Constitutional Corner – The Left’s War on Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my suggestions:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The proposed Amendment read:

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

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

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

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

Fast forward to the present.

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

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

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

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

Everyone still with me? Pretty exciting stuff, eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor …”[13]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

[9] 1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constitution Corner – The 17th Amendment Should Be Repealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[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 – 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.

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

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

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

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

Constitutional Corner – Impeaching Hillary

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Federalist #65 and #66.

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

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

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

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

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

Constitutional Corner – Abuse of Executive Power

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“[T]he president doesn’t have the authority to simply ignore Congress and say, we’re not going to enforce the laws…,” so said Barack Obama in January 2012.  Look at him now.

American presidents have been “stretching” and outright abusing their constitutional powers since our first president took office.  They have done so, I believe, because they discover, once elected, that the legitimate constitutional power of the office leaves them powerless to do the “good” that they feel must be done.

The American people, generally lacking an understanding of the legitimate powers granted the President under the Constitution, have turned a blind eye to most of these abuses.  As long as the president’s actions seem logical, particularly if they seem designed to produce something beneficial, to some group or another, the average American seems willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt.

Even among constitutional scholars, however, there is doubt as to the limits of presidential power intended by the framers, primarily due to the development of two distinct ways of interpreting Section 1 of Article 2 of the Constitution.  One interpretation, encountered in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, holds that Article 2, Section 1, known generally as the “Executive Vesting Clause” (there are similar clauses in Articles 1 and 3), provides the President with a broad range of powers inherent to “executives.”

“The Executive Vesting Clause grants the president the executive power traditionally associated with chief executives.”[1]

Unfortunately, what these inherent powers consist of must be conjectured since they are not to be found in the vesting clause itself, which reads:

“The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America…”

What indeed is the “executive power?”

King George III was the chief executive of Britain and enjoyed great power, including the unilateral power to make war.  But the king’s powers were certainly not unlimited, they were limited by certain acts of Parliament, by the English Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, and other documents; nevertheless, they were still clearly the powers of a king.  Were these the powers the Framers intended?  Clearly, no.  An “elective monarch” was discussed at the Constitutional Convention and rejected, for obvious reasons.  Yet the possibility that a monarchy could still have been the outcome of the convention sparked the famous exchange between Benjamin Franklin and an unnamed woman he encountered as he left Independence Hall about “keeping” the republic.[2]

In 1787, each state had a governor and usually an executive council as well; should we look to these examples as our guide for what constitutes “executive power?”  If so, we will find that many, perhaps most of these chief executives had greatly reduced powers.

Standing opposite the “vesting clause” argument is the contention that this clause only designates the title of the president, which it clearly does, and that any specific powers vested in the president are to found later in Article 2, which they are.  This is the position taken by Constitutional scholar Rob Natelson in his book: “The Original Constitution, What it Actually Said and Meant.”  This interpretation is also consistent with legal document construction of the time, and thus I find it more persuasive.

Alexander Hamilton uses ten essays (#67-77) in The Federalist to explain the office of the President, the last five focusing exclusively on the powers of the President, each time discussing one or more of the powers specifically mentioned in Article 2.  Hamilton does not argue that there is some unenumerated inherent executive power to be found lurking in “emanations from penumbras” (so to speak) in Article Two’s “vesting clause.”[3] At least not in 1788.

A mere five years later, however, writing the first of the Pacificus Letters, Hamilton argues that Washington’s Neutrality Proclamation sprang from just such inherent powers (“the more comprehensive grant contained in the general clause”) .[4]

To settle the confusion, the Supreme Court declared that the vesting clause does provide the President with at least these inherent powers:

  • Removal and supervisory powers over executive officers[5]
  • Law enforcement power[6]
  • Power over foreign affairs[7]
  • Control of prosecutions[8]

Is the Supreme Court the final say on how to interpret the Constitution?  As I’ve said in numerous essays: emphatically, no!  But we have to realize that the average American thinks otherwise.  They have “drunk the kool-aid” and believe, with Chief Justice Earl Warren, that, “the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution.” Or perhaps they side with Associate Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who said:  “We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is.” Alexander Hamilton thought and wrote otherwise, concluding that the people should be the final arbiters.

Nevertheless, when we examine what the Court has had to say about the non-enumerated powers of the Executive we find something less than rock-solid.

Erwin Chemerinsky asserts in “Controlling Inherent Presidential Power: Providing a Framework for Judicial Review”[9] that an inconsistent approach by the Supreme Court in deciding the limits of inherent power (when the President is acting outside the scope of clearly enumerated powers) has left the lower courts to flounder on their own.  Chemerinsky posits these questions as examples:

Can the President unilaterally freeze Iranian government assets in the United States?  Can he unilaterally rescind a treaty with Taiwan?  May he impound funds appropriated by Congress?  May he keep executive correspondence secret from Congress?  Can he conduct warrantless wiretaps of domestic organizations to protect national security?  “Although in each of these controversies the fundamental issue is identical, the Court has failed to use a consistent approach in dealing with the issue of inherent executive power.”

Chemerinsky concludes that “[t]he Supreme Court’s ad hoc, unprincipled approach to this power and the confused responses of the lower courts as they attempt to follow the Supreme Court’s cases, have contributed greatly to the development of an ‘Imperial Presidency’” (borrowing the phrase from the title of Arthur Schlesinger’s award-winning book).

And an “Imperial President” is precisely what some in America seem to want.  When Barack Obama threatened to exceed his constitutional powers and act if Congress did not, Congressional Democrats actually gave him a standing ovation.  I was astounded.  Confusion over the limits of presidential power is understandable; disdain for them is not.

So, into these murky waters we plunge: what are the legitimate powers of our Chief Executive, when can we know they are being abused, and what remedies do “We the People” have when this occurs.

The Legitimate Powers of the President.

The Legitimate Powers of the President are not hard to find, they are spelled out in Sections 2 and 3 of Article 2, and a few select clauses in other parts of the Constitution.

Section 2.  The president has power to:

  • Be Commander-in-Chief of the United States military, and of the militia of the several States, when they are called into the service of the United States.
  • Request the opinion of executive officers.
  • Grant pardons.
  • Negotiate and make treaties with foreign countries.
  • Appoint ambassadors and other ministers, judges and officers of the government, with the advice and consent of the Senate.
  • Make temporary appointments to these positions when Congress is in recess.

Section 3.  The president has the responsibility to:

  • Periodically advise Congress on the state of the union.
  • Recommend legislation that he deems “necessary and expedient.”
  • Convene, on extraordinary occasions, one or both houses of Congress.
  • Adjourn Congress if both houses can’t agree on when to do so.
  • Receive ambassadors and other public ministers.
  • Commission all the officers of the United States military.

Powers Found Outside Article 2.

Article I, Section 7 grants the President the power to veto bills and resolutions passed by Congress, but also the responsibility to make his objections to such bills known to Congress so that Congress can either make changes to meet the President’s objections or vote to override the veto.

Besides these specifically enumerated powers, and the dubious inherent powers that the Supreme Court has endorsed, it is generally recognized that the President has hat least these other powers:

  • the implied power to issue orders as necessary and proper to carry into execution his enumerated powers.
  • the implied power to spend the money appropriated by Congress.
  • the implied power to remove administrators from their offices, even those confirmed by the Senate, unless such removal power is limited by public law.
  • the implied responsibility as Commander in Chief to protect the nation from attack.

Examples of Executive Power Abuse

The previously mentioned 1793 Neutrality Proclamation of President Washington warned U.S. citizens “to avoid all acts which may in any manner tend to [go against] this [proclamation].”  Where did Washington find power in the Constitution to proscribe the actions of private citizens?

For that matter, where did President Thomas Jefferson obtain the constitutional authority to purchase foreign territory (Louisiana) from the French?

Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court and had the Cherokee nation forced onto reservations in Oklahoma.

Abraham Lincoln ordered citizens arrested, proclaimed martial law, seized private property, censored newspapers, emancipated southern slaves, and blockaded southern ports in violation of the Law of Nations.

Warren G. Harding had his “Teapot Dome Scandal”.

Harry Truman tried (unsuccessfully) to seize the nations steel mills to break up a 1952 strike that threatened war production.

Progressives like Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt have been called: “serial violators of the Constitution.”  Teddy saw himself as a one-man government with little use for Congress or the Supreme Court.  He said: “My belief was that it was not only [the President’s] right but his duty to do anything that the needs of the nation demanded unless such action was forbidden by the Constitution or by the laws.”

FDR treated constitutional restraints on his office as challenges to overcome. When the Court was not seeing things his way, he tried to pack the court with six new justices who would see things differently.   He ordered the roundup and detention of thousands of Japanese-American citizens.  Even though the Supreme Court sanctioned the action,[10] it stands today as a blight on both the Presidency and the Court.  FDR also abused executive authority in order to regulate wages, create federal agencies, and criminalize the possession of gold.

Richard Nixon’s famous quote: “When the President does it, it isn’t illegal,” should say it all.  But he also instituted wage and price controls through executive order, created a list of political enemies and used governmental authority to harass them.

Ronald Reagan’s “Iran-Contra Scandal” tainted his presidency.

Bill Clinton’s abuse of presidential power is legendary, and not just among interns.

George Bush was challenged over taking the nation to war in Iraq, the use of waterboarding, and for the provisions in the Patriot Act, among others.

If we look hard enough, we can find abuse of power in nearly every presidency.

So what remedies do we have when “Presidents Go Wild?”

Remedies.  When Presidents exceed their legitimate powers, what are the remedies?

First, there are the courts.  Theoretically, any breach of constitutional power should provide the basis for impeachment, but realistically, many abuses don’t rise to that level.  So we sue.  Not “We the People” unfortunately.  The Courts typically throw out individual challenges of the president’s actions due to lack of standing.  It’s a silly, obnoxious concept, and we the people shouldn’t allow it, but we do.  But the states (and some individuals) occasionally have economic grounds to sue the administration if a decision produces expenses for them, and this grants them standing, so they sue.

The Supreme Court struck down the Obama administration’s “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, conducted while the Senate was formally in session, and the NLRB v. Noel Canning decision, as it was called, marked the 12th time the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Obama administration on the issue of executive power.

But lawsuits are expensive and only states or plaintiffs with deep-pockets can typically afford them.  And suits don’t prevent the next abuse; only impeachment can potentially do that.

We’ve impeached two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and were preparing to impeach a third, Richard Nixon, when he vacated the office.

Andrew Johnson (our 17th President) was impeached in 1868 for ignoring the Tenure of Office Act and instead replacing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton with Major General Lorenzo Thomas (there were 16 other articles of impeachment).  He was acquitted in the Senate trial by a single vote.

Bill Clinton (our 42th President) was impeached in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice arising from the Monica Lewinsky Scandal.  He was acquitted in the Senate on the first charge by 22 votes and on the second by 17 votes.

Section 4 of Article 2 describes a limited set of conditions for impeachment to proceed: “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  What are “high Crimes and Misdemeanors?”  The Framers left that to us to decide.  I believe Barack Obama should have been impeached long ago, despite his being the first mixed-race president of the U.S., but apparently a majority of Congressmen do not agree.  Even though impeachment articles against Barack Obama were prepared long, long ago, this Congress has shown that it lacks the political will to impeach this man.  The House of Representatives is reluctant to impeach when it is clear they lack the votes to convict in the Senate.

A third remedy is to refuse to re-elect the President.  The 2012 election showed us how hard it is to un-elect a president who enjoys a wide base of progressive support, no matter how egregious his disdain for constitutional limits.

Many today feel frustrated by having a president who ignores the limitations on his power yet seems immune to impeachment for his actions.

My recommendations, if you are concerned and feel frustrated by what you’ve read here:

First, read your Constitution and particularly study Article 2.  Study the conversations concerning the presidency in James Madison’s notes and the ratification debates.  Ensure you can support a discussion on this topic.

Second, there are several good books out on the subject of the president and abuse of power, and many essays on the web.  Find them; read them.

Third, sit down and talk with your Congressman about your concerns.  Find out whether he or she would ever support articles of impeachment and, if not, why not?

Fourth, lend support to one of the groups promoting impeachment, they are not hard to find.

Fifth, help America better screen its presidential candidates.  Encourage debate moderators to stop asking the wrong questions and start asking the right ones, like: “Explain your view of the limits of the President’s power in the Constitution.”  And: “what would you do if Congress refuses to pass legislation that you think is vitally important to the nation’s future success?”  How about (of a Congressman): “Would you be willing to use impeachment to remove a President who abuses his power?”

Finally, pray for your country and its leaders — all of them.

Join us on WFYL’s “We the People, the Constitution Matters” radio show on Friday, 6 May, 7-8am EDT.  We will discuss some specific abuses of executive authority that the Obama administration has committed..  Go to www.1180wfyl.com and click on “Listen Live.”

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

[1] Heritage Guide to the Constitution, David F. Forte and Matthew Spalding, ed., Regnery Publishing, 2014, p. 237.

[2] “Good Sir, what have you given us: a Monarchy or a Republic? A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

[3] “…what would be … feared from an elective magistrate of four years’ duration, with the confined authorities of a President of the United States? Federalist #71.

[4] http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/the-pacificus-helvidius-debate/

[5] Myers v. United States (1926)

[6] Nixon v. Fitzgerald (1982)

[7] American Insurance Ass’n v. Garamendi (2003)

[8] Morrison v. Olsen (1988)

[9] “Controlling Inherent Presidential Power: Providing a Framework for Judicial Review,”  Southern California Law Review, Vol 56, pp 863-911.

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korematsu_v._United_States

The Constitution’s Week in Review – 1 Apr 2016

In a startling announcement yesterday at the White House, President Barack Obama indicated he would step down from the office of President, effective  June 1, 2016.  Citing undisclosed “personal reasons,” the two-term President declared he and his family would re-locate to the Island of Maui and “kick back for awhile.”

Sources close to the President, who wished to remain anonymous, indicated that the growing controversy over Ted Cruz’ status as a Natural Born Citizen has renewed interest in whether the current President qualifies, leading some Congressmen to add this to a growing list of Articles of Impeachment.

In accordance with Article 2 of the Constitution, Vice-President Joe Biden will assume the office of President on that date and, in accordance with the 25th Amendment, is expected to nominate a replacement for the position of Vice President. (You started to believe it, right?)

Article 2. Natural Born Citizen Clause (to be continued until it is definitively settled).

Another week, another NBC suit.[1]  This time a New York appeals court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a suit seeking to remove Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz from the state’s primary ballot due to his birth status.  Once again, there was no ruling on the merits of the case; the lower court dismissal was on a technicality (plaintiffs missed the deadline for filing their objection by nearly three weeks!).  The appeals court said: “Yep, shore enough missed it, by jimminy!” (or the legal equivalent).  Other suits remain pending in other states.
Article 3. Replacing Scalia

As more and more analysts find time to sift through each of Merrick Garland’s previous opinions, more conclusions come to the fore.  This one[2] concludes that “In Criminal Rulings, Garland Has Usually Sided With Law Enforcement.”  That should all make us sleep better at night.

Shortly after the death of Justice Scalia, I discussed the potential impact of his vacancy, including the potential for 4-4 tie votes.  Well, it happened this week.[3]  We can be nearly certain that Scalia would have provided the fifth vote necessary to overturn the appeals court ruling that California teachers must still pay fees to their union even when those funds are then used to support candidates and political issues with which some teachers disagree.[4]

A 4-4 tie leaves intact the lower court decision and establishes no precedent for the rest of the country.  Chief Justice Roberts could have delayed the opinion until such time as Scalia’s seat is filled and had the case re-argued, but decided against that for some reason.

Meanwhile in the States:

Fifth Amendment.  “Progress” trundles on.  What city, including North Saint Louis,[5] wouldn’t like to improve its appearance and increase its tax revenue?  The opportunity for federal dollars makes the idea even more alluring.  Too bad some homeowners have the misfortune of living in the way of that “progress.”

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is apparently thinking of moving it headquarters, and North St. Louis wants to make them a deal it can’t refuse.  Since no decision has been made to actually move the headquarters, the city’s eminent domain action seems a bit pre-mature.  And then there’s the issue of low-balling the value of the homes.  Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London, cities require very little justification for the taking of private property.

Eighth Amendment.  The Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits excessive bail (among other protections). What’s excessive?  There have been many, many court decisions[6] over what is excessive, but each case brings particular circumstances.  Two Texas mothers driving through Louisiana had the misfortune of being charged with a crime they say they didn’t commit: eating two hot dogs, milkshakes and an icee at a convenience store without paying.  They were certain surveillance video would clear them but the officer who arrested them didn’t want to take the time to investigate, so he took them into custody.  When they couldn’t initially make bail (relatives were 400 miles away) the women had to spent five days in jail instead.  Reading this account one wonders what happened to common sense in this country.

Upcoming Events.

Constitution Seminar for Youth – 9 April.  Don’t you want your kids (or grandkids) to understand their Constitution better?  Here’s an opportunity.  On 9 April I’ll teach from  Juliette Turner’s “Our Constitution Rocks” at the Foundation for American Christian Education classroom in Chesapeake, VA.  There is a nominal $5 charge for students and parents are encouraged to attend as well.  Register through email to gary@constitutionleadership.org

Constitution Seminar – 16 April.  On Saturday, 16 April, I will be teaching the Constitution at Pottstown, PA, co-sponsored by WFYL Radio.  Valley Forge, PA was CLI’s inaugural 1-day seminar, the success of which led me to adopt the format as my standard.  $30 per person until 13 April then tuition goes to $40.  If you live in the Philadelphia area, please come join us.  Register for this event via email: gary@constitutionleadership.org.

Constitution Seminar – 21 May.  Southside Hampton Roads residents can learn what their Constitution says and means by coming to a CLI Saturday Seminar on 21 May sponsored by Concerned Veterans for America.  There will be no charge for this event and participants will receive a 150-page Student workbook, free pocket Constitution, and lunch.  There is no better deal around.  Location TBD.

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.newsmax.com/Headline/cruz-canadian-birth-suit/2016/03/24/id/720759/

[2] http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/03/23/us/politics/merrick-garland-supreme-court-nominee.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=3&referer=

[3] http://us4.campaign-archive1.com/?u=f6eb78f457b7b82887b643445&id=8526f4c9bf&e=5fdac00100

[4] The teachers can opt out from paying these fees but must re-initiate the opt-out each year.

[5] http://dailysignal.com/2016/03/18/st-louis-residents-are-battling-the-city-to-keep-their-homes/?utm_source=heritagefoundation&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=saturday&mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRonu6rPd%2B%2FhmjTEU5z16uwtWqS2gIkz2EFye%2BLIHETpodcMTcRhNL3YDBceEJhqyQJxPr3NLtQN191pRhLiDH3rhbLOWYxceLV9yOhlovn9jDc%3D

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_Supreme_Court_cases_involving_constitutional_criminal_procedure#Eighth_Amendment.27s_Excessive_Bail_Clause

Constitutional Corner – The Imperial Presidency

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“Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of unexceptionable characters.  The public cannot be too curious concerning the character of public men.”  Samuel Adams, in a letter to James Warren on November 4, 1775.

As we prepare to enter what could well prove to be the most ruthless, mean-spirited, and most uncivil presidential election season in modern times, it would be well worth our time to take a step back, a few deep breaths, and reflect on both the office of President as it is defined by the Constitution as well as the character of the current candidates vying for that high office.  America has seen rancorous elections in the past, beginning in 1800, but this one could take the cake.

Part of what makes recent presidential elections so emotional is that, over the years, the Office of President has become something it was never intended to be.  Let’s look back:

George Washington had it easy; no previous precedents to bind him, only the broadly formed words of the new Constitution as his guide, the ink barely dry.

The Philadelphia delegates had shuddered at the thought of a kingly Chief Executive, but shuddered equally at the examples created by some of the new state Constitutions. Their state Governors were weak, impotent, mere figureheads.  As they designed the U.S. Presidency the delegates knew some of the powers of a king would be absolutely necessary, but which ones?  “Their challenge was to invent an executive office that would be strong enough to provide effective governance without threatening the newly developed and most cherished republican form of government.”[1]

Certainly the power to negotiate foreign treaties should be vested in the President; the Confederation Congress had had this power, and exercised it reasonably well, fielding a stable of diplomats of the first order and negotiating the “tie-breaking” treaty with France; but still, this is a power best left to a single person than a committee.  Executing the laws?  That was a given.  Congress didn’t want to both write and enforce the law (but the Executive, as it turns out, would be more than willing to do both).  But what of the war-making power?[2]  That was a landmine waiting to go off, and the delegates knew it – except that they didn’t have landmines back then.  Best not to have a Chief Executive with the power to drag us off into costly wars (in both lives and fortune) every few years such as the kings of Europe were wont to do.  The solution: the delegates would give most of the war-associated powers to the Congress and only allow the President to lead the forces into battle (or lead from behind, as has become fashionable of late).  And so Article 2 of the Constitution came to be.

But still, Washington had to make it up as he went; everything he did would set the first precedent; that much was apparent.  Best tread cautiously then, which he did – seeking advice from both sides of each argument before setting his tack.

Today’s Presidents operate on the precedents that Washington and every President since have set, some Presidents (and their precedents) have been respectful of the Framers’ principle of a limited government of enumerated powers, some Presidents have appeared oblivious (at best) or arrogantly spiteful (at worst) of this principle.

Many Presidents, perhaps most of them, have exceeded the limits of their Constitutional powers, beginning with Washington whose declaration of neutrality, ostensibly binding individual Americans from lending support to either Britain or France in their incessant bickering, was an exercise in arbitrary, unconstitutional power.  Lincoln acknowledged that it was necessary he violate the Constitution in order to save the nation.  Writing of Theodore Roosevelt’s approach to the president’s power, Erin Ruth Leonard thinks: “The decisive and benevolent–if possibly unconstitutional–actions that Theodore Roosevelt took benefitted America by making it a more equal and progressive place.”[3]  So as long as unconstitutional use of presidential power results in something “more equal and progressive,” it’s apparently A-OK.  Roosevelt himself said: “My belief was that it was not only [the President’s] right but his duty to do anything that the needs of the nation demanded unless such action was forbidden by the Constitution or by the laws.”  Sorry Framers, you tried, but you failed.  Woodrow Wilson viewed the Constitution as an artifact of a stilted past: “The government … is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life.“  Voila!  The “Living Constitution” emerges from the primordial ooze.

Presidential Executive Orders are a favored way of abusing presidential power.  Here’s a short summary of many of them.[4]  David Harsanyi, writing at Federalist.com,[5] believes President Obama’s “legacy” will be one of executive overreach.

And with (nearly) each new precedent, the power of the President grew and grew, only occasionally slapped down by a jealous Congress or a Supreme Court.  Now, candidates for the highest office in the land, the “leader of the free world,” Commander in Chief of the mightiest military the world has ever known, put principle aside, decorum on hold, and say and do whatever their handlers think necessary to attain the office.  It is a sad spectacle, really.  Debate after mind-numbing debate, pushing the same policy promises, most of which they know they will be unable to deliver without the gracious help of Congress, the candidates march on, and eventually dwindle as reality sets in.

Just over 1,000 words describe the most powerful office on earth.  Reading Article 2 (and the few powers found outside it) one gets a sense of the Framers’ caution.  The President negotiates treaties but must convince 2/3 of the Senators the treaty is in the country’s best interest.  He can negate the will of 353 legislators,[6] but the Congress can override his veto.  The President will be compensated for his services – but only what Congress thinks proper.  He can nominate judges and other high officials, but the Senate must confirm them; he can “fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate” but they expire at the end of the next session.  Finally, he can be removed from office and sent packing by the Congress.  This is no King.

But we have turned the office into something much different today.  Now we look for a candidate who promises to fix everything that’s broken, solve all our problems, stop the rising of the oceans.

The people of Israel asked Samuel to appoint a King to rule over them “like the other nations.”  Samuel warned them of the consequences if he acceded to their request: “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.  Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.  He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.  Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.  He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.  When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.  Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” [7]

Interestingly, the more power “we the people” allow, and Congress allows, and the Courts allow the President to acquire, the more America begins to take on the trappings of Samuel’s warning.

Despite clear warnings, today we look for a King.  The successful nominee will be the person who promises to solve the most problems for the greatest number of Americans, the person who promises the least disruption to the gravy train that is today our federal government.

As I asked on WFYL radio last week: “Where are the Washingtons?  Where are the Jeffersons?  I’d even take a hot-headed John Adams over any of the present stock.”  None of our first three presidents was elected because of promises they made or policies they endorsed; they were elected to the highest office in the land because of who they were, the character they had exhibited, and the service to their country they had already demonstrated.  That should be the prime criteria today, but it isn’t.

What qualities should we want, insist on really, in a President of the United States?  Mark Alexander has a nice essay on that question here.[8]  I’d start with an example from Exodus 18, which I’ll paraphrase:

“Select able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain.”

I want someone who acknowledges that there is a transcendent God who “governs in the affairs of men,”[9] someone who promises to call upon God for both guidance and strength, and acknowledges that the laws of this God lay supreme over all man-made law.  I want a President with an obvious sense, perhaps even an inflated sense of accountability and great discipline in his personal conduct, a President who has demonstrated the ability to self-govern and who will both model and encourage this practice in all Americans.  Lastly, I want a President who willingly acknowledges the Constitutional limits of the office and agrees to step down before violating these limits.

Eleanor Roosevelt said: “….our system is founded on self-government, which is untenable if the individuals who make up the system are unable to govern themselves.”  This applies equally well to the President.

We discussed this issue last week on WFYL Radio.  If you want to learn the views of my two co-commentators, please download or listen to the podcast, available here.[10]

[1] Thomas E. Cronin, “Inventing the American Presidency,” University Press of Kansas, 1989. p. ix.

[2] For a thorough analysis of the evolution of Presidential war-making power, at least through President Nixon’s first term, I recommend “The imperial Presidency” by Arthur m. Schlesinger, Jr., Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973.

[3] http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/essays/1901-/theodore-roosevelts-broad-powers-erin-ruth-leonard.php

[4]http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2001/02/the-use-and-abuse-of-executive-orders-and-other-presidential-directives

[5] http://thefederalist.com/2016/01/05/obamas-legacy-will-be-executive-abuse/

[6] If only 287 Representatives and 66 Senators have voted for a bill, the President’s veto is probably secure.

[7] 1 Samuel 8: 11-20 (NIV)

[8] http://patriotpost.us/alexander/41349

[9] As Benjamin Franklin did at the Constitutional Convention.

[10] http://www.1180wfyl.com/podcasts.html

 

Constitutional Corner – Restoring the Electoral College

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The 2000 presidential election put the Electoral College squarely in the gunsights of the Left; how could a candidate (Al Gore) get 500,000 more popular votes and not attain the Executive Office? This just won’t do, time to get rid of the Electoral College once and for all!

In 2004, the New York Times editorial staff called the Electoral College “a ridiculous setup, which thwarts the will of the majority.”[1]

Just a year ago, University of Maryland sophomore Tyler Lewis attempted to make the case once again.[2]

Yet the Electoral College survives, barely, in form if not in function. Actually, it’s on life-support.

Understanding the difficulty of amending the Constitution to replace the Framers’ preferred election process, the National Popular Vote project is attempting to use state-level legislation to change the way Electors cast their ballots. Thanks to a growing love affair with “democracy” (however ill-understood), they are making great progress in the state legislatures. Their National Popular Vote bills will ensure whichever candidate secures the greatest number of votes nationally will also obtain all of that state’s electoral votes. Bingo; problem solved, without Constitutional amendment; all perfectly legal. The Electoral College’s days are truly numbered, despite being the preferred method of electing the President in a 2002 poll of political scientists.[3]

More than 700 proposals for changing the Electoral College system have been introduced over the years in Congress — some even received committee hearings — but none received the requisite 2/3 vote in both Houses in order to be sent to the states for ratification. In 1956 and again in 1969 proposed amendments passed the House but died in the Senate. The last time any changes were made constitutionally to the Electoral College was in 1804 (with the 12th Amendment).[4]

Although various schemes to select the Chief Executive were debated throughout the summer of 1787, what we now know as the Electoral College was not added to the draft Constitution until 4 September, 1787, two weeks before adjournment. The final plan was mostly the brainchild of the Committee on Detail. The initial proposal for the Executive (in the Virginia Plan) had the President appointed by the Legislature. But this was rejected because it might render the President too dependent on Congress. How about direct election by the people? During debate on this question, several delegates expressed concern over the ability of the general electorate (i.e., the people) to identify “worthy” presidential candidates. One need only canvass this season’s Presidential hopefuls, and the excitement some generate, to see that the American people have lost complete sight of what qualities a Chief Executive should have. Seriously, are there no Washingtons, Adams, Jeffersons, or Madisons to call upon today?

Add to this paucity of statesmanship and decorum in the candidates, the fact that only a third of today’s voters are able to name the three branches of government; America is in deep trouble. But I digress.

Here’s how the Electoral College was intended to work (and worked well for all of two elections): Electors equal to a state’s combined total of Representatives and Senators were selected through a process devised by each state. They could be elected by the citizens of the state or appointed by the state legislature or some combination of process. Qualifications of the Electors were to be the same as Electors of the “most populous house” of the state legislature (i.e., anyone allowed to vote for their state assemblyman could qualify as an Elector), but to render them totally independent, they also could not be a U.S. Senator or Representative, or hold any “Office of Trust or Profit under the United States.”

On a given day the Electors would meet, in their states (“safe from interference from Congress and national cabals”), and each Elector would nominate two individuals to the office of president, one of whom had to reside in another state than the Elector himself. Each nomination represented a vote for that person. The nominations were recorded and sent to the U.S. Senate. The President of the Senate (i.e., the Vice-President of the U.S.) opened the ballots from each state, tallied the nominations/votes for each nominee, and declared the person with the most votes, provided a majority of the Electors had voted for him, to be the President. Whoever received the second-most votes became the Vice-President. The Electors never met in a “college,”[5] instead they met in 13 state “colleges.” The design of the Electoral College system made it clear that “the President was to be, like the Senate, a creature of the states and not of Congress”[6] (or, I might add, the people).

As Hamilton explains in Federalist 68, the process was meant to ensure “that every practical obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue and corruption.”[7]

As I said, this worked well for two elections. Once Washington decided against a third term, flaws in the design soon became evident. In the election of 1796, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson received the most and second-most votes respectively (Adams received one vote more than needed for a majority) and thus became the President and Vice-President. Problem: by that time political parties had arisen and Adams and Jefferson were affiliated with different parties, leading Adams to essentially ignore his Vice-President (as he himself had been largely ignored by Washington, for different reasons), which lead Jefferson to conclude he was wasting his time in Washington and that tending to his vines at Monticello would be more productive.

The election of 1800 revealed yet another flaw, this time it could not be ignored: since Electors nominated/voted for two people, if all the Electors of one political party voted for the same two people, those two people would end up with the same number of votes. A tie in the most number of votes threw the election into the House of Representatives. To settle the tie, the House delegations would choose the President from one of the top five nominees, voting by state. A majority of the state votes would settle the matter, unless no candidate obtained a majority of the state votes, which was precisely what happened.

A flaw in the execution of the plan of the Democrat-Republican Electors to seat Jefferson as President and running mate Aaron Burr as Vice-President resulted in a tie vote for both, a tie vote the lame-duck Federalists in the House of Representatives saw no reason to resolve. Thirty-five ballots later, the recalcitrant Federalists would still not budge and neither candidate had received the nine state votes needed. Alexander Hamilton was finally able to work a deal that broke the tie in Jefferson’s favor, much to Aaron Burr’s chagrin. The animosity this produced was at least partly responsible for Burr and Hamilton’s later “interview” on the Heights of Weehawken, which resulted in Hamilton’s untimely death.

The 12th Amendment reduced the likelihood of a tie by requiring Electors to cast separate ballots for President and Vice-President. Despite the high theater created by the 1800 election, the idea behind the 12th Amendment was still very contentious and did not gain sufficient political support until the imminent election of 1804 provided sufficient to push it through Congress and out to the states for ratification.

Today, however, the operation of the Electoral College little resembles the original. Instead of Electors nominating candidates from a potential pool of 213 million persons,[8] as they would following the original design, political parties nominate candidates through primary elections and a convention. Even though the name of the party’s candidate appears on the ballot, citizens are in fact voting for Electors who have previously committed themselves to a particular candidate. The original action of Electors as “screeners and selectors” of Presidential candidates has been obliterated.

About the only thing retained from the original design is that a successful candidate must receive a majority (270) of the total electoral votes available (538).[9] Due to the fact that a candidate need generally only win 50.1% of the popular vote in a state to receive that state’s electoral votes, it is possible for a candidate to receive the most popular votes nationally[10] and still win insufficient electoral votes to gain the office. Indeed this is what happened in 2000.

In the 2000 election, Bush/Cheney received 50,456,002 popular votes (47.9% of the total), but carried a majority of votes in 30 states and thus received their combined 271 electoral votes (notice, only one more electoral vote than needed). The Gore/Liebermann ticket received 50,999,897 popular votes (48.4% of the total)[11] but only carried 20 states (+ District of Columbia) and were awarded only 266 electoral votes. Gore’s large vote margins in New York (1,704,323), California (1,293,774) and Illinois (569,605) contributed greatly to his popular vote victory, but were meaningless in the electoral vote count.

The lesson of this election was that you only needed to win 50.1% of the popular vote in any state, any more than that has no effect on the electoral vote count (wasted?).

In Florida, a 537 vote margin for Bush gave him the Presidency! Ralph Nadar took 97,488 Floridians’ votes, presumably away from Gore; Pat Bucahnan took 17,484 votes (presumably) from Bush, and Libertarian Harry Browne garnered 16,415 votes, which either major party would have loved to have. Even the 1,371 votes of Constitution Party candidate Howard Phillips or the 2,281 votes cast for Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin would have been enough to change the outcome in the state and thus nationally; so would have the 3,028 votes cast for write-ins. Who says one vote (or even 537 votes) isn’t important? After the election, the Supreme Court stopped the dubiously legal recount of Florida votes and the rest, as they say, is history. The Left is yet to recover, leading to the “National Popular Vote” movement, discussed earlier.

So why not chuck the Electoral College and elect the President solely through a popular vote?

First and foremost, the Framers saw the office of President far differently than we do today. Today the President is “the leader of the free world,” the “Commander in Chief of the most powerful military in the world.”[12] In addition, Presidents in the modern era have worked hard to create the “Imperial Presidency” (the subject of next week’s essay, so I won’t dwell on it here).

In 1789 however, one did not “run” for the Presidency, one was pushed into it, sometimes reluctantly. Anyone actively seeking the office would have been viewed with suspicion. George Washington has often been called “The Reluctant President,”[13] as has John Quincy Adams.[14] Some are calling Barack Obama such,[15] but they focus very narrowly on his foreign and wartime policy. Obama showed no reluctance in setting about to “fundamentally transform America.”

The Framers saw a very limited role for the President: faithfully executing the laws, negotiating treaties, and protecting the nation from attack. When you read Article 2, that’s about all you encounter, save some administrative responsibilities. Thus, candidates for the office were expected to be good administrators as well as proven statesmen,[16] but they were not expected to be flamboyant or self-aggrandizing. People with such qualities would have been ignored by the Electors.

Make no mistake, the movement to replace the Electoral College with a National Popular Vote is not just a move to replace an archaic or overly complicated methodology, it is not an attempt to replace a system that is today not operating in harmony with its original intent, this movement is part and parcel of a scheme to replace our constitutional republic with a pure democracy.

But could we still go back to the original Electoral College process (or something close to it)?

Imagine this: On Election Day, Electors are selected, by name, in a popular vote of the people. The Electors were nominated by their state legislatures for their life experience, maturity, and sound judgement. The ballot contains only a brief resume of each person to guide the people’s votes, but no party affiliation is shown.

A day after the election, the results of the voting are announced (at this point the Electors would be advised to disconnect their home phones, for their sanity). On a prescribed day in December, Virginia’s 13 Electors meet in Richmond (as other state’s Electors meet in their state capitols) and each Elector writes down the names of two men or women they think are qualified to hold the high offices of President and Vice-President of the United States, respectively — “statesmen who had proven themselves through service and dedication to their communities, states, and country.”[17] The guidance from the Bible is similar: “But select capable men from all the people–men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain…”

Political parties would have been allowed to nominate preferred candidates if they wished, but the Electors would have no pressure or commitment to choose any party’s nominee. The names the Elector’s nominees will eventually become public, so each Elector would be prepared to explain/defend their choices. Electors not taking their responsibility seriously would expect to face the wrath of the community upon their return from nominating.

The Electors’ nominations are forwarded to the U.S. Senate, which opens them on a designated day a few days later. The nominations for each office are tallied and, in the unlikely event that a single nominee obtains votes from a majority of the Electors, they automatically become the President or Vice-President, providing they are found to meet the qualifications found in Article 2 of the Constitution. A more likely outcome is that no person achieves a majority of the Electors’ votes for their office. In this case, the House of Representatives immediately convenes and, from the three individuals[18] receiving the highest number of votes for President, chooses the President, voting by states, one vote per state.  The Senate does likewise for the Vice-President.

We could re-instill this process in short order, without Constitutional amendment. In many states, legislation governing how Electors are required to vote would have to be modified.

Notice that the people are still involved, in two significant ways: by voting for the Electors, as well as selecting their Representatives and Senators (unless we also repeal the 17th Amendment) who will likely cast the deciding votes for President and Vice-President respectively. The states are involved by selecting the potential Electors and, through their Congressional delegations, in actually selecting the President and Vice-President. The Electors themselves are under great public scrutiny for nominating individuals of integrity and experience.

The influence of political parties over at least the two highest offices in the land would be broken; such influence would remain in races for the Senate and House; presidential debates would be unnecessary, presidential elections would cost a few thousand dollars (the expense of bringing the Electors to the capitol) instead of millions; robocalls (for President at least) would cease; Presidential candidate “promises” would be a thing of the past – the only promise would be made during the swearing in: to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Political parties could continue to hold primaries and/or conventions if they wished, but the importance of these would be greatly diminished, there would be no assurance that their candidate would be even considered by the Electors. Of course, the individuals voted into office by the House and Senate, once notified, would retain the right to decline to serve. Doing so would move the selection to the candidate receiving the next highest state votes in each Chamber.

The President and Vice-President would be watched carefully by the public to see that they are honestly working together for the good of the nation, or they would be impeached and replaced in accordance with the rules of the Constitution. Impeachment for mal-administration would become a real constitutional remedy again, no longer suppressed by partisanship. The Executive “team” would have to work together to achieve consensus and gain the support of Congress.

Aren’t you tired of the endless “low theater” that characterizes presidential campaigns and debates today? Aren’t you tired of Presidents breaking their campaign promises? Aren’t you tired of the bitter partisan fights between the Executive and Congress? Aren’t you tired of the billions spent on electing the President? Aren’t you tired of the robocalls? I am.

It’s time we returned to the original Electoral College.

We will be discussing this topic on “We the People, The Constitution Matters” on WFYL radio Friday morning, 12 March, 7-8am. You can “Listen Live” at www.1180wfyl.com, or, if you are fortunate enough to live in the station’s broadcast area, on the radio as you drive to work that morning.

You can later download the podcast of the show and listen at your leisure, or you can listen to one of the rebroadcasts during the weekend. I would love to hear your ideas on this topic. Hope you’ll join us.

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

[1] “Making Votes Count: Abolish the Electoral College,” August 29, 2004.

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tyler-lewis/why-we-should-abolish-the_1_b_8961256.html

[3] Paul D. Schumaker and Burdett A. Loomis, “Choosing A President,” 2002, Chatham House Publishers, p. 176.

[4] Ibid, p. 2.

[5] Derived from the Latin: collegium, meaning an association or guild.

[6] Ibid, p. 39.

[7] Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 68, March 14, 1788.

[8] The voting age population of 2012, minus the 535 members of Congress and the approximately 2.2 million federal employees..

[9] Maine and Nebraska allow electoral votes to be split between parties based on district voting. In both states, two electoral votes are awarded to the winner of the statewide race and one electoral vote is awarded to the winner of each congressional district. Maine has only two congressional districts while Nebraska has three, thus neither state makes a meaningful contribution to the total. In 2000, Gore took all of Maine’s electoral votes and Bush took all of Nebraska’s.

[10] Until 1828 a national vote was not even tallied since some states still allowed the state legislature to select the Electors.

[11] Note that neither team received a majority of the popular votes cast, Gore only obtained a plurality.

[12] Despite these glowing accolades, Forbes magazine named Barack Obama as only the third most powerful person in the world in 2015, behind Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. See http://www.forbes.com/powerful-people/

[13] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/george-washington-the-reluctant-president-49492/

[14] http://archive.wilsonquarterly.com/book-reviews/reluctant-president

[15] See: http://www.nationalbcc.org/news/beyond-the-rhetoric/2546-the-reluctant-president

[16] As opposed to first-term Senators.

[17] Gary & Carolyn Alder, “The Evolution and Destruction of the Original Electoral College” 2011, GCA Ventures, LLC. p. 6.

[18] Reduced from five to three by the 12th Amendment.