Constitutional Corner – The Right of Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Constitution Corner – The Right of Conscience

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“… there is great reason to fear that a positive declaration of some of the most essential rights could not be obtained in the requisite latitude. I am sure that the rights of conscience in particular, if submitted to public definition would be narrowed much more than they are likely ever to be by an assumed power.”[1]

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

So how do you describe the right of conscience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America, what a country!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No longer.

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

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

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

[2] Isaiah 30:21.


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


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

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

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

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

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











Constitution Corner – The Rights of Illegal Aliens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 14th Amendment’s Section 1 states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[1] Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 US 537 (1896).

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

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











Constitutional Corner – Musings on the Article V Convention Simulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which will it be?[6]

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


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

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

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

[5] Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 1775

[6] For more information of the Convention of States Project, see

Constitution’s Week in Review – 27 August 2016

Article 1, Section 2.  Apportionment

The original Constitution set Congressional representation at 1 Representative for every 30,000 persons.[1]  If this formula had remained in effect, the House of Representatives would today contain over 10,000 members.

What would have been the original first amendment had it been ratified in 1791 would have gradually increased the apportionment formula until it reached 1 Representative for each 50,000 persons.  Even at 1 to 50,000, the House would today contain about 6400 members.[2]

Back when communication was somewhat less than globally instantaneous, and telepresence still a science fiction, a legislative body of these proportions seemed unmanageable, and so the Reapportionment Act of 1929 was passed which capped the number of Representatives at 435.  In 1929, when the U.S. population stood at 121.8 Million, this meant each Representative must represent 280,000 persons.  Today, the average Representative must represent the interests of 750,000 individuals.  Good luck with that.

Providing the basis for this apportionment was an enumeration or census, to be conducted every 10 years:

“The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

Our country’s first official census was conducted in 1790[3] and the last in 2010.[4]  The 2020 census is beginning to come onto political radar screens and looks to be as controversial as any previous.  What should be a simple counting project has proven to be anything but.

Certain elements of the U.S. government attempt to use the census to gain additional socio-demographic information they can use to shape their programs.  This means asking census questions that go well beyond a simple “enumeration” and intrude into personal information that some feel the government has no need to know or right to demand.

With apportionment, however, comes political power — 15 states are projected to gain or lose districts as a result of the 2020 census — and that means politically-motivated groups will seek ways to influence the outcome.  It should come as no surprise then to learn that certain political groups hope to influence the 2020 census to gain political advantage.

The Open Society Foundation, founded by George Soros, is funding key progressive groups[5] with the goal of attempting to “influence appropriations for the (U.S.) Census Bureau.” while pushing to change the methods by which racial categories are counted.  One big issue: do you count incarcerated individuals as residents of the jail/prison location or are they residents of their pre-incarceration domiciles?   With U.S. prisons bursting at the seams, this becomes an important question.  Watch for more on this as we get closer to the actual census.

First Amendment. A Win for Religious Liberty?

Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created humans as either male or female.  Although biologists point to several factors involved in determining gender during conception, gender, once set, is set; the idea that someone could actually change their gender after birth is of very recent vintage.  Only advances in cosmetic surgery have made the idea even approachable.  Of course, at the genetic level the idea is preposterous.  Despite all external attempts to portray oneself as the opposite sex, chromosomes have proven more resistant to change.

But now that the issue of homosexual marriage appears to have been settled, in the eyes of many, if not most Americans, gender identity is the new battleground.  Bathroom/shower-room use in the public schools gets a lot of the attention (as a side note: a Texas Federal Judge has blocked the Department of Education’s attempt to inflict gender confusion on the nation’s schoolkids).[6]  But trans-genderism is creating other controversies as well.  For instance, must an employer accommodate an employee’s announcement of gender “transition” at face value and retain that employee in their job?

A U.S. District Judge in Michigan has decided the answer to that question is “No,”[7] the employer can not only fire such an individual, they and can base their decision on their firmly held religious values, even if the business involved is not a church or other religiously-oriented organization.  I’ve no doubt this decision will be appealed and I fully expect it to reach the Supreme Court, where, based on our Society’s emerging hostility to religion, I predict the Court will strike down the decision and state that a firing decision cannot be based on religious views of gender.  But we’ll see.

Two Wins for Religious Liberty in One Week, What’s Happening Here?

The following story shows the strength of grass-roots efforts when properly marshalled.

The California legislature was set to pass SB1146.[8] Among its provisions was one preventing low-income students from receiving Cal Grants, California’s system of need-based education aid, if they attended colleges which restrict campus bathroom use based on biological sex.  Thanks to “hundreds and hundreds of phone calls,” Senator Ricardo Lara, a Democrat  and the bill’s sponsor, agreed to remove the offending clauses.

Kudos to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission which mobilized their members.  It can work!

Why Does the Federal Government Own So Much State Land?

In previous posts and in my seminar I complain about the extent of state land claimed by the federal government: 85% of Nevada, 70% of Alaska, 57% of Utah, and so on.  Article 4, Clause 2 gives Congress the power to “dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.”  Notice the words “dispose of.”  These imply that federal territory will not be held in perpetuity, only temporarily until it is either sold off or made into a state.  Environmentalists, of course, have no problem with the federal government sequestering such land from development and keeping it as wilderness “for the people;” otherwise, cash-hungry states would just sell it off to developers, and then “good bye Yellowstone!”  Now we learn there are a considerable number of conservatives[9] who see things the same way.  Apparently willing to put aside the issue of big government, they see these lands as a “national birthright” and demand they be protected from economic development, principally by keeping them under federal ownership.  What’s a Republican platform-writer to do?

Upcoming Events:

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

12 Sep, Lessons in Liberty – The Electoral College

The functioning of the Electoral College today bears little resemblance to the Framers’ intentions.  But rather than completely eliminate the “College” with an amendment, which would be the “constitutional” thing to do, groups like National Popular Vote have decided a final end-run is all that’s needed.  Can the Framers’ intent be restored?  Come find out on Monday, 12 September, 7-9pm at the Foundation for American Christian Education in Chesapeake, VA.  For those outside the local area, the presentation will be livestreamed.  Registration is $10 either way at

19 Sep, Christian Financial Concepts Webinar – The Electoral College Once Again

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

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

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

[1] The word “residents” is not used, however, giving rise to the question of whether representation was intended to be based on “residents,” however temporary may be their residency, or “citizens,” or some other designation.

[2] For more on ratifying the original first amendment today see:

[3] The U.S. population in 1790 was 3,929,214.

[4] The U.S. population in 2010 was 309,300,000.








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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were they justified in doing so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where is God’s Providence today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1789.

[3] October 12, 1816.

[4] Malachi 3:6 KJV.

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

The Constitution’s Week in Review – 30 July 16

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

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

A Governor’s Slapdown

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

A State’s Slapdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secession Anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations and Events:

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

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

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

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

 We The People – The Constitution Matters Radio Show.

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

Lessons in Liberty – Preserving America’s Religious Liberty.

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

 Lessons in Liberty – Preserving America’s Religious Liberty.

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

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








The Constitution’s Week in Review – 23 July 16

Article 1 – The Legislature: Apportioned Representation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article 2 – The Executive: The Candidates and the Constitution

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

Article 3 – The Judiciary

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

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

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

1st Amendment – Right of Conscience

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

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

4th Amendment – Illegal Search

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

Recommendations and Events:

Christian Financial Concepts Presentation – The Constitution as Solution

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

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

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

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

Go to to register for this free event.

We The People – The Constitution Matters Radio Show.

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

Lessons in Liberty – Preserving America’s Religious Liberty.

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

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.









The Constitution’s Week in Review – 16 July 16

Article 1 – The Legislature: Separation of Powers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(D) without observance of procedure required by law;

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

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

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

the reviewing court.”

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

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

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

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

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

Article 2 – The Executive: The Candidates and the Constitution

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

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

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

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

Article 3 – The Judiciary

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

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

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

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

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

1st Amendment – Right of Conscience

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

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

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

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

2nd Amendment – Is it a Right for Everyone?

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

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

Recommendations and Events:

We The People – The Constitution Matters Radio Show.

On Friday, 22 July, we will discuss these words from the Declaration of Independence: “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”  Which of America’s “Princes” have turned out to be unfit to be “the ruler of a free people?”  What should be our criteria in choosing a President in the future?

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

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











Constitutional Corner – Right of Petition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five other colonies eventually enacted similar guarantees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.”[3]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Record of the Senate, 1836.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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




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



[25] For perhaps a little while longer.