Constitutional Corner – The Right of Protest

Open as PDF

Wikipedia[1] says “[t]he right to protest is a perceived human right arising out of a number of recognized human rights. While no human rights instrument or national constitution grants the absolute right to protest, such a right to protest may be a manifestation of the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of association, and the right to freedom of speech.”

I could stop right there, because that is a nice succinct way of answering the question of whether there is indeed a right of protest, but that just wouldn’t be fun, so let’s proceed:

Wikipedia’s answer is fine as far as it goes, but it fails to address the distinction between natural versus civil rights a distinction Americans of the founding period easily explain. We are endowed natural, unalienable rights by our Creator, we are granted civil, alienable rights by our government.

Could a right of protest be a natural right? In its most generic sense, certainly. In a state of nature you can certainly protest anything you want: the taste of food, the weather, anything is fair game. But in a political sense, a right of protest makes no sense at all.

The Oregon ACLU[2] appears to harbor no doubt, however, stating on their website: “You have a constitutionally protected right to engage in peaceful protest in “traditional public forums” such as streets, sidewalks or parks.” Really?  Constitutionally-protected?

As Wikipedia rightly points out, but which the Oregon ACLU  apparently doesn’t realize, no national constitution, including our own, establishes such a right.

A Right of Protest might have been contemplated in the Ninth Amendment; protests were certainly a well-known feature to colonial Americans. The colonists took to the streets in droves to protest the Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Acts of 1767, the Tea Act of 1773 and, finally, the Intolerable Acts of 1775.

Some protests turned violent, particularly in Boston, but certainly not all of them; some protests were purely economic in nature – boycotts of British-made goods. James Madison recounted in a letter to his father how he and fellow college students participated in a subdued protest of New York merchants who chose to not take part in a boycott of British liquor urged by their brethren in beleaguered Boston.

An 1861 anti-war protest in Baltimore, Maryland resulted in both citizen and military deaths when protesters tried to block the movement of southbound Massachusetts troops going from one train station to another. It was actually the first blood spilled in the war.

From July 13–16, 1863, protests in New York City over the Union Army draft quickly turned violent, leading to 120 deaths and at least 2,000 people injured. After the Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln had to send several regiments of militia and volunteer troops to control the city. Protests of the National Conscription Act took place in other cities and states across the North.

The “Bonus Army” protest of 1932 resulted in 2 dead; 1,086 injured.[3]

And then how can we forget the many protests of the Vietnam War and some attendant acts of terrorism by the Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground.

Some today have likened our current anti-Trump protests to the Boston Tea Party, as though there was some sort of moral equivalence. Balderdash! The Boston Tea Party was a calm and orderly affair, focused exclusively on the tea (a broken ship’s lock was immediately replaced and, eventually the more than a million dollars of tea was paid for). I can see the disclaimer now: “No ships were damaged nor crews assaulted in the taking of this tea.”

Contrast this with the violent protests on January 20th in which businesses, including an immigrant-owned limousine were torched. If there is good news here, it is that the more than 200 protesters who were arrested that day face 10 years imprisonment and up to a 250,000 fine.

Going back to the Wikipedia description, “such a right to protest may be a manifestation of the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of association, and the right to freedom of speech.” “May be?” So if we combine these three natural rights somehow a right of protest springs out of them? It reminds me of the right of privacy assembled by the high court in Griswold v. Connecticut from “bits and pieces” of inferences of privacy found in the 4th and 5th Amendments, and others.

But as I repeatedly say to groups: I have no problem with creating a right to privacy or any right at all, and securing it in the Constitution; but who rightfully has the authority to create and define those rights: five unelected lawyers, or the 300 million owners of the Constitution – i.e., the American people? Because the process of amending the Constitution to create such a right requires a bit of work on our part, we seem to be more inclined to let lawyers in black robes do our work for us. Need a right to privacy? No problem. Need a right to kill your unborn child? No problem. Need a right for two homosexuals to “marry?” No problem. Give the job to the courts, they can do anything.

Our current Court, which seems to show no reticence to creating new rights, is not willing to give citizens the right to protest or even exercise their free speech right on the court’s very own steps.[4] But that’s not a obstacle to a determined protester. Protesters upset with the Citizens United decision have now taken their obnoxiousness inside the Supreme Court’s chamber,[5] even to the point of interrupting the Chief Justice.

The Supreme Court itself has never claimed there was a right to protest, per se; they have instead viewed protest-related cases as free-speech issues:

In 1969, (Tinker v. Des Moines) high school student protesters were told they could wear black armbands as a free speech right.

In the 1989 case of Texas v. Johnson, the court decided that burning the U.S. flag in protest of the government’s actions was to be considered a free speech issue. Flag burning joined the ever-increasing list of “symbolic speech” that was to be protected.

In 2011, the Westboro Baptist Church won the right to protest military funerals after claiming free speech.[6]

In 2014, in McCullen v. Coakley,[7] the Court unanimously held that Massachusetts’ 35-feet buffer zones to keep abortion protesters from interfering with women seeking abortions violated the First Amendment because it limited free speech too broadly.

So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there is no such thing as a political right to protest. You have a right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, you even have a right to assemble for that purpose as well as to freely speak your grievances. But when your use of any of those rights infringes on my right to freely travel in my car, or damages my property, or disturbs my peace, we have a problem, and I’m going to demand that the law be enforced against you.

The criminals who defaced a putting green on a Trump golf course[8] last week need to be rounded up, fined and imprisoned.

The holligans who are preventing businessman Peter Thiel from enjoying his home[9] and neighborhood should be disbursed and arrested if they return.

Protesters who disrupt a Congressman’s Town Hall meeting[10] should be arrested for incitement. Let them convince a judge their actions were otherwise.

Any protests which turn into riots and property destruction where it can be proved that George Soros or anyone else funded the event should result in the arrest of those financiers for inciting riot.

The training sessions conducted by the ACLU[11] should be monitored for the same purpose and if any instructions can be interpreted as inciteful, the director of the ACLU should be similarly arrested.

Quoting from the federal government’s website on the subject of riot, we find:

Government officials cannot simply prohibit a public assembly in their own discretion,[4] but the government can impose restrictions on the time, place, and manner of peaceful assembly, provided that constitutional safeguards are met.[5] Time, place, and manner restrictions are permissible so long as they “are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, … are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and … leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.”

The First Amendment does not provide the right to conduct an assembly at which there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, or interference with traffic on public streets, or other immediate threat to public safety or order.[13] Statutes that prohibit people from assembling and using force or violence to accomplish unlawful purposes are permissible under the First Amendment.[14]

So there it is: you may peacefully petition the government for a redress of your grievances, you may even do so in a group; and you may speak your mind in any public place (except the Supreme Court’s steps). But please don’t insist that you have a constitutionally-protected right of protest.  Further, if you do not allow other Americans to enjoy their equal rights while exercising yours, don’t claim you stand on the moral high ground.  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/Right_to_protest

[2] http://aclu-or.org/content/your-right-protest

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonus_Army

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/protesters-have-no-free-speech-rights-on-supreme-courts-front-porch/2015/08/28/f79ae262-4d9e-11e5-bfb9-9736d04fc8e4_story.html

[5] http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/21/politics/supreme-court-protests-citizens-united/index.html

[6] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/03/AR2011030304124.html

[7] http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/mccullen-v-coakley/

[8] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/03/12/video-shows-environmental-activists-defacing-popular-trump-golf-course/?utm_term=.0972b18e88da

[9] http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Pro-immigrant-demonstrators-rally-outside-Peter-10995442.php

[10] http://www.sbsun.com/general-news/20160304/protesters-disrupt-logistics-town-hall-meeting-in-san-bernardino

[11] https://aclufl.org/2017/02/24/aclu-to-host-the-resistance-training-an-aclu-town-hall-in-miami/

Constitution Corner – The Right of Conscience

Open as PDF

“… there 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.”[1]

Despite Madison’s initial reluctance to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, he finally succumbed to the arguments of Jefferson, Mason, Henry and others, and then fought vigorously for its addition.  Nevertheless, as he warned Jefferson, if the rights to be secured are not described “in the requisite latitude” they will likely not receive the protection they deserve.

So how do you describe the right of conscience?

You start by understanding what conscience is and why it is part of the human condition.

Every person is born with a conscience; it has been called “a gift of God to mankind.”  This gift manifests itself as the “still, small voice” in our spirit that speaks as we contemplate a particular action:  “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”[2]  We may not hear a verbal “word” behind us, but we know the guidance is there; that guidance, based on the laws of God, is “written upon our hearts.”

Notice that conscience guides actions as well as thoughts; we are to “walk it its light.”  Thoughts or beliefs are a first step, but insufficient; they are impotent if they cannot also be acted upon.

In 1778, Theophilus Parsons warned: “We have duties, for the discharge of which we are accountable to our Creator and benefactor, which no human power can cancel. What those duties are, is determinable by right reason, which may be, and is called, a well informed conscience. What this conscience dictates as our duty, is so; and that power which assumes a control over it, is an usurper….”[3]  “Duty” implies action.

Based on the suggestion of New Hampshire as they ratified the Constitution, and his own inclinations, Madison tried to explicitly secure such a right.

He had observed, first-hand, the ill-treatment afforded Baptist ministers in nearby Culpepper County, Virginia.  Arrested for preaching without the required license from the state (which they were unable to obtain since the Church of England was the established state church), they were thrown in the “goal” and treated harshly; one account has a jailer urinating into their cell through the bars.  Hearing of this and apparently visiting and speaking with them, Madison pleaded in a letter to his college friend William Bradford: “…[P]ity me and pray for Liberty and Conscience to revive among us.”

It was the ministers’ freedom to act upon their beliefs of conscience that had Madison most concerned.  The beliefs themselves were, “in the main … very orthodox.”[4]

Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments on June 20th, 1785 reminds us that:

“[t]he Religion … of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate… It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no mans (sic) right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.[5] (emphasis added)

New Hampshire suggested: “Congress shall make no laws touching religion, or to infringe the rights of conscience.”  Madison added his own thoughts and came up with: “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”  The Senate removed the conscience reference altogether and left us with what we have today.

So to what “objects” does the right of conscience extend?  Here’s where Madison’s warning about “requisite latitude” comes into focus.  Conscience clearly begins with religious thought and action.  Any fair study of the right of conscience during the founding period must conclude that freedom of religion was the driving force behind this right.  From the Pilgrims to the Puritans, to the formation of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Maryland, religious liberty and the freedom to act on Christian conscience has been central to the American experience.

Accommodations have indeed been made to allow people (and even corporations) to align their actions with their specific religious beliefs:

For-profit companies as well as religious organizations are not forced to cover contraceptives in their healthcare plans. [6]

A woman can voluntarily quit her job over a requirement to work on the Sabbath without losing her right to unemployment benefits.[7]

A Jehovah’s Witness cannot be denied unemployment benefits after quitting his job at a weapons plant over objection to manufacturing weapons of war.[8]

The Amish cannot be forced to send their children to compulsory public school.[9]

But does right of conscience extend only to religious tenets and beliefs?

No!  In two cases,[10] the Supreme Court decided that “conscientious objection” beliefs did not have to be religiously based to be valid and deserving of respect and accommodation; they could be based on personal codes of morality.

Pharmacists in Illinois have been granted the freedom to not dispense abortificants (the “Plan B Pill”) if doing so conflicted with their objections to abortion.[11]

So a person cannot be forced to serve in the military when he or she believes war to be morally wrong, but apparently a florist can be forced to sell flowers which will be used to celebrate a homosexual wedding,[12] a baker forced similarly to bake a cake for such a wedding,[13] and a photographer forced to photograph it.[14]  If they refuse to provide these services because they believe homosexual marriage to be morally wrong or Biblically condemned, they will be sued, fined, forced out of business and almost certainly sent to “diversity training”[15] to align their “aberrant” beliefs with public policy.

America, what a country!

It should go without saying that a Jewish or Muslim butcher will never be compelled in this country to sell pork, a black carpenter compelled to build crosses for the KKK, or a lesbian print shop owner compelled to print posters for the Westboro Baptist Church.

It should be clear by now that Christian business owners and only they are being systematically targeted, with one intent: to drive them out of business if they refuse to support the LGBT agenda.  They will be forced to celebrate homosexual marriage along with everyone else, or find a different line of work!

So what is God’s view of homosexuality and homosexual “marriage?”

“While the Bible does address homosexuality, it does not explicitly mention gay marriage/same-sex marriage. It is clear, however, that the Bible condemns homosexuality as an immoral and unnatural sin. Leviticus 18:22 identifies homosexual sex as an abomination, a detestable sin. Romans 1:26-27 declares homosexual desires and actions to be shameful, unnatural, lustful, and indecent. First Corinthians 6:9 states that homosexuals are unrighteous and will not inherit the kingdom of God. Since both homosexual desires and actions are condemned in the Bible, it is clear that homosexuals “marrying” is not God’s will, and would be, in fact, sinful.

Whenever the Bible mentions marriage, it is between a male and a female. The first mention of marriage, Genesis 2:24, describes it as a man leaving his parents and being united to his wife. In passages that contain instructions regarding marriage, such as 1 Corinthians 7:2-16 and Ephesians 5:23-33, the Bible clearly identifies marriage as being between a man and a woman. Biblically speaking, marriage is the lifetime union of a man and a woman, primarily for the purpose of building a family and providing a stable environment for that family.”[16]

James Madison called conscience “the most sacred of all property.”  “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort;” he wrote, “as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals… that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.”[17]

Just as government is taking an increasingly dim view of personal property in this country,[18] they are taking an equally dim view of the rights of conscience, at least when the beliefs in question do not align with those of the progressive Left.

Rather than being secure, liberty of conscience finds itself under attack by those who feel we must all think and act alike on certain issues.  While there have been occasional victories, liberty of conscience still finds itself, at least on the subject of homosexual marriage, very much on the defensive.  We hope and pray that soon-to-be Justice Neil Gorsuch will help bring sanity to this pitiable situation.

Liberty of conscience, at the very heart of the settlement and formation of America, must be preserved if America is to remain America.  Samuel Adams told those gathered in the State House in Philadelphia on August 1, 1776, “…[f]reedom of thought and the right of private judgement, in matters of conscience, driven from every other corner of the earth, direct their course to this happy country as their last asylum.”[19]

No longer.

“If there be a government then which prides itself in maintaining the inviolability of property; which provides that none shall be taken directly even for public use without indemnification to the owner, and yet directly violates the property which individuals have in their opinions, their religion, their persons, and their faculties; … such a government is not a pattern for the United States.  If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments.”[20] (emphasis added)

As “James Madison” tells the school kids I visit, if you do not know your rights and/or are not willing to defend and assert them, you effectively have no rights and are on the road to slavery.  If Americans, and particularly Christian Americans, don’t stand united against this oppression, as Ronald Reagan once said: …”we will wake up one day telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

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

[1] James Madison letter to Thomas Jefferson, 17 Oct 1788.

[2] Isaiah 30:21.

[3] http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch4s8.html

[4] From James Madison to William Bradford-24 January 1774

[5] http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions43.html

[6] Hobby Lobby Stores & Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.

[7] Sherbert v. Verner 374 U.S. 398 (1963)

[8] Thomas v. Review of Indiana Employment Security Division 450 U.S. 707 (1981)

[9] Wisconsin v. Yoder 406 U.S. 205 (1972)

[10] Seeger v. United States (1965) and Welsh v. United States (1970)

[11] https://aclj.org/pharmacists-victory-illinois-seven-year-fight-conscience-rights

[12] http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/8608

[13] http://www.wnd.com/2016/07/christian-baker-takes-compulsion-of-speech-case-to-supremes/

[14] http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/5537

[15] http://www.christianpost.com/news/christian-business-owner-gay-pride-t-shirts-diversity-training-148793

[16] https://www.gotquestions.org/gay-marriage.html

[17] http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s23.html

[18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelo_v._City_of_New_London

[19] http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/american-independence-speech-by-samuel-adams-august-1-1776.html

[20] http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/property/

Constitution Corner – The Rights of Illegal Aliens

Open as PDF

Let’s say a Mexican national decides to illegally enter America and is successful in doing so, but he then unfortunately steps into a quicksand pit and is slowly being sucked down despite his efforts to extricate himself.

A passerby, an American citizen, observes the man’s predicament.   Does the citizen first ascertain whether or not the man is a U.S. citizen, or even in the country legally, before deciding whether or not to throw him a lifeline?  Of course not; as Jefferson said, or implied: We are all created equal in the sight of God and are equally entitled to the enjoyment of certain unalienable rights endowed to us by our Creator; among which are the right to pursue happiness, enjoy liberty, and escape from quicksand, or something like that.

I think all Americans would agree that every human being should enjoy these unalienable, natural rights.  Obviously, many Americans do not.  Many Americans believe that until a person has first filled their lungs with air, and for some, even after that time, they can be killed, murdered, terminated, have their little spinal cord snipped or cranium crushed, whatever, all for the convenience of the person who carries them, or moments ago carried them, in their womb.

So as we approach the subject of rights for illegal aliens, we must realize that we as a nation have a long way to go before claiming Jefferson’s ideal of equality at creation, and that some in our country are far more willing to extend certain rights to lawbreakers than they are to the unborn.

Whether I think, or you think, or any American thinks illegal aliens should enjoy any of the rights secured by our Constitution, is, in the end, not that important.  What matters, at least in the near-term, is what does the Supreme Court think?  We’ll get to that in a moment.

I know, even as I say those words concerning the court, that I’ve committed an heresy , and even contradicted statements I’ve made in the past: the Supreme Court doesn’t have the final say on anything Constitutional, the people do.  But until the people act on the authority they have, the Court does.  That, unfortunately, is what our system of government has become.

Ever since Marbury v. Madison, when Chief Justice John Marshall carved out this special privilege the Court now enjoys, Americans have generally yielded to the Court’s opinion on any matter, even when the Court has been clearly wrong.

When the Court ruled, in 1896,[1] that separate bathrooms and drinking fountains for blacks were entirely proper and constitutional, it took nearly 60 years[2] for the people to say they disagreed, and “encourage” the Court to agree with them.

So here’s a question: in 1865, when Congress began working on what became the 14th Amendment, did they intend to have the privileges it extends and the protections it provides cover aliens in this country illegally?  The answer has to be clearly and unequivocally: no – for two reasons.  First, the focus at that time was clearly on slavery and how to rid the United States of it and its effects.[3]  Second, in 1865, the concept of an illegal alien was unknown.

Prior to the 14th Amendment Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866,[4] guaranteeing citizenship to all Americans without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude. The Act was a direct attack on the infamous “Black Codes” that were passed by most of the southern states after the War for Southern Independence.  Black Codes restricted the movement of blacks, controlled the type of labor contracts they could enter into, prohibited them from owning firearms, and prevented them from suing or testifying in court.

When the Civil Rights Act reached his desk, President Andrew Johnson vetoed it.  Johnson objected to the fact that, at the time, 11 of 36 states were not yet represented in the Congress; he also thought the Act discriminated against whites and in favor of African-Americans.  Even after overriding Johnson’s veto, there were concerns in Congress whether the Act was constitutional.  In response, they drafted the 14th Amendment, and forced the southern states to ratify it or face continued martial law.

The 14th Amendment’s Section 1 states:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The critical clause for our discussion is the last one.  What did Congress mean by “any person?”  Did they mean to extend these protections to all “persons,” i.e., all human beings, regardless of their legal status in our country?  They distinguished between “citizens” and “persons” but did not consider a “person’s” lawful status.

Until 1875, there was no such thing as an “illegal alien.” Anyone in the country who had not become a citizen was simply an “alien.”  Aliens entered and left America at will.  If they stayed long enough to meet the rules for naturalization, they could voluntarily apply for citizenship, or not; if they choose not to become citizens, they could stay indefinitely as nothing more than an “alien.”

The Page Act of 1875[5] was the first attempt by Congress to control who would be allowed to legally immigrate to America.  That year it became illegal to enter the country if you were Asian, and you were coming to America to be a forced laborer, were intent on engaging in prostitution, or were considered to be a convict.  The “illegal alien” was born.

In 1921, Congress established the first immigration quotas[6] based on country of origin. Quotas based on national origin continued until 1965 when the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965[7] initiated a system of preferences based on immigrants’ skills and family relationships with U.S. citizens or U.S. residents (while retaining by-country limits).

In “Yes, illegal aliens have constitutional rights,”[8] immigration activist and political consultant Raoul Contreras cites none other than James Madison in claiming that aliens should have the full protection of the Constitution.

In the Report of 1800, Madison wrote:[9]

“…Aliens are not more parties to the laws, than they are parties to the constitution; yet it will not be disputed, that as they owe on one hand, a temporary obedience, they are entitled in return, to their protection and advantage.”

According to Madison, “aliens” are entitled to “protection and advantage.”  But which aliens, those who are in the country legally, or illegally?  And which “protections and advantages.”

Would James Madison have extended his undefined “protection and advantage” to aliens in the country legally?  I think so.  Would Madison have extended these protections to aliens in the country illegally?   I think not, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.  And just what specific protections would Madison extend to aliens in either category?  We can’t know for sure.

After citing Madison, Contreras discusses several Supreme Court decisions which he says support his contention that illegal aliens enjoy “the full panoply of constitutional protections American citizens have with three exceptions: voting, some government jobs and gun ownership (and that is now in doubt).”  So what has the court said?

In the 2001 case of Zadvydas v. Davis,[10]  the Court decided that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment applies to all aliens in the United States whether their presence here is “lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.”

In 1982, in Plyler v. Doe,[11] the court said: “The illegal aliens who are … challenging the state may claim the benefit of the Equal Protection clause which provides that no state shall ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ Whatever his status under immigration laws, an alien is a ‘person’ in any ordinary sense of the term.”

So thus far the Court has granted due process and equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment to illegal aliens, based on the unrefined definition of “person.”  But then we encounter a problem with Mr. Contreras’ interpretation of Supreme Court opinions.

Almeida-Sanchez v. United States (1973)[12] centered on the warrant-less search of an automobile, 20 miles from the U.S. border, belonging to a Mexican national with a valid work permit to be in the U.S.  The search, conducted by the Border Patrol to determine whether illegal aliens were being carried in the car, instead found a large quantity of marijuana.  Almeida-Sanchez was convicted of the marijuana trafficking and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.  But the Supreme Court found the warrant-less search to be unreasonable and reversed the lower court.

According to Contreras, the Court decided that “all criminal charge-related elements of the Constitution’s amendments contained in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and the 14th, such as search and seizure, self-incrimination, and trial by jury, protected all non-citizens, whether in the country legally or illegally.”  Unfortunately for Mr. Contreras, the court reached no such conclusion (don’t take my word for it, read the opinion).[13]  Instead, the (6-3) majority ends by stating: “those lawfully within the country, entitled to use the public highways, have a right to free passage without interruption or search unless there is known to a competent official, authorized to search, probable cause for believing that their vehicles are carrying contraband or illegal merchandise.”  So while the Court affirmed the protection of the 4th Amendment for those aliens lawfully in the country it extended no such protection to those in the country unlawfully, nor do I find evidence that it found that any other protections of the Bill of Rights should be applied.

Based on this evidence, it seems clear that, in the eyes of the Court, at least the “due process” and “equal protection” provisions of the 14th Amendment apply to illegal aliens.  Aliens legally in the country enjoy additional protections as well, at least those of the 4th Amendment, perhaps extending to much of the Bill of Rights.

So I return to my earlier question: in 1865, when the 14th Amendment was drafted, did Congress see its protections extending to “persons” who had broken the law to arrive here?  I think not.  But as I have stated in the past, it is not so much what the drafters of a Constitution, Amendment or Statute intended, it is what they achieved that counts.  The drafters of the 14th Amendment used the word “person” in a general sense without discriminating between “lawful” and “unlawful” persons.  In 1865, no such distinction of aliens even existed; that came ten years later.  Had such a distinction existed, would the drafters have been more elaborative? One would hope.

In the eyes of the Court, perhaps this question is settled; but is it settled with the owners of the Constitution?  In that regard, I think the jury is still out. What do you say, America?  What rights should illegal aliens enjoy?  Are you content with those that have already been extended to them or would you like to see more, or fewer? If you think the Court erred in its use of the 14th Amendment’s “person,” you need to let someone know (and who would that be?).  Or you could just sit back and let the Supreme Court continue to dictate the policy of the United States.  I’m 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] Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 US 537 (1896).

[2] Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

[3] Slaves were freed by the 13th Amendment.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Act_of_1866

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Page_Act_of_1875

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

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_and_Nationality_Act_of_1965

[8] http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/immigration/255281-yes-illegal-aliens-have-constitutional-rights

[9] https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-17-02-0202

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zadvydas_v._Davis

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plyler_v._Doe

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almeida-Sanchez_v._United_States

[13] https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/413/266

Constitution Corner – Has Trump Violated the Constitution?

Open as PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary says this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about gifts as emoluments?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constitution Corner – The 17th Amendment Should Be Repealed

Open as PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constitutional Corner – Musings on the Article V Convention Simulation

Open as PDF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which will it be?[6]

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 1775

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

Constitution’s Week in Review – 20 August 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Sep Lessons in Liberty – The Electoral College

The functioning of the Electoral College today bears little resemblance to the Framers’ intentions.  Rather than complete its death blow with a Constitutional Amendment, groups like National Popular Vote have decided a final end-run is all that’s needed.  Can the Framers’ intent be restored?  Come find out on Monday, 12 September, 7-9pm at the Foundation for American Christian Education in Chesapeake, VA.  For those outside the local area, the presentation will be livestreamed.  Registration is $10 either way at www.face.net.

19 Sep Christian Financial Concepts Webinar – The Electoral College

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

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

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

[1] http://www.christianpost.com/news/churches-sex-segregated-bathrooms-transgender-feel-unwelcome-closed-to-public-iowa-commission-166167/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Constitutional Corner – The Contingent Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would be the outcome?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Constitution’s Week in Review – 30 July 16

Meanwhile in the States, it’s all about voting:

To review: There is no natural, unalienable right to vote; instead, voting is a civil right extended by society to certain citizens, as the society sees fit.  The Constitution does not create the right, it presumes it already exists as a function of representative, republican government and only proscribes limits on voting based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (15th Amendment), sex (19th Amendment), inability to pay a poll tax (24th Amendment) and a certain age range (26th Amendment).  Outside these amendments, voting requirements are a function of state law.

A Governor’s Slapdown

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe attempted to grant pardons (and thus restore voting rights) to 200,000+ Virginia felons in a brazen move to gain Democrat votes in November.  Republicans in the Virginia Assembly sued and this week won a ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court that the Governor’s move was unconstitutional, such pardons can only be extended on a case-by-case basis.  Undaunted, the Governor announced[1] that those pardons already granted under his order (some 13,000 felons had already registered to vote) would be expedited and then he would proceed to grant the rest, one-by-one.  That’s a lot of signatures.  I don’t see what Virginia Republicans can do at this point.  The liberal press, of course, painted the Court’s decision as a great travesty of justice.

A State’s Slapdown

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s new Voter ID Law, ruling it was intentionally discriminatory[2] and reversing a District Court that had sustained it.  With echoes of Justice Scalia, the Appeals court said: “In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the [District] court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees.”

Here’s what happened:  In 2013, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court removed the requirement for certain states to get pre-clearance by the Justice Department for any new voting laws (in Shelby County v. Holder), the Republican leader of the NC Legislature announced he would propose an “omnibus” bill to simplify the state’s voter ID law.  The new law[3] removed many types of IDs from the “acceptable” list (along with making some other changes).  The types of ID allowed under the new bill included:

  1. A North Carolina driver’s license, including a learner’s permit or a provisional license.
  2. A special identification card issued to non-drivers.
  3. A United States passport.
  4. A United States military identification card.
  5. A Veterans Identification Card.
  6. A tribal enrollment card issued by a federally recognized tribe or a tribe recognized by NC.
  7. A driver’s license or non-operators identification card issued by another state, the District of Columbia, or a territory or commonwealth of the United States (with certain restrictions).

Despite these multiple options of ID, the Appeals Court found that African-Americans disproportionately lacked IDs on the new list and thus were disproportionately denied access to the polls.  Apparently, there could have been no other motive of the legislature in enacting the law than voter discrimination.  In reaching its decision the Court placed great weight on the types of historical voting data the legislature requested as they crafted and passed the new bill; circumstantial evidence at best.

To give an idea of the significance of this case, read the list of organizations and states submitting amici briefs on both sides.  If this ruling is not appealed to the Supreme Court and overturned it will certainly open up challenges of similar Voter ID laws in other states.

As you can see in this article,[4] there are other challenges to Voter ID laws underway in other states, all timed to be complete before November.  North Carolina was a key swing state that a candidate hoping to attain the Presidency simply must win.  Texas (Veasey v. Abbott)[5] is as well.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

The two voter-related decisions featured today (VA and NC) both rested on politically appointed judges; in the Virginia case a judge appointed by the Republican-controlled Assembly cast the decisive vote; in the 4th Circuit it was federal judges appointed by President Obama that made the difference.

As I’ve said before and will say again, the election in November will decide the fate of liberty in this country for the next 30 years; somewhere from 2 to 4 Supreme Court Justices will be replaced by the next President.  To quote Senator Lindsey Graham: “elections have consequences.”  If you intend to sit this one out, think again.

Here’s a well-written essay by Richard Epstein of the Hoover Institute[6] which takes on the question: “Are Voter ID Laws Racist?”  Epstein discusses a lot of the relevant Supreme Court decisions. His focus is the 5th Circuit’s decision in Veasey v. Abbott.  He forecasts: “[i]f Veasey survives [on appeal to the Supreme Court], it will be exceedingly difficult for any photo ID law to pass muster in the United States, at least in the absence of heavily documented instances of fraud, and perhaps not even then.

What can you do?  If you are concerned about opportunities for voter fraud, if you wish to keep voting as a privilege of citizenship and believe the concept “one-man(or woman)-one-vote” has value, then you best sit down with your state Senator and or Delegate and express your view.  Make no mistake, there are people and groups in this country who believe removing any and all restrictions on voting is the key to winning elections.

Secession Anyone?

On Friday, 29 July, on “We the People,” we discussed the portion of the Declaration where Jefferson complains that appeals to the British people, accompanying those sent to the British government, went unanswered, ignored.  In his original draft of the Declaration (the sentence didn’t make the cut) he implies that the British citizens should have tried to unseat or otherwise remove those members of Parliament who were causing the colonies the most trouble.  Instead the voters returned them to office.  In my comments, I pointed to contemporary complaints from all around the U.S. over the leadership by certain Republicans in Congress, yet the constituents of these gentlemen keep returning them in office as well.   History repeats itself, particularly if you ignore it.  At what point do you stop warning your fellow citizens and just go for the separation, vis-à-vis 1776?

Jefferson points out the principle:  a people contemplating separation from their government have a responsibility to communicate their frustrations and complaints to that government as well as to the general public.

This agrees with the guidance found in Matthew 18 (which Pastor David Whitney mentioned on the show) concerning the handling of complaints; we have a responsibility to communicate our grievances in an increasingly more public way.

Thus I’m waiting with baited breath to hear the complaints of the people of Texas, California and other states talking of seceding from the Union, their efforts have been invigorated by the successful BREXIT vote.

An article this week in Fortune magazine[7] outlines some of the more prominent secessionist movements, surprisingly found in states as diverse as California and Texas, Alaska and Vermont.  If Clinton wins in November, the movements in Alaska and Texas will probably grow in strength, while if Trump wins, it will be movements in California and Vermont that benefit.  The article cites Texas v. White where the Court ruled that a state couldn’t unilaterally leave the union, while hinting that a “negotiated” secession would be viewed as constitutional.

What do you think?  Can there come a point where continuing to remain part of the Union becomes untenable?  Can a state or even a portion of a state secede, or did the Civil War settle that question?  I’d love to hear from my readers on that question.  Leave comments on Fairfax Free Citizen or send me an email.

Recommendations and Events:

Book Recommendation – “American Underdog,” by Congressman Dave Brat

Those fed up with establishment politics will find the recounting of Congressman Dave Brat’s upset victory over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 election edifying.  And although the retelling of his come-from-behind victory makes interesting reading, the greater value of his book is not just in seeing that the people of Virginia’s Seventh District were able to “buck the machine” and send someone to Washington, but that Brat understands and respects the principles that made America successful as a nation.  Those can be organized into three categories: our Judeo-Christian tradition and all it entails,  the rule of law/constiutionalism, and free market economics.

I’ve been taking the time on my radio show to discuss the numerous principles we find in the Declaration of Independence and, before that, in a series on “American’s Fundamental Principles,” because I truly believe that the mess we find our country in today is largely if not completely the result of ignoring those principles.  If I’m right, true reform and prosperity will only come through re-incorporation of those principles into the way we run our governments, at all levels.  Congressman Dave Brat agrees.

But how do you do that without completely upsetting the apple cart?  How do you restore these principles to full operability?  Ah, there’s the rub.  But Brat has a plan, and a scant twelve years to make it work (he has pledged to be a 6-term Congressman, no more).  Get the book and see what he has in mind.

 We The People – The Constitution Matters Radio Show.

On Friday, 5 August, Pastor David Whitney will host “We the People – the Constitution Matters” as I recover from some surgery.  The scheduled topic is the phrase in the Declaration which reads: “Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions…”  I hate to miss that one, but I’m confident David and Phil will cover the ground admirably.  Perhaps I’ll call in if I feel well enough  Please join the discussion by browsing to www.1180wfyl.com  (Friday, 7-8am EDT). If you miss the recorded show, aim for the re-broadcast Saturday at 11am or Sunday at 2pm, or download the podcast at leisure.

Lessons in Liberty – Preserving America’s Religious Liberty.

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

 Lessons in Liberty – Preserving America’s Religious Liberty.

Looking ahead a bit further, on Monday, 12 September, I’ll be the Lessons in Liberty presenter, speaking on: “The Genius of the Electoral College.”  More details later.

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

[1] http://townhall.com/tipsheet/mattvespa/2016/07/24/mcauliffe-to-circumvent-va-supreme-court-ruling-on-felon-voter-rights-will-issue-200000-clemency-grants-n2196994

[2] http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/161468.P.pdf

[3] http://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/SessionLaws/PDF/2013-2014/SL2013-381.pdf

[4] http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1116329745763&ca=d2a2bff2-b8a8-46ee-9240-f49798745a55

[5] http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions%5Cpub%5C14/14-41127-CV1.pdf

[6] http://www.hoover.org/research/are-voter-id-laws-racist

[7] http://fortune.com/2016/07/25/us-state-secession-brexit-election/

Constitutional Corner – Right of Petition

Open as PDF

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”

Petitioning for a redress of grievances was an integral part of British politics and had been for hundreds of years.  The right of petition traced its lineage back at least to the first Magna Carta (1215), perhaps earlier. Through its acceptance by King John, Magna Carta implicitly affirmed a right of petition.  In addition, the document contained these words:

“If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us – or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice—to declare it and claim immediate redress.” (Emphasis added)

Thus the barons reserved a right to petition to make known certain “transgressions” of the peace and claim their redress.

The 1628 Petition of Right presented to King Charles I was another early exercise of the right.  The petition was once again reluctantly accepted by the King (he had little choice – Charles desperately needed the funding that would follow).

In 1669, Parliament recognized the right of every British subject to petition Parliament, and the 1689 English Bill of Rights, which followed the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, explicitly affirmed the “right of the subjects to petition the king.”[1]

When it came time for their own revolution, the colonists set about it much as their British brethren had – by the petition process.

In the colonies, the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties was the first document to explicitly affirm a right of petition:

“12. Every man whether Inhabitant or foreigner, free or not free shall have liberty to come to any public Court, Counsel, or Town meeting, and either by speech or writing to move any lawful, seasonable, and material question, or to present any necessary motion, complaint, petition, Bill or information, whereof that meeting hath proper cognizance, so it be done in convenient time, due order, and respective manner.” (Emphasis added)

Five other colonies eventually enacted similar guarantees.

Petitions played an important role in early American history as novice legislatures worked to establish their stride, define their powers, and help the struggling colonists meet basic survival needs. “[The petition] process originated more bills in pre-constitutional America than any other source of legislation.”[2]

Petitions also played a revolutionary role as well.  King James II assumed the throne of England in 1685 and quickly alienated many of his subjects, both at home and in the colonies, with his statements affirming the divine right of kings and favoritism shown to his co-religionists: the Catholics.  James imposed strict authority over the colonies and ordered a consolidation of several northern colonies under the autocratic rule of a new governor, Sir Edmund Andros. Andros imposed new taxes, abolished colonial assemblies, and abridged long-standing citizens’ rights.

On April 18, 1689, after learning that the King had fled England  the previous November (as a result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688), Bostonians stormed the fort of Boston and demanded the ouster of Andros. Anxious to avoid mob violence, a group of Boston merchants and other “first citizens,” presented a petition calling on the Governor to step down from office. After being imprisoned on Castle Island, the Governor escaped to Rhode Island, was re-captured, and sent to England for trial.  In London,  the agents for Massachusetts refused to sign documents listing the charges against Andros, so he was summarily acquitted, released and subsequently appointed as governor of both Virginia and Maryland.

1765 saw the first truly collective colonial petitions.  The Stamp Act Congress, with nine colonies represented, sent Parliament a “Declaration of Rights and Grievances.” The thirteenth of those rights read:

“That it is the right of the British subjects in these colonies, to petition the king or either house of parliament.” (Emphasis added)

Nine years later, on October 14, 1774, the First Continental Congress sent Parliament a “Declaration and Resolves,” which read in part:

“Resolved, … That they have a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the King; and that all prosecutions, prohibitory proclamations, and commitments for the same, are illegal.”  (Emphasis added)

After settling on this statement of rights, Congress immediately sent a similar petition to the King himself.

On July 5, 1775, a little over two months after Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress approved the “Olive Branch Petition.”  And the very next day approved “A Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking Up Arms,” which documented that:

“A Congress of delegates from the United Colonies was assembled at Philadelphia, on the fifth day of last September. We resolved again to offer an humble and dutiful petition to the King, and also addressed our fellow-subjects of Great-Britain:”

Once they arrived in England, the King refused to receive either document.  Those hoping for a reconciliation watched their chances wither.

The next year, the resumed Second Congress made clear that they had exhausted all means of peaceful petition by affirming: “Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”

Why go to such lengths – repeated petitions to be precise – just to state your case?

The Colonists saw petitions as an implementation of due process.  Before effecting a political separation, they determined they must show their efforts at reconciliation had been repelled.

And so the separation – and the revolution – began.  But as John Adams was careful to point out much later, the true revolution had begun long, long before.

“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? 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.”[3]

Likewise, Benjamin Rush noted that the revolution did not conclude with the last musket shot:

“The American war is over; but this [is] far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government, and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens for these forms of government after they are established and brought to perfection.”[4]

At the Virginia Ratifying Convention on June 26, 1788, the delegates responded to the lack of a Bill of Rights in the proposed Constitution by forwarding 20 rights articles and 20 additional amendments.  The bulk of the suggested Bill of Rights articles were copied verbatim from the 1776 Virginia Bill of Rights; but the following suggested article was new:

“15th. … [T]he people have a right peaceably to assemble together to consult for the common good, or to instruct their representatives; and that every freeman has a right to petition or apply to the Legislature for redress of grievances.”

Interestingly, the Virginia delegates were ready to give the new nation’s citizens a right their own state’s residents did not then enjoy.  As we know, this right was incorporated into what became the First Amendment.  During debate on the amendment, an early draft stating that people had a “right to instruct their representatives” was defeated due to the overbearing inference.  Still, members affirmed the legislatures’ obligation to receive and consider such petitions, even if they would not be bound by them.  Finally came the familiar words:

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of … the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But what does this right entail today?  Must citizens first assemble in order to petition?  The amendment can be read that way.  To whom and how are petitions to be addressed?  Must those petitions be received and responded to?  And what if no “redress” results; what is to happen if those petitions are, as they were 240 years ago, met by repeated injury?  So many unanswered questions.

After the Constitution went into effect, citizens regularly petitioned the Congress for the passage of specific legislation and “redress of grievances.”  However, the first wide-spread exercise of the right was in advocating the end of slavery in the mid-1830s. Congress had enacted rules of order whereby each business day began with state delegations reading petitions they had received.  In 1837 and 1838, Congress received 130,000 petitions related to slavery alone.  The deluge soon became unmanageable and threatened the ability of Congress to accomplish other needful work; many Congressmen pondered the correct response:

“If the people have a right to petition their representatives it is our duty to receive their petitions.”[5]

Receive them, yes, but to what end?  The House of Representatives adopted a rule that tabled such petitions, meaning that they would “lay upon the table” and receive no other attention.  But abolitionists such as John Quincy Adams, were eventually successful in repealing this rule, arguing that it was contrary to the people’s right of petition.

But petitioning the government can sometimes lead to unexpected results.  During WWI, petitions suggesting repeal of the new espionage and sedition laws sometimes resulted in imprisonment.[6]

Today, no one disputes the right to petition the government, at any level, for a redress of grievances.  But still, the sparse words of the First Amendment provide us no further guidance as to how, when, where.

And so enter the courts.  Case law concerning the right of petition is thin, but still significant.

In 1875,[7] the Supreme Court declared “The right of the people peaceably to assemble for the purpose of petitioning Congress for a redress of grievances, or for anything else connected with the powers or duties of the National Government, is an attribute of national citizenship, and, as such, under the protection of and guaranteed by the United States.” (Emphasis added)

In 1954,[8] the Court ruled Congress can require registration of paid lobbyists.

In 1963,[9] the right of petition was incorporated against the states for the first time.

In 1985,[10] the Court held that the right to petition does not provide absolute immunity to petitioners; it is subject to the same restrictions as other First Amendment rights,  i.e., there is no immunity from liability over what you say in the petition.

In 1980,[11] the court upheld a military regulation requiring that military members get permission from their base commander before circulating petitions to Congress on base.  The Court ruled the regulation did not infringe the individual right to petition.

In 1988,[12] the Court ruled that states could not bar groups from hiring individuals to circulate petitions in support of a ballot measure.

In 1999,[13] the Court ruled that states could not require petition circulators to be registered voters, wear name badges, or disclose information about themselves and their salaries.

In 2010,[14] the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s disclosure of the names of voters who signed a referendum petition did not violate the First Amendment.

When compared with other first amendment rights, this is indeed a sparse set of controversies.

“Under modern Supreme Court jurisprudence, the right to petition has been almost completely collapsed into freedom of speech.”[15]

Exactly.  Where does your right of speech end and your right of petition begin?  In today’s world of instant communication, petition and speech become hopelessly intertwined.  Today, we can pick up the phone and talk with a staff member in our Congressman’s office (good luck getting connected directly to the member, they are out of their offices more than in).  We can send our representatives a letter or an email, either from our own mail system or through the member’s website.  If we have the time and energy, we can make an appointment and speak directly with our Congressman in their Washington, D.C. or district office.  All of these methods are available to groups as well.

We have all seen the numerous emails from special interest groups imploring us to “flood Congressman X’s office with emails concerning issue XYZ, or this or that pending legislation” (normally accompanied by an appeal for donations).  Do these petitions work?

The Congressional Management Foundation,[16] was established to “work[] directly with Members of Congress and staff to enhance their operations and interactions with constituents.  CMF works directly with citizen groups to educate them on how Congress works, giving constituents a stronger voice in policy outcomes.  The results are: a Congress more accountable, transparent, and effective; and an informed citizenry with greater trust in their democratic institutions.”

On the subject of “Communicating with Congress,” CMF provides a series of informative reports[17] you can download and study at your leisure.

Tim Hysom is the Director for Communications and Technology Services at CMF.  He was asked by one group: “Does sending emails to Congress still work?”  His response:

“Sending your views to Members of Congress does work, no matter what format they arrive in. Senators and Representatives want to know how their votes affect their constituents. One thing people always ask me is, “How many messages does a Member of Congress need to receive in order to change their mind?” There are as many answers to that question as there are Members of Congress: 541.[18] Sometimes a Member can be swayed by a single heartfelt and articulate message from a constituent. Sometimes it’s the sheer volume of communications that they receive that persuades them. One important note, however, is that congressional offices do like postal communications because it is easy to see that the constituent took the time to write a handwritten letter, but email is far easier for them to process and will ensure that your message arrives more quickly. The bottom line is that, yes, emails still work, but they are generally most effective if they are personal messages rather than form messages.”[19]

Here are some suggestions[20] when writing a letter to a Congressman.

Today, many people don’t bother communicating with their Congressional Representatives; they conclude theirs is but one voice in a sea of voices.  They should reconsider.

Also bound up with the right of petition is the right to peaceably assemble to do so.  But when does protest or demonstration depart from the right of peaceable assembly?  I think the answer is in the word: “peaceably.”  “Peaceable” normally also mean lawful, which means protests must follow laws set up to ensure the rights of others are not infringed by those desiring to protest or assemble.  Notice that Jefferson emphasized that the colonists’ petitions had used “the most humble terms.”  Even if no action was taken in Parliament, many members of Parliament took note of and expressed thanks for the colonists’ tone.

Recent “protests” in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere over the shooting of Michael Brown obviously crossed the line and became riots, with predictable police response.  These serve no societal good.  Allowing people to “vent” their anger, at the expense of another’s private or commercial property, ultimately serves no greater purpose.

When Benjamin franklin answered: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it,” he was telling us all that a republic is something that requires “care and feeding.”  Among other responsibilities, that means engagement.  The people are the true sovereigns in a republic, government employees work for them.  If the people don’t take the time to communicate their hopes as well as their grievances, who will?

Repeated petitions to the British government to leave the European Union were seen by  candidate for Prime Minister David Cameron as a rising groundswell of support.  As part of his platform he promised if elected to support a referendum vote on the matter.  As we know, that vote finally took place this month and resulted in 52% of the votes being cast in favor of exit (the turnout was 72% of the electorate, the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election).[21]

Seeing the success of the British citizens efforts, 261,159 Austrian citizens (4.12 percent of the electorate) signed a petition demanding that their government hold a similar vote on whether to remain in the EU.  As a result of the petition, ministers are obliged to at least discuss the possibility of holding a referendum vote on the issue.

As with any right, your right to petition can be abused.  Persistent petitioners who disrupt civil order sometimes encounter opposition and even legal action.  An Iowa state law prohibiting convicted sex offenders from circulating petitions was enacted specifically to limit the efforts of a certain Rapid City man whose incessant petition solicitations were disrupting court business.

Is the right of petitioning limited to the powers available for redress?  That is, can you only petition for or against something within the power of Congress (or the party petitioned) to address?  For a clear answer we need only turn to the current White House publicity stunt, the “We the People” petition.  President Obama ordered that a section of the whitehouse.gov website be set aside for petitioning the current administration’s policy experts. Petitions that garner 100,000 or more signatures[22] must be reviewed by officials in the Administration and official responses issued, (there are some exceptions).

Roughly 70 percent of current petitions ask that individual states — like Texas[23] — be allowed to peacefully secede.  In other words, most petitions request actions the Executive branch has no power to effect.

Although most petitions are serious, some are not.  In November 2012, a petition was created urging the government to create an actual Star Wars-style Death Star as an economic stimulus and job creation measure.  The petition gained more than 25,000 signatures, enough to qualify (at that time) for an official response. The official (tongue-in-cheek) response released in January 2013 noted that the cost of building a real Death Star was estimated at $852 quadrillion.  At the current rates of steel production, the weapon would not be ready for more than 833,000 years.  The response also noted that “the Administration does not support blowing up planets” and questions funding a weapon “with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship.”  Other less-than-serious petitions have requested the deportation of British-born CNN host Piers Morgan (not a bad idea), the designation and protection of the Sasquatch as an indigenous species, and nationalization of the Twinkie.  The Atlantic Monthly magazine[24] called the petition site a “joke” (but also the future of democracy).

I recommend not wasting one’s time on the We The People petition website, but I do think you should take your individual and collective right of petition seriously and exercise it often.  To be effective, realize that this will require you to keep track of pending legislation in Congress, study the legislation, and then communicate to your elected representatives how you recommend they vote on the matter.  This is republican government in action.

Or, you could pay no attention to what is happening in Washington, D.C. and hope for the best.  Hey, this is America, “Land of the Free,”[25] you can do whatever you want!

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

[1] That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal;

[2] Stephen A. Higginson, “A Short History of the Right to Petition Government for a Redress of Grievances,” Yale Law Journal, Vol. 91, No. 1, (Nov 1986), p. 142.

[3] Letter to Hezekiah Niles, 13 February 1818.

[4] Address to the People of the United States, January 1787.

[5] Record of the Senate, 1836.

[6] The Supreme Court A to Z, 3rd Edition, Kenneth Jost, ed., 2003, p. 312.

[7] United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875).

[8] United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612 (1954).

[9] Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229 (1963).

[10] McDonald v. Smith, 472 U.S. 479 (1985).

[11] Secretary of Navy v. Huff, 444 U.S. 453 (1980).

[12] Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414 (1988).

[13] Buckley V. American Constitutional Law Foundation, 525 U.S. 182 (1999) .

[14] Doe v. Reed, 561 U.S. 186 (2010).

[15] The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, 2nd Ed., 2014, David F. Forte, Sr. Ed., Matthew Spalding, Ex Ed., p. 415.

[16] http://www.congressfoundation.org.

[17] http://www.congressfoundation.org/projects/communicating-with-congress.

[18] This figure includes non-voting representatives of Guam, etc.

[19] http://fcnl.org/resources/newsletter/janfeb10/communicating_with_congress/.

[20] http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscongress/a/letterscongress.htm.

[21] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_European_Union_membership_referendum,_2016.

[22] The threshold started out at a measly 5,000.

[23] http://theweek.com/articles/469839/11-ridiculous-white-house-petitions.

[24] http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/the-white-house-petition-site-is-a-joke-and-also-the-future-of-democracy/267238/.

[25] For perhaps a little while longer.