Archive for March, 2009

Why I Believe Government Should Outlaw Drugs

March 31, 2009

I used to think that, theoretically, if enough people used harmful drugs, that the election results could be skewed in an irrational way. I never thought I’d live through two presidents and an entire congress full of people who were once and probably are still drug users.

If drug use creates politicians like Barack Obama, I would say our national priority should be to outlaw drugs and prevent any user of drugs from ever voting or holding office. That’s change I believe in.

Why? Barack Obama’s assault on our form of government knows no bounds. We are moving from socialism to communism with rest stops in fascism. When he fires the CEO of GM, when he dictates what people should or should not earn, our country is dead. I have little tolerance for such politicians. I daresay we need no tolerance for people who would abuse the powers granted to them by the constitution to destroy the constitution.

A group of 60 youth fought with a single police officer in Modesto, California. Why didn’t those 60 follow the orders of the police officer to stop beating on the victim they were savaging? Because they didn’t respect his authority. Government didn’t exist for those 60 kids. When the cop threatened them with physical violence, they welcomed the challenge.

This is what our government is without the constitution. We are the 60 kids. The federal government and our state governments are the cops. They live and serve at our pleasure, not the other way around. We, those 60 kids, decided we wanted a cop to hang around with us and occasionally arrest or shoot a few of us, funded by tax dollars. So we wrote a constitution that created the cop and formalized how the cop was chosen, as well as set limits to what the cop is allowed to do.

The Modesto police officer was doing his job, protecting those people who needed protecting, trying to build law and order where there was none. That was the constitutional duty of the cop. The 60 kids are having a rude awakening as the rest of government comes crashing down on them, because besides those 60 kids there are millions of others who believe those 60 kids were wrong.

I believe the vast majority of America isn’t looped out on drugs and haven’t even experimented with them. They don’t have brain damage. They don’t want to tear up the constitution like the brain damaged drug users in Obama’s administration and the democrats in congress want to. The vast majority, I believe, would support a law that outlaws drug users and abusers from political life because it would mean keeping this addled and diseased part of our population away from our governing mechanism.

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Constitution Series, Part XIV: The People

March 31, 2009

So far, I’ve covered the constitutional three branches of government as embodied by Congress, the president, and the Supreme Court. In yesterday’s article, I covered the states and their role in the federal government. Today, I cover the people.

What do I mean by “the people”?

This is a difficult concept to truly understand. We inherently understand that collectively, we are more powerful than any other political force in the world. But what do we mean by “we”?

When the parliament in England began to exert control over the King in the name of “the people”, they too struggled to understand what this meant.

Does it mean the will of the majority?  Rule of the majority is simply democracy, and democracy is deficient in many important ways. Rule of the majority is no different than mob rule, which is obviously not what the majority really wants. In fact, rule by any subset of everyone is obviously deficient in one way or the other. You can’t expect to give power to the rich, the poor, the clergy, the businesses, husbands, wives, parents, children, the military, the free, the bond, or any other group, and expect to get anything but corruption, usurpation, and tyranny.

So what does it mean?

I simply interpret it as this. The will of the people is the thing that everyone (with rare exceptions) will agree to when they are in sound mind and body, free from political or mobocratic exertions. That is, the will of the people is simply selfish reasoning, or reasoning that would yield the best result for the people.

This isn’t rule of the majority. Rule of the majority isn’t selfish. The problem with the rule of the majority is that often the majority will act in ways that are injurious to the majority. That is, they will pretend that since they are in the majority they can take advantage of the minority somehow. Well, in reality, everyone is a member of one minority or another, and if they believe that, as a member of the majority, they can act in a way that hurts the minority, they are really injuring themselves. So a wise majority would never abuse their power as the majority to injure the minority.

So far, the best group that has ever represented the people’s will has not been our governments as embodied in the federal, state, county, and local governments. No, so far, the only groups that have ever even come close to representing what the people really want are the Founding Fathers assembled in the Constitutional Convention. Reading the topics they discussed and the fervor they discussed it with, it is clear that almost every individual in that group was concerned solely with how the people would fare under the decisions they made. It was quite an inspirational event.

Perhaps, should we ever need to do something like this again, another constitutional convention will be formed of similarly wise and altruistic people. Perhaps the magnamity of their calling and the very fact that they will live under whatever conditions they create will inspire them to set aside political maneuvers and focus only on what the people really need and want.

In reality, I think we shall never see another group that can represent the will of the people.

Despite the fact that we simply cannot point to a group of people that represent the people, but instead, we have to refer to some vague and disembodied entity called “the people”, we can discuss how the people interact with the government.

The first obvious way that the people act in our federal government is that they are the creator of the government. In much the same way God reigns over the earth because He created it, the people reign over our federal government since they created it. Indeed, each of the states have a similar constitution that declares the people as their creator as well. The people are the God of the governments around us. Either the government worship and serve the people, or they are to be punished as disobedient.

The second way that the people act in our federal government is that they are the source of the rights and powers of the government and retain all of them except for the few that they “loan” to the government. Should the government ever act in such a way as to infringe upon the unlimited and indefinite rights of the people (not necessarily individuals, but the people as a whole), then that would be grounds for canceling the agreement altogether, causing the government to be disbanded. The way this would work is the people would simply stop paying their taxes, obeying the laws, fighting wars for the government, or otherwise supporting the government. If the people decided to do this, the government would be powerless to stop it.

The constitution, as amended with the Bill of Rights, list specific rights that government may not infringe upon. Among these rights are the right to worship, to organize, to speak, to bear arms, and the right to security in their papers and property. Some people have twisted this as a limitation on the rights of the people. The purpose of the authors and ratifiers of these amendments wasn’t to limit the rights of the people at all, but to explicitly call out certain rights that government could never even dream of infringing upon.

Understanding the role of the people in our federal system exposes the fundamental flaw with Communism, Socialism, Liberalism, Progressivism, or whatever else you call it.

On the one hand, you have people who think that government should control the people. These are statists. They believe that government isn’t created by the people but the people are created by the government.

On the other hand, you have people who that government is created by the people to serve the people by protecting the rights of the people. These are what we call conservatives, libertarians, or simply Americans. (Yes, I am saying that Socialism and Liberalism and such are anti- and un-American!) They view government as a child of the people. When it is disobedient, it should be punished and corrected. When it is obedient, it is, at best, still a child and never a peer or lord over the people.

Socialists try to pervert reason and logic and try to say that since economic disparity means that some people have more power than other people, and since the powerful people control the government, then any government which doesn’t take power from the powerful and give it to the weak is thus, somehow, not serving its purpose of protecting the rights of the people. (Even I have a hard time stating this without sounding absurd.)

Socialists forget that the powerful are just as much a part of the people as any other group, and thus, to take power away from them means you are taking power away from the people. To infringe on the rights of the rich, or the white, or the property owners, or the business owners, or stock market brokers, is to infringe upon the rights of the people.

The Founding Fathers never intended for the government to take power away from any individual or group except those who abused their power to harm others. They knew that such people gravitated to government to obtain their power and translate that power into a weapon. They knew that such people would argue with the exact same arguments that the Socialists are making today. (After all, Socialism / Communism / Liberalism / etc… are nothing new. It is simply tyranny, the way of all government on th earth.)

Thus, our Founding Fathers devised an ingenious system of limitations on government. It set into place three powerful branches, each set against one another in a Mexican standoff that could never be resolved. The political tyrant, though he control government, could never use it to accomplish his purposes, even with his friends in control of the other branches of government. Once in power, the union would be busted, as we see today. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and President Barack Obama are now fighting against each other rather than the people. In fact, to gain an advantage over the other, they must first secure the rights of the people. Pelosi and Reid must make sure that any legislation passed with be tolerated by the people and must ensure that the president does not do anything to damage their reputations. President Obama has only a few short years to accomplish his plans, and without the rubber-stamp of congress, he is left to negotiate away every aspect of his designs.

The federal government, in this way, is sort of like a mousetrap for tyrants. It sucks them into a system where they can never accomplish what they hoped to do without first securing the rights of the people.

Brilliant, isn’t it?

Constitution Series, Part XIII: The States

March 30, 2009

We’ve been covering the branches of the federal government as organized by the Constitution of the United States. There are two entities that need to be recognized that are not part of the federal government but interact closely with it. The first is the states. The second is the people.

In the Founding Father’s eyes, the United States of America was not a single nation, but a collection of independent and sovereign states. Each of these states was comparable to a European states. Although such states as Spain, France, England, and Germany were powerful and populated, the American states did wield about as much power as the medium or small sized states outright.

A state is the lowest level of absolute government. Only states could write laws dictating morality or the punishment of crimes. Only states could claim that they represented the people since the people directly supported the states. The federal government, on the other hand, was an agreement on how to have the states interact with each other in a positive way, to unify the country against external forces, and to keep the states in perpetual peace at home.

In the consitution, originally, the states had a massive amount of influence over the federal government.

  • State legislatures chose the two senators from the state. Thus, the Senate was composed of people who represented the states.
  • State legislatures chose the electors in the Electoral College which chose the president.
  • State legislatures could be called upon to ratify an amendment to the constitution.
  • All the powers not specifically delegated to the federal government were retained by the states and the people.

Over time, these powers have been significantly weakened. By constitutional amendment, senators are now chosen by the people directly. By state laws, the people choose the electors in the Electoral College. By court rulings and bribery, the rights of the states have been infringed upon by the federal government.

Let me explain the bribery claim above. The way it works is like this. In the beginning, the states were independent of the federal government. If the federal government wrote a law that the states believed was unconstitutional, they could simply ignore it. The federal government then began funding state projects. This came without any strings attached, so the states could do pretty much whatever they wanted with the money. Of course, the states accepted the “free” money. (Really, it was taxed from the people and thus flowed in a circle through the federal government to the states.) Eventually, the federal government began attaching strings to the money. Now, the federal government has mandated certain behavior by the state governments. If the state governments do not agree, the federal government threatens to rescind funding for important projects. This is, in effect, bribery.

In the latter half of the 20th Century, the claim of “state’s rights” was synonymous with anti-black policies. The reason for this was that several Southern states wanted to write state laws that would treat blacks differently than whites. Of course, the federal government, composed of senators and representatives from states who didn’t like anti-black policies, would try to use their power, unconstitutionally, to dictate policy at the state level. So the Southern states would have to claim “state’s rights” to get their anti-black policies enacted. This fight, unfortunately, has led people to think that the only reason states would want to retain their rights would be to oppress minorities.

In reality, the states were to be a powerful check on federal government corruption and usurpation. The states were to field armies that could challenge the federal army. The states were to create courts that had more power than the federal courts. The states were to write laws that could affect people in more drastic way than federal law ever could. Thus, the claim of “state’s rights” should be seen as just as important part of our system of government as individual rights.

This follows along with the principle of local governance. The idea is that government that is close to the people that are governed is usually the best government of all. The reason is both because members of the government suffer the consequences of bad governance and also because the government is local enough and small enough that dissatisfied citizens would have their concerns heard and acted upon.

Although the states have diminished in their power, it is quite possible that states will re-assert themselves. Some of the issues that seem to be turning towards the state’s favor are:

  • Education. Traditionally, the federal government has simply written checks to the states, with minor attachments. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, however, dictates that if states fail to meet certain criteria, the federal government will seize control of the schools. If schools are failing in a state, the state may also decline federal funding altogether. Several states are contemplating such a move as the deadline for progress draws near. Such a move could cause states to exert their power and demand that the federal government get out of the education business.
  • Drug traficking. Ever since the early 1900’s, the federal government has vigorously pursued an anti-drug agenda. Some of the things the federal government has done has gone way beyond any constitutional power that the president or congress of courts have. Some states, such as California, have passed medicinal marijuana laws that contradict federal laws on production, possession, and distribution of marijuana. In the coming years, these states could destroy the unconstitutional mechanism that the federal government uses to control the drug trade.
  • Environmental laws. The federal government has broad-reaching laws governing how the environment can be used and under what circumstances. In some cases, the laws go far beyond what the state that controls the land would like. In other cases, the laws don’t go far enough or demand action that the states disagree with. Such conflicts will eventually lead to a reconciliation or a drastic reduction in the scope of federal environmental regulation in favor of leaving that power with the states.
  • Interpretation of the constitution. Today, people view the Supreme Court as not only the last word on the federal constitution, but the last word on the state constitutions. This is simply an incorrect view of how constitutions are to be read. In the case of the federal government, all three branches are entitled to their own interpretations of the constitution and should act according to their interpretation. In the case of state constitutions, the states do not acquiesce the power to interpret their constitution to the federal government or the Supreme Court. Nowadays, with the fight over homosexual marriage, the treatment of prisoners of war, and abortion, states are beginning to disagree with the Supreme Court, along with the president and Congress. Should a state Supreme Court rule that the federal Supreme Court’s ruling is incorrect, then this power of the federal Supreme Court would be broken. The Supreme Court has been careful not to make a ruling that would be reversed by a state Supreme Court for this reason.

The Founding Fathers never viewed our country as a single nation, but instead, the aggregate of several smaller states. They knew that keeping the strongest government powers closer to the people was a sure way to keep it from being corrupted. Thus, the states are a powerful component of our system of government, yet another check and balance against federal usurpation and corruption.

Constitution Series, Part XII: The Supreme Court and the Judiciary

March 28, 2009

[Sorry, due to an error on my part the post has been blank for the past day]

Until now, we have focused on two importnat branches of the federal government: the legislative, embodied in the Congress, which is the House of Representatives and the Senate; and the executive, which is embodied by the president of the United States.

The third branch, the judicial, deals with the power to try specific cases to determine if it is a violation of the law, and if so, what remedy or punishment should be applied.

The judicial branch is embodied by the Supreme Court. As of now, there are nine justices of the Supreme Court. One of them is the chief justice.

At the bottom are the federal judges. These are the judges that hear cases. In the middle are the appellate courts. These hear appeals from the lower courts. At the top is the Supreme Court. There is no higher court than the Supreme Court in the federal government, and there is only one.

The constitution gives power to congress to determine how many justices on the Supreme Court there are and how many courts and how they are organized. Although congress writes laws to organize the courts, the president selects and the Senate approves all judicial appointments.

Judges can be impeached for no reason at all. Traditionally, Congress has agreed that they will not impeach a judge for a dumb ruling. They will, however, impeach judges for corruption or other crimes. One judge who was impeached and removed from office for corruption is now serving in the House of Representatives—Alcee Hastings, a democrat from Florida’s 23rd congressional district. Personally, I think that congress should impeach judges who make bad decisions. Their job is to apply the law that congress has written. Congress should exercise this check over them.

Congress also determines what types of cases they can hear. This is a powerful control over the courts. If the courts do not have jurisdiction—the power to hear a case—they cannot proceed. Congress can write a law giving the judges jurisdiction over certain kinds of cases, or they can prevent it. Right now, the federal judiciary is allowed to hear cases where anyone can sue people for harming the environment, even if they have no harm done to them. Because of this, companies are tied up forever as the judiciary hears every little petition on behalf of other people’s property.

The constitution limits congress in that they cannot write a Bill of Attainder. A Bill of Attainder declares someone or some group guilty of a crime without a trial. The constitution also dictates that criminal trials must occur within the state where the crime occurred and must be tried with a jury. (If the crime was committed outside of the states, then congress can determine where the trial shall be heard by law.)

The power of the jury is an important one. Every criminal case is guaranteed a trial by jury according to the constitution. You cannot be found guilty of a crime without a jury deciding so. Today, the justice system pretends that jury nullification doesn’t exist. Judges try to impress upon the minds of the jury that if the person broke the law, then they must to be found guilty. However, this is simply false. Juries exist as a check on government law. Juries can find that the defendant did break the law, but they are guilty of no crime. This power was the reason for the creation of juries in the first place, and their perpetuation. Juries keep the government honest and keep the honest out of prison.

Once a jury finds you innocent of a crime, you can never be tried again for that crime. To be tried for the same crime twice is called double jeopardy.

The principle of ex post facto is another constraint on the federal government. If what you did was not illegal at the time of the action, you cannot be found guilty. That is, congress can’t write a law punishing people for bad behavior in the past. They can only write laws for the future.

There are several other protections listed in the constitution itself or as an amendment. For instance, the executive cannot violate your personal papers without a search warrant, and warrants can only be issued in specific circumstances by a judge. Also, even though a person is guilty of the most despicable crime, they cannot be punished with cruel and unusual punishments. (The punishment may not be both cruel and unusual. That is, cruel and usual is permitted, as well as not cruel and unusual.)

The justice system has grown far more powerful than it was ever intended to be. Thomas Jefferson was worried that the constitution gave too much power to the judiciary, and that judges could easily grow beyond their limits. Today, we see Thomas Jefferson’s fears being realized. Judges are acting far outside of their jurisdiction and even bring the constitution itself into question. With a few words, they twist key passages of the constitution into what it was never meant to be. For instance, the right to privacy of papers has been twisted into the right to murder unborn children within the womb. The purpose of government to provide for the general welfare has been interpreted to mean specific welfare—helping individuals and specific groups of people. The power of congress to regulate trade has been interpreted as the power to set the size of toilet flush capacities. The right to sieze property through imminent domain for public benefit has been reinterpreted to mean seizing property through imminent domain for private benefit. Today, the constitution is used to limit the power of the people when the purpose of the document was to set the parameters for government and the basic assumption of its creation was that the power of the people was unlimited and unspecified.

Up until about 1930, the courts were a powerful check to keep both the president and the congress acting within the limits of the constitution. Ever since then, our freedoms have eroded since the courts have not exercised their power appropriately. Today, the courts is almost balanced. On the right side of the court, there are strict constructionalists such as Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts. These judges read the constitution in the frame of mind it was written in, and do not allow the meaning of the constitution to change over time except as it has been amended. On the other side of the court, the justices draw on foreign law, supposition, reinterpretation, and imagination to invent their rulings.

Since judges aren’t elected by the people, but are appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate, the two bodies most distant from the people, it was intended that judges would be kept far from politics. Of course, we know that not to be true today. The Democratic Party has consistently chosen judges whose sole purpose in life has been to overturn existing law and freedoms to make our society more socialist and less free.

In my belief, once the court is restored with strict constructionalist who read the constitution and apply it without reinterpretation or inventions, then we will see the constitution return to its power. In order to do so, we must maintain the president and the Senate with people who believe that the constitution is the ultimate limit on government and cannot change its meaning over time except by amendment.

Constitution Series, Part XI: The President

March 27, 2009

In the last five articles, we covered the legislative branch, including the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the law-making process. We also covered the amendment process whereby the constitution itself can be changed.

Today, let’s examine the executive branch. The executive branch and the President of the United States are one and the same. In him, all executive power of the federal government is vested.

Some people think that our selection process is backwards and antiquated. On the contrary, it is designed to prevent democracy (mob rule) from overrunning the presidency.

What it is we look for in a president? Someone who is a leader. Someone who can unify the country. Someone who can represent us internationally. Someone who can take decisive action. Someone who is responsible and knows how to hold others accountable.

A president must be 35 years old, a natural born citizen, and lived for 14 years in the United States. A president serves a four-year term and can be re-elected only once.

A president is not chosen by the people. The constitution is specific. The president is chosen by the Electoral College. Each state legislature (not the people) sends as many electors to the Electoral College as they have senators and representatives. This means, at a minimum, states have 3 electors.

Nowadays, all the states have laws that allow the people to choose who the electors will be. Some states go all-in for the winner, while others partition the votes based on district or some other system. Regardless, it is, constitutionally, the state legislatures that choose the electors, not the people.

At the Electoral College, the electors must choose a president and vice-president. In the early days, the 1st place winner was the president, and the 2nd place winner was the vice-president. Nowadays, they choose the two positions on separate ballots, with the condition that the president and vice-president not be from the same state.

If the Electoral College cannot decide who should be president or vice-president, the constitution dictates that the selection is thrown to the House of Representatives. There, they vote on the top three in a very specific way. Each state’s representatives meet independently. A two-thirds vote is necessary to represent the state. And each state gets one vote. If the House of Representatives cannot choose, then the sitting vice-president becomes president.

Why in the world do we have this strange system for choosing the president? Why not just have a national vote?

Well, for starters, each state has a different way of counting votes! This, already, makes one vote in one state unequal to another. If one state had more relaxed rules for who is allowed to vote than another, they would have disproportionate power in selecting the president.

In addition, the Founding Fathers didn’t want the most populous states to dictate to the rest of the country the way it was going to be. Already they had a distinct advantage in the House of Representatives. Carrying that over to the presidency would give 2 parts of the federal government to the most populous states. This would leave the smaller states to a minority status, being bullied about by the larger states.

But most importantly, the selection of the president was going to be the most contentious part of the federal appointment process. The president is, after all, one step away from being a king. There would always be a considerable focus on who was going to be the next president, and so the Founding Fathers wanted that debate to happen everywhere and involve everyone.

What exactly does the president do?

He swears: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

He is Commander-in-Chief. That means, all military decisions go up to him. He also commissions officers in the military.

He can grant reprieves or pardons, except for impeachment trials.

He can sign treaties. The treaties aren’t valid until ratified by 2/3rds of the Senate. (Note the House has no say.)

He appoints people to fill in executive and judicial vacancies, with the consent of the senate. If the senate doesn’t cooperate, he can wait until they are out of session and do a “recess appointment”, valid for one session without the consent of the senate.

He addresses congress with the “State of the Union.” He can tell them what he thinks is important for them to do. This provision makes it clear that the president doesn’t serve the congress.

He can call congress into session, or if they cannot agree to adjournment, adjourn them. This is an important power to keep congress in order.

He also wields the veto pen. He can either sign bills approved by both the House and the Senate into law, or veto them. If vetoed, 2/3rds of congress is needed to override the veto.

The president, as I said, is one step from being king. His limited powers are really quite awesome. Some have compared past presidents to dictators. This really isn’t so, since presidents can’t write laws while dictators can. Presidents only have the power to enforce the law.

Over the years, laws and traditions have built up surrounding those powers. For instance, since only congress can declare war, he isn’t allowed to muster the army or take any military action until the congress tells him to. But the “War Powers Act” grants the president power to take limited military action for a limited amount of time as needed. Congress will, of course, review his actions and decide whether to continue or to stop.

The Posse Comitatus Act says that the military cannot be used within the country for law enforcement except as called upon by congress. The president cannot send federal troops into a disaster area without the governor inviting the troops in an the troops reporting to the governor. The only area that the president is allowed to use federal troops is to quell a rebellion when the states can not handle it on their own.

The budget drives what the president can do. If congress doesn’t write a budget, the president cannot raise a dime or spend a dime. This is an important limitation on the powers of the president. Congress is usually willing to sign a blank check for military actions, and they get to investigate the actions and make demands of the president. This is an unwritten but understood agreement.

Presidents over the years have issued “executive orders.” These may sound like laws, but really aren’t. They are instructions to his administration and officials he oversees in how to interpret the constitution and the laws as they are written. This is simply the president exercising his power and acting upon his interpretation of the constitution the same way congress and the courts act on their interpretation of the constitution.

Presidents have also, traditionally, added “signing statements” as they sign bills. These often note what parts of the law they disagree with (although they are powerless to change it) or what parts of the law they do not intend to enforce. They may even note how they will put the law into effect with the signing statement.

The president, at least a good president, will spend the bulk of his time working with foreign nations and negotiating treaties. Senators seem to detest the fact that the is allowed to spend so much time hobnobbing with foreign dignitaries. Their only recourse is to ratify or reject the treaties he signs and approve the ambassadors he appoints. A law was written that dictates that only the president is allowed to speak on behalf of the country, so senators and representatives calling on officials from another government have to check with the president about what they are allowed to say and do.

In practice, we should elect presidents who are good military leaders and good executives and ambassadors. We should elect them to be our international face and handle our relation with other countries. We should elect representatives and senators who will focus their time on taxes and spending and legislation of domestic affairs. I think this is why, over the years, presidents have been disproportionately republican. The people have recognized republicans as better able to represent our country, lead us in wars, and handle foreign relations than the democrats.

There is some talk of abandoning the Electoral College used to elect the president. If anything, I would encourage people to consider returning the power to elect the president to the state legislatures and remove it from the people. Popular presidents do not make good presidents. We can see based on what we’ve already experienced with President Obama that this is true.

Constitution Series, Part X: How to Amend the Constitution

March 26, 2009

In the last post, I examined how to write new laws. It was a lengthy process involving the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the president. It also involved the courts and the people.

Today, let’s examine how to amend the constitution.

Article V defines the amendment process. It is simply stated as:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

The process for amendment starts with the congress. They simply have to approve the amendment by 2/3rds of both the House and the Senate in much the same way that a bill is approved.

An alternative process is for the states to call a constitutional convention. All we need is 2/3rds of the states, or 34 states, to call for such a convention. The convention will propose one or more amendments to the constitution, bypassing the congress altogether. Currently, we are 3 states away from a constitutional convention. The Wyoming state government recently dropped their request for a convention.

Amendments can be ratified in one of two ways. Either they will be ratified by 3/4ths of the state legislatures, or they can be ratified by conventions at 3/4ths of the states. The method of ratification is determined by the amendment. In this way, the state legislatures can be bypassed.

We have never had a constitutional convention since the one in 1787. All the amendments to that constitution have been passed through congress and through the state legislatures, except one. The 21st amendment bypassed the state legislatures and was ratified by conventions in the states.

Note that the president nor the courts have any say on amendments. In the case of the courts, they cannot rule against the constitution since it is the constitution that gives them their power in the first place. The courts acknowledge this. Even in California where the constitution was amended by the people with Prop. 8, the courts have admitted that if they were to overturn the amendment, the government of California would no longer be ruled by the constitution the people wrote to govern it.

I can’t overstate the importance of this principle. The governments of our land draw their power to govern from the people. The people consent because the governments adhere to the constitutions which the people wrote to institute those governments. Should the governments decide to ignore the constitution, it is entirely possible that the people will withdraw their support for the government. The government will, in such a case, collapse. Therefore, the governments see themselves as absolutely governed by the articles and amendments in the constitutions which form them.

Note also there is no time period to ratify. The 27th Amendment initially failed to get 3/4 of the states to ratify it—in 1789. In 1992, it was ratified. So many states were added since 1789 and enough states chose to ratify the amendment that the original 13 states were overruled.

There is one additional theoretical amendment process, one which has been lightly debated and questionable at best, though it bears mention. Since the constitution is a document written by “the people”, it should be possible to amend it by “the people”. What this means is perhaps a super-majority vote on a national referendum. Or perhaps it means each state sends delegates to a constitutional convention which wasn’t summoned by the state legislatures and then each state ratifies the amendments by a majority vote of the people. Since this process isn’t spelled out it is whatever the people want it to be. In fact, this process cannot be spelled out in the constitution since the constitution cannot limit the power of the people.

I won’t enumerate the 27 amendments here. Suffice it to say, the amendments to the constitution give a clear picture of how America’s view of government has changed over time. It is comforting to know that amendments concerning equal rights, suffrage, and key individual liberties are the hallmarks of our constitutional amendments. The tendency of our constitution has been to expand personal freedom by limiting the powers of government over time.

Finally, I want to speak a few words to those who advocate a “living” constitution whose meaning may change over time outside of the amendment process. This is a pernicious evil. It is not right to change the meaning of a contract between two parties simply because you feel like the meaning of the words have changed. If a partner I have contracted with behaved in such a way, I would feel like I was dealing with an untrustworthy low-life. We must retain the original meaning of the document. We cannot change its meaning on a whim. Doing so is not any different than ignoring the constitution altogether.

The very fact that a certain segment of our politics is trying to change the meaning of our constitution outside of the amendment process is proof that their ideas are not popular and are not representative of the people, despite their claims. The very fact that certain elements of our political class survive by violating our constitution is also testament to their underhandedness and lack of moral character. We need not tolerate them in our government.

In the next article, we’ll cover the president.

Constitution Series, Part IX: How a Bill Becomes Law

March 25, 2009

In the last three parts, we examined the Congress which is the House of Representatives and the Senate. Today, we’ll examine how a bill becomes law.

In the Federal Government, the process for a bill becoming law is somewhat convoluted. Let’s follow the process and examine each of the steps.

A bill first starts as an idea. This idea is sold to a group of senators or representatives or both. Who does the selling really isn’t important. It can be an individual, the president, or some political action committee.

Once a group of senators or representatives get behind the bill, they start trying to build a consensus both among their own party and the other side of the aisle. They get a list of people who sign onto the bill. These are called the “sponsors.” They are selling the bill the same way you might sell a used car. Obviously, they are trading favors. “I’ll sign on to your bill if you sign on to mine.” “Why won’t you sign on to this bill? What do you want changed?”

Eventually, the bill moves into the appropriate committee or sub-committee. There, it goes through a series of hearings where the committee members get to bring in people who will say it is a good or bad bill. If the bill is likely to pass the committee, they’ll vote on it to move it forward to the next committee or schedule it for a reading on the floor. If the bill is not likely to pass, they’ll vote it down or leave it for another day.

The Speaker of the House or the Majority Leader of the Senate schedules the bill for some floor time. When it comes to the floor, it is first read. If it’s a long bill, or if people are in a hurry, they might ask to skip the reading. Sometimes, if the minority party is feeling mean, they’ll ask that it be read in full.

Once on the floor, senators or representatives will start offering amendments to the bill. These are voted on pretty much right away. There is a limit to the number and types of amendments that can be offered, and usually the presiding officer has some control over this process. Eventually, the amendments run out and debate proceeds to the next step.

Once all the amendments are through, the senators and representatives will begin debating the bill. It may have been true at one time in history that members of the Senate and House actually paid attention to each other. That isn’t true today, and it hasn’t been true for a very long time. Debate today is simply a way to stall and to get some airtime on the news shows. While debate is going on, the final back-room deals are wrapped up and the two parties have it figured out who is going to vote which way.

The kinds of back-deal negotiations made are quite seedy. For instance, a certain senator may support the bill, but because the bill is unpopular, he wants to vote against it. So he may ask to be allowed to dissent as long as the bill won’t fail. Or he may even trade his vote for someone else’s and return the favor later on. This wasn’t unforeseen by the Founding Fathers. This was, after all, how Parliament worked and still works today.

In the senate, a senator may decide to filibuster the bill. This means he will begin speaking on it and never stop. To break a filibuster, according to Senate rules, you need 60 votes. Once those 60 votes are found, the bill has “cloture”, meaning, the senate will cease debate and vote on it. Nowadays, nobody actually filibusters a bill. Instead, they merely threaten it. When 60 votes are found to proceed, then they proceed.

The House has no such filibuster or cloture rules. They got rid of the filibuster and other parliamentary tactics long ago.

It should be noted that all of the above rules are set by the respective bodies. That is, the Senate determines how the Senate works, and the House determines how the House works.

The voting remains open for some time, usually a few hours, although exceptionally, for several hours. During this time, the floor leaders (who are appointed by the party) make sure their party is voting the right way and that no one votes the wrong way. There may be some last-minute back-room deals as people may decide to switch their vote to hold out.

If the bill passes, then the whole process starts again in the other house.

Eventually, a bill will pass in both the House and the Senate. The bill that the House passes usually looks nothing like the bill that the Senate passes. So the bills go to a conference committee where representatives and senators meet to decide how to put the final bill together. Once this final bill is put together, it is proposed to both the House and the Senate simultaneously without opportunity for amendments. At this time, senators and representatives have one last chance to vote “no”. If either house fails, the bill fails and the process has to start all over again.

Once the House and Senate agree to the same bill and both approve it, then the bill is taken to the president. The president has three choices.

  • He can sign the bill, making it law. Sometimes the president puts a signing statement on the bill, which will explain his constitutional view of the bill and how he intends to follow or not follow it.
  • He can veto the bill, sending it back to congress to try and override the veto.

The president has 10 days to make a decision. If the doesn’t, then the bill is signed.

To override a veto, both the House and the Senate simply have to vote with 2/3rds to override the veto. In such a case, the bill becomes law despite the president.

The president, by tradition, adds some notes to the bill as he signs it. These are usually instructions to his office about how he intends to read and enforce the bill, and whether he considers part of it constitutional or not. Note that this is the power of the executive—he is the doer, and the congress is the writer. If he doesn’t want to do something, it doesn’t get done.

Most people end the story there, but this is not the end.

After a bill becomes a law, it is considered federal law. However, several things can happen to strike down a federal law.

If the federal prosecutors refuse to prosecute violations of the law, then the law is no law. A law that isn’t enforced isn’t a law. At least, not until someone tries to enforce it. Many laws have disappeared from the public conscience (but not the law books) in this way.

If the law is unconstitutional and enforced, then you can bring it before the federal courts. To do so, you have to find someone with “standing”. They have to have some sort of injury due to the law. Usually, he has broken the law and is being prosecuted for it. Once in court, the defendant can claim that the law is no law at all since it is unconstitutional. The courts will decide whether it is a constitutional law or not in that particular case, and often they will give instructions to lawyers and judges about which parts are constitutional and which are not.

Congress is full of lawyers so they are pretty good at writing laws that the judges won’t overturn. But sometimes the courts change the way they think about the constitution or the law. It’s important to have judges who don’t change their opinions or read the law and constitution literally and consistently so that people who want to follow the law know exactly which parts are constitutional and which ones aren’t.

Even if the courts agree that the law is constitutional, the jury in a criminal trial can still refuse to convict on the law. This principle of “jury nullification” is the last line of defense. Note that just because one jury decides not to convict doesn’t mean that another won’t either. Relying on jury nullification is risky at best.

This process of making new laws is one where the people will get plenty of opportunity to make their desires known. Along the path, any number of things can occur that will effectively kill the bill. This is by design. Changing the law should be hard. It should be a long process. It should involve all three branches of government and the people. It should be publicly visible and allow for plenty of opportunity for people to study the change and point out why it is good or bad.

In the next part, we’re going to examine, for comparison, how to amend the federal constitution.

Obama’s Hitler Youth

March 25, 2009

Have you bought your gun yet? Can you shoot it accurately under pressure?

These are the goons that will be knocking on your door at midnight to take you away to the re-education camps in railway cars.

Am I worried? Heck yeah. Is this over-reaction? If I told you, in the beginning of Hitler’s movement, that the very youth he was training would grow up to run the gas chambers that slaughter millions of Jews, you wouldn’t believe me. You wouldn’t believe that Hitler, who was so nice and full of compassion for his people would slaughter the Jews so horrifically. And you wouldn’t believe that those nice, regimented youth would be the ones to do it.

You can either regret that you didn’t pay attention after the fact, or you can take action now to ensure that it never happens in the first place. Obama’s youth program is an abomination and must never come to fruition. These people must be discouraged from joining it. Obama must never be allowed to raise a civil army, nor be allowed to take one hour of time from our youth in indoctrination.

More at Gateway Pundit.

No More Popular Presidents

March 25, 2009

President Barack Obama is so bad so quickly into his term that I am wondering, as likely many other Americans are, whether it was a mistake to allow the president to be selected by the people at all.

For those of you who don’t know how it actually works, the state legislatures hold the power to choose electors, one for each representative and senator from their state. These electors meet in their respective states and vote for the president and vice-president. That is how the president is chosen.

In practice, all of the state legislatures have turned the power to choose electors over to the people of their state. They appoint based on how the people vote.

I think this process is deeply flawed in two ways: (1) the people are incapable of choosing a good executive, and (2) the electors are not allowed to represent the people the way representatives should be allowed to.

The first flaw is simply this: The president is such an office that the people simply cannot comprehend what kind of person would be suitable to represent our country. Even if they could comprehend, there is no way for the people to gather the right information needed to make a good determination of the future president’s abilities. There is no way to hold an interview with the potential candidate. There is no way to ask them about top secret issues without compromising the nature of the secret. There is no way to ask them how they intend to deal with foreign countries without jeopardizing our relationship with those countries.

The second flaw is that the electors are, by state law, not allowed to vote contrary to what they were told to vote. This means that an elector isn’t allowed to study, research, interview, or otherwise investigate the potential president. They simply vote blindly and dumbly, as an incompetent servant. They do not represent the people. They are simply mail-carriers.

In order to fix this process, I propose the following changes:

(1) The state legislatures shall choose, in whatever way they see fit, electors. There shall be no law which can dictate how an elector is to act. If the legislature allows the people to vote for their electors, then they shall vote for the electors and not for presidents. That is, the president’s name cannot appear on the ballot, only the elector’s.

(2) Electors shall meet in a national convention where only electors are allowed to participate and watch. The proceedings shall be completely secret, the same way jury deliberations are secret. Electors are able to subpoena potential presidential candidates who shall submit themselves to questioning by the college. The electors have one full year to determine the best president. Their final vote shall be public. If the electors cannot choose a president, then their final vote is given and they send the top three candidates to the House of Representatives, as the constitution does today.

This process isn’t unlike the process used by boards, both public and private, to choose executives. The candidates are interviewed, thoroughly, in secret interviews. The reason why they are secret is so that the candidates can be completely honest and not have to worry about what they are saying leaking out to the rest of the world. It’s also to prevent harm to the company or body by allowing harmful statements made by the executive during the interview to leak out. In such an environment, issues such as national security, including specifics in our secret actions, can be shared without worry. Foreign relationships can be freely and candidly discussed. Even matters pertaining to how the president intends to work with the Senate and House, or even the people, can be discussed.

The most important thing an elector does—the president they vote for—is the only thing the people and the state legislatures see. If the elector voted for a good president, they could be chosen for the next electoral college based on that vote If the elector voted for a bad president, they may not be chosen for the next electoral college based on that vote.

EU President to Pres. Obama: Economic Road to Hell

March 25, 2009

The EU President informed President Obama that his economic policy is a “road to hell.” (link)

Of course, some of the European politicans objected to the statement. It was too bold and not very diplomatic. There are ways to say, “Forcing us to buy your debt to finance your hare-brained schemes to fix your broken statist economy is unsustainable and will result in the total financial ruin of the world, bar none” besides saying you’re on a “road to hell.”

I love how President Obama is trying to tackle the deficit. His policy is that spending vast sums of money on health care initiatives and putting thumbscrews on America’s economy with the failed cap-and-trade policies Europe experimented with will somehow magically balance the budget.

Of course, this is absurd. The way to balance the budget is either to spend less or get more in tax revenue (which doesn’t mean you have to raise the tax rates.)

But this is the absurd parallel universe that Barack Obama lives in, where evil corporations are out to injure and kill their clients, customers, and employees. This is a parallel universe where government can do no harm, and government officials are all angels, provided they belong to the proper political party. This is a parallel universe where foreign dictators hell-bent on turning their enemies into a sea of glass will magically recant their intentions and become our closest allies over a good cup of tea.