people’s chagrin, there is no constitutional right to not be hurt or offended by something. If you think you’ll be offended by what someone has to say, don’t go to hear them. As author Salman Rushdie points out, people who declare they were offended after reading a 600-page book “have done a lot of work to be offended.”

We’ve all seen videos of the Townhall meetings disrupted by boos and catcalls when a Congressman says something the Left dislikes. If these people think their behavior is going to win them converts and grow their base, I think they have misjudged. As near as I can tell, such thuggish behavior only serves to further polarize a community.

Then there is the growing movement to shut down those who entertain reservations about climate-change and/or whether it is man-caused. Some state Attorneys General as well as the US Justice Department under Obama were talking about charging Exxon Corporation and individuals under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, otherwise known as RICO. Their crime? Exercising their collective right to speak.

In the 1970s, scientists told us to fear global cooling and warned about the coming ice age. In 1970 alone, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times all published stories with headlines like “Scientists See Ice Age in the Future.Time magazine’s cover story on January 31, 1973 (still posted on the magazine’s website) was entitled: “The Big Freeze.”  In the last two decades it was “global warming.” When that was disproven it became undefined “climate change.” What will “science” claim in 2030?

Next to feel the heat are those who choose to speak out about the risks of mandatory vaccinations.

Anti-Vaxxers… please die in a fire” read one headline. A recent outbreak of measles among guests who had attended Disneyland created a stir. Of the 34 Disneyland guests who contracted measles and who reported their vaccination history, six said they had already been vaccinated against measles. Obviously measles vaccinations don’t always protect. Conversely, from 2004-2015, there were 108 deaths reportedly due to the vaccination itself.[1]

Of course, we all remember the attempt by the Obama administration to keep the Tea Party movement from speaking out, or at least slow it down until after the 2012 election by delaying their tax-exempt applications at the IRS. The President blamed it on some overzealous Cincinnati staffers, which proved to be a bald-face lie after IRS emails were released. Lois Lerner remains uncharged.

Corporations that contribute to Republican politicians or conservative causes also become the target of intimidation. Here’s how it works:

The American Legislative Exchange Council provided Florida with model “Stand Your Ground” legislation, which Florida’s legislature passed. Trayvon Martin was killed accosting George Zimmerman and, due to Florida’s new “Stand your Ground” law, Zimmerman was not prosecuted. Thanks to Florida’s contribution disclosure laws, the leftist group Color of Change discovered that credit card company, Visa, Inc. contributed to ALEC. Color of Change then demanded that Visa stop contributing to ALEC or risk derogatory radio ads in the hometown of every Visa board member, holding each of them accountable for Martin’s death. Similar threat letters were received at McDonald’s, John Deere, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Amazon, Wendy’s and Proctor & Gamble — ALEC contributors all. What message did this send?

Where disclosure laws exist, all this is completely legal — unethical perhaps[2] — but legal. Where such laws are lacking, the Left is usually successful in getting contributor lists leaked. Shutting down corporate “political speech” by reversing or nullifying Citizens United is a long-shot, so the Left intends to get all the mileage they can from intimidation. And since the high Court sustained the requirement for disclosure in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, law at question in the case, the Left has all the information they need to inflict their favorite weapon.  For more on the issue of the Court and anonymous “speech,” my friend Rob Natelson has written this great article.

Perhaps the most despicable action to suppress individual speech, actually just to punish those who hold different views and have the audacity to express them, has been the action taken against the Benham brothers whose TV show “Flip It Forward,” was set to premiere on HGTV last October. The noble focus of the show was to help families purchase homes they otherwise could not afford. To punish David Benham for leading a 2012 prayer rally outside the Democratic National Convention and speaking his views on homosexuality, their show was cancelled when the homosexual lobby started calling.

Chip and Joanna Gaines, hosts of HGTV’s popular “Fixer Upper” show, are under similar fire because their pastor preached that homosexuality is a sin, the implication being that if the Gaines attend that church they must feel the same way. And if they do they can’t be allowed to succeed in cable TV. Of course, some on the Right pointed to a similar connection between Barack Obama and Reverend Jeremiah Wright; the Left saw no problem: Wright had it right.

Finally, the Left’s war on “speech they find offensive” has been extended to individual words. Seattle police can no longer call suspects, “suspects” in their written reports, they must now be called: “community members.” That is going to make for some absolutely hilarious police reports. In utopian Washington State, prisons are told to phase out the word “offender” and replace it with terms like “individual,” “student,” or “patient.” In several states, most recently Pennsylvania, the word “sex” is being quietly and administratively redefined in the statutes to include “gender expression.”

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

Some of this would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Even sadder is the typical American who says nothing in the face of this blatant intimidation. The typical American doesn’t speak out about much of anything, but some still feel strongly enough about an issue to support it financially. That is unlikely to continue once their cars are keyed or rocks thrown through windows — message received loud and clear.

George Washington once said: “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” Benjamin Franklin added: “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”

Conclusion: We need to nip this “war” in the bud.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said that “Free speech does not give you the right to shout fire in a crowded theater.” That’s fine, I understand that there is a safety risk accompanying some speech. The problem today is that our entire society has been turned into a crowded theater, and talking about any controversial topic is equivalent to shouting “Fire.”

Here are my suggestions:

  • Read the books mentioned above.
  • Search out other essays on the topic.
  • Read and understand the Citizens United opinion, particularly Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion.
  • Fight against disclosure laws wherever they are proposed. Transparency is a worthy goal, but intimidation will be the result.
  • Defend those who bravely speak the truth.
  • Show up at Town Hall meetings, the other side will.

Yes, I think we can all agree that there is too much money in politics, but, like it or not, the Courts have found political contributions to be “speech,” so we must consider all the second-order effects of “regulating” it.  The Left has found intimidation to work, it will continue.

The Left’s “War on Speech” must be vigorously opposed or soon the government will be telling you what you may say and what you may not. Is this the America we want? If it is not, we have some work to do.

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[1] http://healthimpactnews.com/2015/zero-u-s-measles-deaths-in-10-years-but-over-100-measles-vaccine-deaths-reported/

[2] Got to be careful, the Right likes to pressure Leftist-cause contributors as well.

 

Constitutional Corner –100 Days of Trump — and the Constitution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presidential Activity

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

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

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

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

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

Of the twenty-four EOs, four bear mention:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congressional Activity

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

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

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

Judicial Activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Federalist 71

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[17] Gorsuch clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy

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

Constitutional Corner – Yes, Tear Down This Wall!

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“[The wall of separation] metaphor is based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging.  It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.”[1]  So said Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist essentially concurring with Associate Justice Byron Stewart, who in a preceding opinion, wrote: “[Resolving complex constitutional controversies] “is not responsibly aided by the uncritical invocation of metaphors like the “wall of separation,” a phrases nowhere to be found in the Constitution.[2]

But Rehnquist’s and Stewart’s companions on the bench had no problem with the metaphor: it suited their purposes – it was ambiguous enough to mean whatever they wanted it to mean, and imposing enough to quash ill-informed dissent.

Besides, given Jefferson’s “well-known” hostility to organized religion, this must be what he meant, an impregnable wall, right?  Well, except for the fact that Jefferson attended organized religious services his whole life, including attending, the day after penning his letter to the Danbury Baptists, church services in the U.S. Capitol building, of all places; and considering that he contributed financially his whole life to multiple churches and their ministers, I guess you could say that he was “hostile” to organized religion, in a blatantly supporting sort of way.

Read the concerns of the Baptists and Jefferson’s reply, in context, and you easily see that Jefferson wished to assure the Baptists that the federal government (the only one for which he spoke) had no intention of interfering in their beliefs, even if (or especially if) they differed from the official state church of Connecticut: the Congregational Church.

But in 1947, Democrat Klansman Hugo Black, the most senior justice on the Court, appointed by FDR, desperately needed a metaphor.  So he purloined a hundred forty-six year old phrase from a private Jefferson letter (confident, it would seem, that Jefferson would not object) to prove that the Constitution, a document that Jefferson had no part in since he was serving in France during its drafting, required this absolute separation — except when it didn’t.

You see, even though the Court erected this “impregnable” wall in Everson v. Board of Education, Black ruled that the Catholic parents who sought reimbursement for the cost of public buses that took their kids to Catholic schools (parochial schools as we used to call them back in the day) should get it.  So Black becomes the hero to Catholic parents for sustaining the New Jersey law at question, he becomes the hero of all American Atheists for creating a weapon that could be used to keep those “Christian fanatics” at bay.

Mind you this decision was delivered in 1947, after more than a hundred years of American courts saying almost exactly the opposite thing.

In 1799, the Supreme Court of Maryland saw no conflict with the First Amendment in a naturalization oath which included a declaration of belief in the Christian religion.[3] Indeed, the Maryland state Constitution began with the words: “We the people of the state of Maryland, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberty…” That year the same court stated that: “By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion, and all sects and denominations of Christianity are placed upon the same equal footing and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.”[4]

In 1811, a Mr. Ruggles was found guilty of public blasphemy. The New York Supreme Court sustained the conviction: “[T]o revile the religion professed by almost the whole community is an abuse of that right (of religious opinion).  We are a Christian people and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity and not upon the doctrines or worship of those other imposters.”[5]

In 1844, the U.S. Supreme Court took a stand. A Mr. Girard stipulated in his will that his remaining estate be used to establish a public school, but one from which ministers or any religious instruction would be excluded.  Justice Joseph Story wrote the majority opinion which forcefully stated that “Christianity is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and blasphemed against to the annoyance of believers of the injury of the public.”[6]

In case after case the courts affirmed a close relationship between the Christian church and the law.  Did any of this establish some denomination as the official religion of the United States?  No. these and other cases only affirmed the existing reality: we considered ourselves a Christian nation. Our laws and mores were rooted in the Bible; not the Koran, the saying of Buddha, Pantheism or any other belief system.

But by 1947, things had changed in this country; secular humanism now formed the core of the public school curriculum. Although Bible reading and morning prayer was still allowed in those schools, that was about to change as well, along with released time for religious instruction. All these accommodations of Christianity would soon be discarded. Why not? There was a “Wall” to enforce.

Atheists were flexing their muscles and had the perfect tool. But there was a problem: Christianity was too well connected with our public infrastructure for a complete and utter separation. The connection would have to be chipped away, one small issue at a time. How could you ignore our national motto (In God we Trust) and its appearance on all our money? Outlaw Chaplains in the military and Congress? Don’t even think of it. Amend the Constitution to no longer give the President Sunday off when considering whether to sign a bill? To hard.

All these “entanglements” would be allowed. Of the others, some would take considerable time and effort. Prohibit all display of the Ten Commandments, the basis for our laws, from schools and courtrooms? Though it took scores of years, even that would ultimately prevail.

Christians remained embarrassingly silent while public expressions of their faith continued to be chipped away by the Courts; aided and abetting by obliging Presidents (particularly our last). An “open-door” policy was extended to groups like “Freedom from Religion Foundation” and “American United for Separation of Church and State,” They were able to identify even the most minor of “affronts.”

On the other side, groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, American Center for Law and Justice, Family Research Council and many others rose up to meet the atheists and agnostics in court. Thanks to a few victories, the “Wall” is showing signs of age and its original shaky foundation.

A significant chunk of the wall may soon to be dismantled as the Court rules on Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. The case was heard on Wednesday, April 19th and both audio and written transcripts of the session can be downloaded here.[7]

Questions from both liberal and conservative justices hinted that the court is ready to declare these so-called “Blaine Amendments” unconstitutional as in conflict with the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection provision.

Both sides choose to frame the argument in First Amendment terms, either the Establishment Cause or Free Exercise Clause or, at times, both. It was not until 38 minutes into the discussion (page 39 of the transcript) that Justice Elena Kagan, finally framed the argument as what she called “a constitutional principle as strong as any…that there is.” She continued: “[W]hen we have a program of funding – and here we’re funding playground surfaces – that everybody is entitled to that funding,…whether or not they exercise a constitutional right (religion); in other words,…whether or not they are a religious institution doing religious things. As long as you’re using the money for playground services, you’re not disentitled from that program because you’re a religious institution doing religious things.” Yes, equal protection of the laws, that’s it. There is no entanglement with religion, there is no establishment of religion, but the church is definitely penalized for being a church.

(If you’ve never listened to or read Supreme Court oral arguments, I encourage you to do so. At times you will scratch your head and wonder what is the Justice asking? The poor litigant advocates!)

Blaine Amendments should never have been placed in 39 state Constitutions; they grew out of religious bigotry – anti-Catholic bigotry to be precise, and America’s Protestants should be embarrassed by them.  We should want to see them stricken as much as we struck, eventually, the last vestiges of slavery.

But what else can be done to chip away at the “Wall?” Join us on “We the People – the Constitution Matters on Friday, 28 April, 7-8am EDT (www.1180wfyl.com) as we finish up this discussion.

Suggested reading List:

“Original Intent,” 2000, by David Barton.

“Bring Down That Wall,” 2014, by Nicholas F. Papanicolaou.

“Backfired, A nation founded on religious tolerance no longer tolerates its founders religion,” 2012, by William J. Federer.

“The Separation of Church and State, Has America lost its moral compass?” 2001, by Stephen Strehle.

“The Assault on Religion,” 1986, Russel Kirk.

“The Separation Illusion, A Lawyer Examines the First Amendment,” 1977, by John Whitehead.

“The Separation of Church and State,” 2004, by Forrest Church.

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[1] Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) dissenting

[2] Associate Justice Byron Stewart, Engel v. Vitale (1962) dissenting

[3] John M’Creery’s Lessee v. Allender (1799)

[4] Runkel v. Winemuller (1799)

[5] The People v. Ruggles (1811)

[6] Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844)

[7] https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/audio/2016/15-577

Constitutional Corner – Mr. Gorsuch, Tear Down This Wall!

Constitutional Corner – Mr. Gorsuch, Tear Down This Wall![1]

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In the years immediately before and especially after the Civil War, Catholics began making up an increasingly large percentage of immigrants coming to the U.S.

“The Catholic citizens of Italy, Poland, parts of Germany, and the Eastern European kingdoms of what are now Slovakia and the Czech Republic began to cast their eyes towards America. The country had a growing world reputation for democratic ideals and work opportunity. For these peoples, as well as for French Canadian Catholics to the north of the United States and Mexican Catholics to the south, the chance for a new life free of poverty and oppression was too good to pass up. Millions of sons, fathers, and later whole families left behind their former lives and possessions and boarded crowded ships sailing for New York.”[2]

In 1850, Catholics were only five percent of the U.S. population. By 1906, they made up seventeen percent (14 million out of 82 million people)—and had become the single largest religious denomination in the country.[3]

Protestantism, however, with its many denominations, was still the dominant faith and was thoroughly infused in the public schools of the time. Each school day began with prayer and bible reading, from a Protestant version of the Bible, of course. Soon, Catholics and Jews began objecting to being excluded from this decidedly Protestant activity and began forming schools of their own. It was not long before Catholics began asking for (and getting) public funding of their schools similar to that provided the “common schools.”

In an 1875 speech to a veteran’s meeting, President Ulysses S. Grant called for a Constitutional amendment that would mandate free public schools and prohibit the use of public money for any and all “sectarian” (i.e. Catholic or other denomination-run) schools. Grant declared that “Church and State” should be “forever separate.” Religion, he said, should be left to families, churches, and private schools unsupported by public funds.[4]

In response to the President’s call, Republican Congressman James Blaine of Maine (say that three times, fast) proposed Grant’s amendment. It passed with a vote of 180 to 7 in the House of Representatives, but failed the 2/3 requirement by four votes in the Senate and thus was not sent to the States for ratification.

The proposed Amendment read:

“No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.”

Essentially, this would have extended the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause to the States[5] as well as address Grant’s school funding concern.[6]  Remember, this occurred prior to the 17th Amendment, when States still appointed and thus controlled their Senators. Given its overwhelming support in the House when compared with that of the Senate, pressure exerted by State legislatures on their appointed Senators seems the likely cause of the Senate-failure.

Seeing the amendment fail in Congress, States took the hint and began incorporating what would come to be called “Blaine Amendments” in their state constitutions; Missouri would do so in 1875, forming Section 7 of their Bill of Rights, which read (and reads today):

“That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.”

Fast forward to the present.

One week ago, Judge Neil Gorsuch, formerly a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, was finally confirmed by the U.S. Senate to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats were determined to block the confirmation any way they could, partly in hope that a more liberal judge would be nominated to replace Gorsuch and partly out of hatred for having Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s choice, blocked by Republicans using their majority position in the Senate. To prevent a filibuster from derailing the nomination, Republicans were forced to fall back on a rule change made in 2011 by then Majority Leader Harry Reid. Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver to interpret Reid’s rule change to have included Supreme Court nominations and not just federal judges.

It is always interesting and somewhat amusing to see those on the Left, champions of democracy, don sackcloth and ashes when that same democracy fails them.

On Monday, April 10th, Associate Justice Gorsuch took his oath (two of them to be precise) and immediately plunged into the study of the fourteen cases that remain to be settled in the Court’s Fall 2016 schedule; three of them will heard on Monday the 17th.

The majority of these cases are pretty mundane.  Here’s an example: on April 26th the Court will hear Amgen Inc. v. Sandoz Inc.  At Issue is: “whether a biosimilar applicant is required by Title 42 of the U.S. Code Section somethingorother to provide the reference product sponsor with a copy of its biologics license application and related manufacturing information, which the statute says the applicant “shall provide;” and whether, where an applicant fails to provide that required information, the sponsor’s sole recourse is to commence a declaratory judgment under Title 42 Section whocares and/or a patent-infringement action under Title neverheardofit of the U.S.Code.” (minor license taken with the text)

Everyone still with me? Pretty exciting stuff, eh?

But there is one case on the docket with a connection to the previous discussion.  On Wednesday, April 19th the Court will hear Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer.  On the docket, the issue is framed as: “Whether the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses when the state has no valid Establishment Clause concern.”

Here’s what happened: A preschool and daycare affiliated with Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, was denied a grant from the state of Missouri that would have provided public funds to the daycare center to purchase rubberized material (shredded used tires) with which to resurface their playground. The state’s rationale for denying the grant was based on, you guessed it, Section 7 of the Missouri Bill of Rights, quoted earlier.

The Church argued that the funds would be used for a purely secular purpose, protecting the safety of the children playing on the playground, clearly not a religious purpose.

If you’re interested, you can find the whole history of this case on Alliance Defending Freedom’s website,[7] (they are defending the church), and you can read, at last count, thirty-eight amici briefs on the SCOTUSBlog website,[8] some in support, some arguing against the church’s position.

On its face, the Missouri Constitution’s provision in question is self-contradictory and blatantly discriminatory against religion – all religion in fact: “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, section or denomination of religion.” Yes, but: “no… discrimination [shall be] made against any church, sect or creed of religion?”

Public money will be dispensed, for clearly secular purposes, but no religious institution can avail itself of these funds simply because it is a religious institution.

Before we go further here, I should point out that some claim our public schools are decidedly religious enterprises, that they espouse the religion of secular humanism and inculcate unassuming children in that religion’s tenets. If that be the case, and we wanted to apply Missouri’s Blaine Amendment fairly, no public money should go to any public school. Obviously that view, while I support it, is not held by a majority of Americans, even many professing Christians.

But the question must be asked: Is everything a church does an exercise of religion? First Corinthians 10:31 proclaims “… whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”[9] Yes, everything we do should be done in such a manner that it will please God, but does that command alone make everything a religious activity? Should I brush my teeth in a manner that pleases God? Is there even a way to brush your teeth that pleases God, and a way that does not? I think that is a stretch. Brushing one’s teeth is, to my view, a secular activity.[10] There is no guidance in the Bible (that I’m aware of) that instructs us in how (or even whether) to do this.

Likewise, I believe there are completely secular activities that a church performs that cannot or at least should not, be viewed as religious. Keeping their parking lots clean — is this a religious activity? If you take 1 Corinthians 10:31 literally, I suppose it could be. But if a church allows their parking lot to be encumbered with trash, I think we would find it proper for the city to order them to clean it up. Keeping publically-accessible property clean is a completely secular, non-religious activity, subject, I think, to appropriate civil oversight. So would be maintaining a safe playground for their children. And if the playground contained hazardous or poorly maintained equipment that provoked injury to a child who used it, the church should expect to be sued, in civil court.

So here’s the nub: if there are public funds available to assist organizations in maintaining playgrounds upon which the community’s children (as well as the church’s) are allowed to play, money provided by taxes to which the church’s members along with the non-church public both contribute,[11] why can a church not avail itself of those funds for what is clearly a non-religious purpose?

I can understand the concern over the use of public funds to print Bibles, or pay ministers, or rent tents for an outdoor evangelistic campaign; that would clearly not be proper, those activities are fundamentally religious.

I’m also cognizant of the “slippery-slope theory.” If the Missouri Constitution’s provision is deemed excessively hostile to religion in general (which I think it is) and some church use of public funds is to be allowed, where to you draw the line?

The Preamble to the Missouri Constitution, approved in 1821, reads:

“We the people of Missouri, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and grateful for His goodness, do establish this constitution for the better government of the state.”[12]

This statement comports nicely with President George Washington’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation, which read:

“… 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 favor …”[13]

It would appear Missourians are grateful to God, but not too keen about His churches.

At their core, Blaine Amendments were discriminatory in intent, to allow Protestantism to maintain its dominant position in public education. But thanks to the efforts of men like Horace Mann, John Dewey and others, Christianity has been successfully banished from public schools; even Christmas Carols are banned from the “winter holiday” program.[14] In this atmosphere, Blaine Amendments have been turned into a weapon in the secularists’ arsenal. What began as a cudgel to beat down Catholics has become sledge to exclude any and all religions from enjoying the fruits of general taxation, and such amendments serve to feed the rising tide of hostility towards all religion in this country.[15]

But wait, isn’t there to be an impenetrable wall of separation between Church and State?

The Supreme Court famously said so in 1947’s Everson vs. Board of Education:

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: …[n]either a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.”[16]

As more eloquent commentators that I have said, an impenetrable, bi-directional wall was not what Jefferson had in mind as he penned his infamous letter to the Danbury Baptists.  Space doesn’t permit a detailed analysis – perhaps another day. For the impatient, see here[17] and here.[18]

I believe most Americans understand the vital role that religion, Christianity particularly, played in the formation of this country. I’m convinced that without Christianity there would have been no revolution of 1776, period – end of story. “Independence was boldly preached from Scripture throughout the thirteen original States during the American Revolution.”[19] “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.”[20]  Without Christianity being the dominant religion in the decades leading to 1776, I think we would be speaking today with a slightly different accent.  Is there a debt owed here?

So the question before us is whether we are to have this impregnable, insurmountable wall between church and state; a wall contrived by a contorted interpretation of a single phrase found in a single letter of a single American President; or whether we are to acknowledge that churches, like individuals, contribute to the common good, pursue both secular and religious activities; and that their secular functions should be eligible to compete for public funds on an equal footing with secular non-profit organizations.

I propose we make a statement that all children should enjoy safe playgrounds and that we the taxpayers should help make it so.

There are those who will argue (and have) that the Supreme Court should never have taken this case; they should have called this is a state issue to be worked out at that level.  But are “Blaine Amendments” constitutional?  Do they conflict with the spirit and intent of the First Amendment?  That is a question only the high Court can decide.

Others insist that the Scrap Tire Program is immoral: taking from one set of citizens to give to another, and that the church should abstain from participating on those grounds. That’s certainly the church’s choice, I would not begrudge it. While we’re on the subject or government programs, I do not believe the federal government should have gotten involved in retirement planning (Social Security) or healthcare (Medicare), but I’m not turning away the benefits my payroll withholding helped create.

I think Justice Gorsuch will side with me; but I don’t know which side of a certain 5-4 split he will find himself on. Based on his 10th Circuit opinions in Yellowbear v. Lampert, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, and American Atheists Inc. v. Davenport, I think he will conclude that the Missouri Constitution’s Blaine Amendment is overly hostile to religion and that granting public funds for this purpose does not create a conflict with the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

Missouri’s Scrap Tire Grant Program has a secular purpose; awarding Trinity Lutheran the use of public funds for this purpose does not advance or establish their religion.

What say you, Justice Gorsuch? Should we start tearing down the wall?

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[1] With apologies to Ronald Reagan, Berlin, June 12, 1987.

[2] http://www.nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/nineteen/nkeyinfo/nromcath.htm

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaine_Amendment

[5] Notice also that the Blaine Amendment, coming as it did seven years after ratification of the 14th Amendment, clearly shows that those in Congress who passed the 14th did not understand that it should be interpreted to incorporate the Bill of Rights against the states.

[6]  The Establishment Clause would not be incorporated against the States by the 14th Amendment until 1947 in Everson v. Board of Education.

[7] http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/8831

[8] http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/trinity-lutheran-church-of-columbia-inc-v-pauley/

[9] 1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV

[10] Yes, we are to “pray without ceasing,” even while brushing our teeth; so I suppose the case could be made that brushing one’s teeth includes religious activity.

[11] The money is collected from a fee placed on tire disposal.

[12] http://www.moga.mo.gov/preamble.htm

[13] http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/gwproc01.asp

[14] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/06/ban-on-school-christmas-c_n_751839.html

[15] http://www.frc.org/hostilityreport

[16] https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/330/1

[17] http://www.albatrus.org/english/goverment/church_&_state/false_separation_church_state.htm

[18] http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/the-truth-about-the-wall-of-separation-11630340.html

[19] Library of Congress historian Catherine Millard in “Preachers and Pulpits of the American Revolution,” found at http://christianheritagemins.org/articles/Preachers%20and%20Pulpits%20of%20the%20American%20 Revolution.pdf

[20] John Adams, Letter to Hezekiah Niles, 13 February 1818.

Constitutional Corner – Sanctuary Cities and the Constitution

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On January 25, 2017, Donald Trump carried through on a campaign promise and signed Executive Order 13768[1] which declared sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States to be in willful violation of Federal law. Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised to enforce it.[2] Section 2(c) of the Order sets out to ”ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law.” The Order also contained a list of types of illegal aliens that are to be “promptly” deported. These include aliens who:

  • Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
  • Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved;
  • Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
  • Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;
  • Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
  • Are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or
  • In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

In response, the list of U.S. cities declaring that they are sanctuaries, which began growing even during the Obama administration, increased dramatically. There are now estimated to be nearly 300 such cities, counties and even states[3] that have made such declarations. Several states are offering illegal aliens state driver’s licenses. Going one step further, Chicago offered “undocumented” immigrants money for legal fees to fight federal deportation. To see if your locality is a sanctuary, the most well maintained list I’ve found is here.[4]

So what are we to make of sanctuary cities and, if California carries through on its recent threat: sanctuary states?

There is nothing unlawful[5] in a city declaring itself a sanctuary city; the declaration is not the problem, the actions which may follow are. Usually, all a sanctuary city is asserting is that their city’s resources will not be utilized in helping the federal government enforce federal law, something the Supreme Court has said the federal government cannot force a state or city to do (refusing to cooperate is called “anti-commandeering”).[6]

However, it is a federal felony, punishable by five years in prison for each violation, for any person to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection any illegal alien. The word “harbor” is defined as any conduct that tends to substantially facilitate an alien’s remaining in the U.S. illegally.

The Supreme Court rejected arguments (in Reno v. Condon) that a state or local government’s refusal to supply information requested by the federal government should be protected. Providing requested information was not seen by the court as “enforcing” a federal statute.

Furthermore, the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act prohibited any Federal, State or local government entity or official from restricting any other government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the [Department of Homeland Security] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”[7] To get around this, sanctuary localities make it a point not to determine an apprehended person’s immigrant status; they can’t provide information they don’t have, right? Sort of “Don’t ask, don’t … ask?”

So it appears the sanctuary cities do not have much legal “wiggle room.” They can’t be forced to detain individuals at INS request; they can’t be forced to apprehend illegal immigrants who have committed no other crime, but that’s about it. They can be prosecuted for refusing to provide information on aliens in their custody, and they can be prosecuted for shielding aliens they do apprehend, provided they know the alien’s status.  But can the federal government withhold funds solely on the basis of a sanctuary declaration?

As a Reuters study points[8] out, there is a lot of money at stake; tens of billions of dollars.  Here’s a chart[9] that will put the funding in perspective for you.

The problem for Mr. Trump is that in some cases Congress expressly authorizes specific amounts to specific locations, in others the Executive branch is given great discretion in terms of where and how the funds are to be allocated. Some examples of programs where funds could conceivably be cut: the Community Oriented Policing Services program (COPS) provides grants to pay for school resource officers; the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG) funds a variety of state and local law enforcement expenses, including court, crime prevention and education programs; the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) funds a program that helps local police departments with incarcerated undocumented immigrants fund their corrections facilities and the salaries of their officers.

Faced with the potential loss of critical law enforcement funds, some localities have had second thoughts or have even reversed an earlier declaration.  Other localities have protested vigorously when their name has shown up on a sanctuary list.

If it weren’t for America’s history regarding slavery, the sanctuary issue would be much simpler.

The Constitution states[10] that: “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.” A 1793 law made it a crime for slaves to escape from a slave state to one where slavery had been banned. Finally, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 expanded the authority of federal law enforcement officials in apprehending fugitive slaves. As a result, the Underground Railroad[11] was born.  As many as 100,000 escaped slaves may have been “transported” to freedom.

Are today’s sanctuary cities and the Underground Railroad morally equivalent? Is a fugitive slave the same as a fugitive illegal immigrant? Some think so; I think not. The slave did not choose his slavery (although he did choose to escape), the immigrant chose to enter the country illegally or overstay his visa.

While harboring a fugitive from justice is often claimed to be an act of conscience, as we have seen, it is also illegal and the offender is subject to prosecution. Because of this, Catholic churches have been urged[12] to use caution before leaping into the sanctuary pool. As lawyer and Jesuit Father Bryan Pham points out in On Becoming a Sanctuary: Five Points For Catholic Institutions To Consider: “The housing of undocumented people is not necessarily covered under the First Amendment.”

Some in the sanctuary movement, members of other Christian denominations, point to the “cities of refuge” discussed in the Bible:[13] There it says: “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there.’ The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment.” (Emphasis added)

Notice that refuge cities were established for one circumstance: inadvertent manslaughter.  Any “run-of-the-mill” criminal could not claim refuge. Even an inadvertent manslayer could claim refuge only until a trial was conducted (or the High Priest died before a trial could be conducted).

Some Christian churches in America have a long history[14] of receiving and housing true refugees from oppression, at times even smuggling them into this country. The problem here is determining who are the true refugees from violence or oppression and who are simple economic immigrants; how do you determine who is which? Illegal immigrants know exactly what to say if/when they are apprehended?  Even then, the smuggling of true refugees remains a problem.

Pointing to their “venerable role in human history,” Associate Professor of English at UC Irvine, Elizabeth Allen, pleads in an LA Times OpEd[15] that sanctuary cities must continue to exist since they have “long been an escape valve for society.” “The sanctuary cities of the 2000s are part of this American tradition.” Tellingly, Professor Allen wastes no ink recounting the economic effect of illegal immigration.[16]

I think the religious or moral case for providing sanctuary to illegal immigrants is very weak, and thus far I haven’t noticed anyone trying to make a Constitutional case for sanctuary cities, perhaps there’s a lesson there.

“Sanctuary Cities” sounds all lofty and moral, and may even give some citizens a warm-fuzzy that they are “doing their part for the oppressed.” But if you are an official in such a city, don’t be surprised if you are prosecuted for harboring aliens, and don’t complain if you’re incarcerated for doing so. Just saying.

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

[2] www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/27/jeff-sessions-says-hell-punish-sanctuaries-cities.

[3] http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/map-over-200-sanctuary-cities-in-32-states-and-d.c./article/2567880.

[4] http://www.ojjpac.org/sanctuary.asp.

[5] https://townhall.com/columnists/judgeandrewnapolitano/2016/12/08/are-sanctuary-cities-legal-n2256429.

[6] In Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), the Court ruled that the federal government could not force states to implement or carry out the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. In Printz v. United States (1997) the Court ruled that localities could not be forced to administer part of a firearm background check program.

[7] 8 U.S.C. § 1371(a).

[8] https://www.alipac.us/f12/reuters-largest-10-%91sanctuary-cities%92-may-lose-%242-27-billion-federal-funding-342683/.

[9] http://tinyurl.com/kpj3ra7.

[10] Article 4, Section 2.

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_Railroad.

[12] https://www.ncronline.org/news/justice/becoming-sanctuary-five-points-catholic-institutions-consider.

[13] Numbers 35 (and other scriptures).

[14] http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/church-sanctuary-part-1/.

[15] http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-allen-sanctuary-cities-20150917-story.html.

[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_impact_of_illegal_immigrants_in_the_United_States.

Constitutional Corner – Healthcare and the Constitution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constitutional Corner – The Right of Self Preservation

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In 1775, Alexander Hamilton wrote:

“The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”[1]

We should not seek out our rights in “musty old” Constitutions, we should look for them in the world around us; as an expression of natural law they are “written on our hearts.”[2] But what is their source, who wrote them there?

John Dickinson represented Pennsylvania in the Second Continental Congress in 1776, although he refused to sign the Declaration of Independence. Eleven years later he represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention (where he did sign the document). He answers the question:

“Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness… We claim them from a higher source – from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth.  They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives. In short they are founded on the immutable maxims of reason and justice.”[3]

Who would deny that each human being has a natural right to preserve their own life? Self-preservation is an almost universal, natural response of living organisms. Upon recognizing a threat to its life, nearly any aware creature will move away from the perceived threat or, if movement is impossible, do whatever is possible to neutralize or minimize the threat to its life. It seems as if this response is hardwired into us. Might this be because it is both a natural response and a natural right?

All the great natural rights philosophers recognized a right of self-preservation. Thomas Hobbes put the right of self-preservation at the top of his catalog of laws of nature that constitute the “true moral philosophy.”[4] He wrote in “Leviathan:”

“The Right Of Nature , which Writers commonly call Jus Naturale , is the Liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own Nature; that is to say, of his own Life; and consequently, of doing any thing, which in his own Judgement, and Reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.” (Emphasis added)

John Locke took it a step further; not only could we defend ourselves, we could wreak havoc on whomsoever or whatever threatens us:

“Self-preservation [is] a duty to God…I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction: for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion.[5]

Notice that to Locke (and others, as we’ll soon see) we have a duty to preserve ourselves; but the duty is owed not to ourselves but to our Creator. Do we have a similar duty to protect the lives of others?

“Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself… so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.”

Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, the great French philosopher, wrote:[6]

“God is therefore willing, that everyone should labor for his own preservation and perfection, in order to acquire all the happiness, of which he is capable according to his nature and state…”

“For, man being directly and primarily charged with the care of his own preservation and happiness, it follows therefore that, in a case of entire inequality, the care of ourselves ought to prevail over that of others…”

“If a particular manner of acting appears to me evidently fitter than any other for my preservation and perfection, fitter to procure my bodily health and the welfare of my soul; this motive alone obliges me to act in conformity to it.” (Emphasis added)

The Founders took a similar view:

“Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.[7]

“In the human body the head only sustains and governs all the members, directing them, with admirable harmony, to the same object, which is self-preservation and happiness;[8]

Self-preservation is the first principle of our nature. When our lives and properties are at stake, it would be foolish and unnatural to refrain from such measures as might preserve them because they would be detrimental to others.[9]

The right of self defense is the first law of nature.”[10] (Emphasis added in all)

Since natural law and revealed law (the Bible) have the same source, we should find them in harmony. But the Bible takes a more nuanced view, especially when we encounter the New Testament.  But first the Old:

“Thou shalt not murder” makes it clear that we can have an expectation that no one should threaten our life. But does this give us the right to actively defend our life?

In Psalm 82:4, we find an obligation to protect all who are in danger:

“Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”

In Ezekiel 33 we encounter an obligation to warn others of approaching danger, and if we do not, any harm that comes to them will be our responsibility:

“…’But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand.”

Numerous verses[11] demonstrate that murdering another person results in the forfeiture of the life of the murderer. Does it not follow that to prevent someone from forfeiting their life we should do what we can to prevent or neutralize their attack on our person?

For what are we preserving by doing so? Yes, our life; but to whom do we own our life? Are we not God’s “property?” Is it not God’s property we are ultimately protecting?

Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body.[12]

Returning to “Thou shalt not murder;” can we justify taking the life of an attacker in defending our self? Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” certainly presents us with a challenge. Must we “turn the other cheek” when our life, and something more than a slap on the face, is in the bargain? In John 15:13, we are shown it is an act of love to lay down our own life for a friend. Sacrificing one’s self when others are imperiled, subordinating our right of self-preservation to the preservation of someone else, is the ultimate act of love. We honor those who choose this path; but it remains a choice.

Yet, Jesus confirms there is still a time and place for weapons of defense: “he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.”[13] When Peter imprudently cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant while trying to protect Jesus, Peter is told to put his sword back in its sheath, not discard it.[14]

So if the Right of Self-Preservation was universally recognized by moral philosophers and the Founders, subordinating that right counted as the ultimate sacrifice, why was this right not enumerated in the Constitution?

Perhaps one reason has to do with the limits of language.  Madison noted that:

“[T]here is great reason to fear that a positive declaration of some of the most essential rights could not be obtained in the requisite latitude. I am sure that the rights of conscience in particular, if submitted to public definition would be narrowed much more than they are likely ever to be by an assumed power.”[15]

Translation: if you do not describe the right you are trying to secure with “the requisite latitude,” that is, precisely enough, there is danger that it will not be secured correctly or adequately. And if the public is allowed to define the right, they will likely do so in an even narrower sense than the government might.

Considering Madison’s example: how would you describe the Right of Conscience? To what beliefs would it extend – anything and everything, or only religiously-focused beliefs? If you believe it is morally wrong to kill animals should you be able to enunciate and act upon that belief? Of course, but not to the point that your actions infringe on the right of others to eat meat if they choose (PETA take note).

How would you describe the Right of Self-Preservation in a short sentence or paragraph so that it would be appropriately protected by your government? The “Stand Your Ground Laws” found in several states are a step in that direction, but do they cover all circumstances where self-preservation comes into play? Certainly not. Does a terminally ill patient have a right to take experimental drugs or therapies not yet approved by the FDA if doing so offers a chance of preserving their life? So called “Right to Take” legislation is attempting to secure precisely that right.[16] Would you have included that in your description of the Right of Self-Preservation?  I would probably have overlooked it.

While Madison chose not to enumerate a Right to Self-Preservation, most likely because the right went without saying, he did provide for it. In arguing for the Bill of Rights on the floor of Congress, Madison said:

“It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration, and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the general government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to (what would later become the Ninth Amendment).”

“The Ninth Amendment is the repository for natural rights,” writes Leonard W. Levy in Origins of the Bill of Rights.[17] But, Levy cautions: “no evidence exists to prove that the Framers intended the Ninth Amendment to protect any particular natural rights…we can only guess what the Framers had in mind.

The problem with the Ninth Amendment is that the rights it is to protect must be “teased out of it.” And who should do the “teasing:” five lawyers in black robes, or the rightful owners of the Constitution, i.e., the people? Clearly the people are the ultimate authority over what the Constitution says and means; in my view they are the only rightful agency with the authority to identify new rights which are to be protected by the Ninth Amendment. “To say that the Framers did not intend the Court to act as a constitutional convention or to shape public policies by interpreting the Constitution is…to assert historical truth.”[18]

As Levy points out, until 1965, the Ninth Amendment was considered an indecipherable mystery by the court, akin to an “ink blot.” In 1965, the five lawyers “teased out” a right to privacy over the use of contraceptives;[19] eight years later they extended this newly discovered privacy right to the killing of babies in the womb.  In the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges, while the Court claimed to discover a right to homosexual “marriage” in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, they could just as easily have discovered this “right” in the Ninth. “Within fifteen years [after Griswold] the Ninth Amendment…was invoked in more than twelve hundred state and federal cases in the most astonishing variety of matters.”[20]

Let us presume then that a Right of Self-Preservation is a natural right deserving of protection by the government; by what means is this right to be acted upon? Is it logical that a right to preserve one’s life when confronted by some armed with a weapon should involve the use of a weapon at least equal in lethality? I think so.

Locke reminds us that: “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”[21] (Emphasis added)

No one ought to wish to harm us, but some do. Some people have no compulsion against killing their fellow man and even inflicting great pain in the act. Paraphrasing Jesus: like the poor, given the fallen nature of man, we will always have such people with us.

As I noted earlier, Locke states: “I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction: for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion.

Defending yourself against someone who threatens to take your life with a gun logically requires a gun of your own. And the Founders would agree:

“The right of the citizens to bear arms in the defense of themselves shall not be questioned.” James Wilson

”Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion for the defence of the country, the over-throw of tyranny, or in private self-defense.” John Adams

“…[T]he people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and their own State, or the United States… and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them, unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals.” Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention

In Thomas Jefferson’s Commonplace Book we find him quoting Cesare Beccaria’s book, On Crimes and Punishment.[22] Jefferson found this quote of Beccaria worth remembering: “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms … disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes… Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”

In 1859, a court, albeit a state court, finally proclaimed forthrightly what everyone, certainly everyone of the time, knew to be true: “The right of a citizen to bear arms, in lawful defense of himself or the State, is absolute. He does not derive it from the State government. It is one of the “high powers” delegated directly to the citizen, and is excepted out of the general powers of government.’ A law cannot be passed to infringe upon or impair it, because it is above the law, and independent of the lawmaking power.”[23]

Turning to the Second Amendment, much has been made of its prefatory clause which can be read to imply that keeping and bearing arms is only permitted for militia duty. This is clearly an important reason for having arms, but I hope you see by now that it is not the only reason.

As Robert Natelson explains in The Founders and the 2nd Amendment:[24]

“History makes it clear that the Second Amendment is designed to serve four principal purposes.

First, it guarantees the states militia power of their own to balance the military power of the federal government;

Second, it promotes the God-given right of personal self defense;

Third, it enables the citizenry to repel foreign invasion; and

Fourth, it enables the citizenry to overthrow domestic tyrants and intimidate or discipline those who otherwise would be tyrants.”

Each of these purposes deserves more elaboration, but space this day does not permit it.

Let us be clear: the second Amendment grants no rights, it only protects a preexisting right from government infringement (and the infringement that has been allowed thus far is also a story for another time). The Supreme Court’s decision in Heller v. District of Columbia,[25] although decried by Progressives, demonstrated conclusively that a right of individual self-defense/preservation is appropriately exercised by keeping and bearing arms.

There are those who will insist, however, that an individual gives up his natural right of self-preservation when entering into a social contract; i.e., the government assumes responsibility for our protection. This brings to mind the meme: “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.” It should also come as no surprise that police have no responsibility to protect individual citizens from harm.[26] So then there’s that.

To conclude: the Right of Self-Preservation is a natural right with a long pedigree. The ability to use appropriate weapons, including guns, when exercising that right should be as protected as the right itself. The right to keep and bear arms does not hinge exclusively or even predominately on duty in a militia.

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[1] Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 1775.

[2] Romans 2:15.

[3] John Dickinson, An Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados, 1766.

[4] Leviathan, xv, ¶40.

[5] Second Treatise on Government, Section 16.

[6] Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, The Principles of Natural And Politic Law, 1748.

[7] Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists, The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting. November 20, 1772.

[8] John Dickinson, A Speech Against Independence, 1776.

[9] Alexander Hamilton, A Full Vindication, December15, 1774.

[10] Henry St. George Tucker (in Blackstone’s Commentaries).

[11] Exodus 21:14, Deuteronomy 19:11, Numbers 35:16.

[12] 1Corinthians 6:19-20, American Standard Version.

[13] Luke 22:36.

[14] John 18:11.

[15] Annals of Congress, 8 June 1789.

[16] https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/11/18/right-to-try-laws-allowing-patients-to-try-experimental-drugs-bypass-fda.

[17] Leonard Levy, Origins of the Bill of Rights, Yale University Press, 1999, p. 254.

[18] Ibid, p. 243.

[19] Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965),

[20] Levy, p. 242.

[21] John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, Chapter 1, Section 6.

[22] http://www.constitution.org/cb/crim_pun.htm.

[23] Cockrum v. State, 24 Tex. 394, at 401-402.

[24] http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2013/04/01/the-founders-and-the-2nd-amendment/.

[25] District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

[26] Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005).