Filed under: All Postings, Article V, The Founding, supreme court
Note: This article first appeared on the American Thinker website.
In the Anglo-American constitutional tradition, a “convention” can mean a contract, but the word is more often applied to an assembly, other than a legislature, convened to address ad hoc political problems. The “Convention for proposing Amendments” authorized by Article V of the Constitution is designed to be that kind of assembly.
The first political conventions were held in England in 1660 and 1688-89. These gatherings looked something like parliaments, but they were entitled “conventions” because only the Crown could call a parliament, and they were not called by the Crown. Moreover, they were convened to address specific constitutional issues, not to legislate.
The 1660 convention led to the restoration of the Stuart line of kings after the failed English experiment with republicanism under Oliver and Richard Cromwell. The 1688-89 convention dealt with the political crisis arising when the second James Stuart (i.e., James II) was forced to flee the kingdom by popular outrage over his arbitrary and unconstitutional misrule and by the invading army of William of Orange.
The American Founders were much influenced by the English convention experience, which they grouped with the gathering of the barons that forced King John to agree to Magna Carta (1215). Between 1689 and 1787, Americans themselves frequently used the convention device, either to address problems within particular polities (conventions of the people) or to address issues of regional or continental importance (conventions of colonies or states).
Particularly important to the American Founders were the proceedings of the 1688-89 convention because it led to parliamentary supremacy over the Crown and adoption of the English Bill of Rights—or, as that document was entitled after adoption, the “Declaration of Right.” Both our own Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights owe a great deal to the English Declaration of Right.
After James II’s flight had left the throne vacant, the two houses of the previous parliament instructed William of Orange to call a “Convention of the Estates of the Realm.” The estates of the realm were the lords and the commons, and they met separately. Each elected its own officers and decided on its own procedures. In essence, each estate had one vote, and the concurrence of each was necessary for the convention to approve any measure.
Thomas Babington Macaulay, the great 19th century English literary figure, described in Chapter 10 of his History of England the general philosophy under which the 1688-89 convention operated:
The business of an extraordinary convention of the Estates of the Realm was not to do the ordinary work of Parliaments . . . but to put right the great machine of government. . . .
On these grounds the Commons wisely determined to postpone all reforms till the ancient constitution of the kingdom should have been restored in all its parts, and forthwith to fill the throne without imposing on William and Mary any other obligation than that of governing according to the existing laws of England. In order that the questions which had been in dispute between the Stuarts and the nation might never again be stirred, it was determined that the instrument by which the Prince and Princess of Orange were called to the throne, and by which the order of succession was settled, should set forth, in the most distinct and solemn manner, the fundamental principles of the constitution. This instrument [was] known by the name of the Declaration of Right . . .
After describing the contents of the Declaration, Macaulay added:
But, though a new constitution was not needed, it was plain that changes were required. The misgovernment of the Stuarts, and the troubles which that misgovernment had produced, sufficiently proved that there was somewhere a defect in our polity; and that defect it was the duty of the Convention to discover and to supply.
Thus the Convention had two great duties to perform. The first was to clear the fundamental laws of the realm from ambiguity. The second was to eradicate from the minds, both of the governors and of the governed, the false and pernicious notion that the royal prerogative was something more sublime and holy than those fundamental laws. The former object was attained by the solemn recital and claim with which the Declaration of Right commences; the latter by the resolution which pronounced the throne vacant, and invited William and Mary to fill it.
Today, the role of the Convention for Proposing Amendments should be seen, and usually is seen, in much the same light: not to alter the fundamentals of the Constitution, but to
* clarify the Constitution’s true meaning by sweeping away false interpretations that have accrued over the years and
* adopt changes that require the federal government to comply with the vision of the Founders in modern conditions.
The first goal can be met by amendments overruling rogue Supreme Court decisions, just as amendments previously have been used for that purpose. The second can be met by, for example, requiring a balanced budget, more firmly limiting federal authority, and reorganizing the judiciary so that it more fairly applies the constitutional system of checks and balances.
More discussion of the law of Article V Conventions, appears in my legal treatise on the subject.
Filed under: All Postings, Article V, The Founding, supreme court
This article first appeared in the American Thinker.
Term limits are among the reforms being proposed by advocates of curbing federal government abuses through the Constitution’s Article V amendment process.
The idea of congressional term limits has been around for some time. But more recent discussion centers on term limits for the judiciary, especially for the Supreme Court.
In fact, one application for an amendments convention now making the rounds—the Convention of States Application sponsored by Citizens for Self-Governance—is broad enough to include judicial term limits. Although a fairly new offering, it already has been approved by the legislatures of four of the necessary 34 states.
Part of what is driving the talk of judicial term limits is the Supreme Court’s continued failure to honor important parts of the U.S. Constitution. Admittedly, the Court does a pretty good job interpreting some parts of the document. The Intellectual Property Clause is one example. Moreover, the current Court is certainly more conscientious in constitutional cases than the rogue justices who dominated the bench throughout much of the 20th century, and who re-wrote critical portions of the Constitution to suit themselves.
Nevertheless, the present justices are to blame for failing to correct the constitutional fictions of their 20th century predecessors—and for sometimes writing fiction of their own.
Another factor justifying term limits has little to do with specific case outcomes. This is the enormous increase in life expectancy since the Constitution was written. Extended life expectancy is generally a good thing. But when it is coupled with lifetime appointments, the effect is to skew the balance of powers the Founders created.
When the Constitution was ratified, a newly-appointed justice might expect to serve less than 12 years. In fact, the average tenure of the first ten justices was about 8-1/2 years. By contrast, the average tenure of the latest ten to retire was 21-1/2 years. An article by Adrienne LaFrance provides additional statistics.
The Constitution’s checks and balances were crafted with 18th century life expectancies in mind. Although the Founders understood that the Supreme Court would void laws it found unconstitutional, the Founders also expected much more turnover than we now have. When judicial tenure is shorter, the President can nominate, and Senate can approve, more replacements. During the Founding Era, if the Court issued an irresponsible or clearly wrong opinion, citizens could take comfort from the fact that a majority of the Court would be replaced in a few years. That is no longer the case.
The strongest argument in favor of lifetime appointment is that it protects judicial independence. Proposals for short terms with possibilities for reappointment or retention, such as that advanced recently by Sen. Ted Cruz (R.-Tex.) are defective because they do not protect judicial independence.
But we can increase turnover and preserve independence through a constitutional amendment instituting a single long term (e.g., 12 to 20 years) without possibility of reappointment. Such an amendment would have other advantages, too:
First, it would end the presidential game of appointing young and relatively inexperienced justices in the hope that they will continue to influence the Court decades after the appointing President is gone. Of course, in the real world, younger justices often do not have an adequate track record, and may be more readily corrupted by influences in the nation’s capital. If a nominee could serve only, say, 12 years, a President might feel freer to nominate a person in his 60s rather than one in his 40s or early 50s.
Additionally, a younger nominee would have to consider a future career as a private citizen, living under the decisions he made as a justice.
Finally, more rotation on the Court would re-boot the system toward the balance set by the Founders, rendering mistaken decisions more amenable to ultimate correction by the people themselves, acting through the political process.
If 34 state legislatures forced Congress to call a convention for proposing amendments, what would the rules look like?
The Convention of States movement (CoS) wanted an answer to this question. So its president asked me to take the lead in drafting sample rules. Then CoS would present them to state legislators for comment. This process might also provide the convention itself with a starting-point for preparing its own rules.
We presented the results at a conference last month in San Diego, California. The conference was sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council, one of the nation’s largest associations of state lawmakers.
The sample rules are available here. BEFORE READING THEM, PLEASE OBSERVE THE FOLLOWING:
* Important explanations appear in the footnotes.
* The final decision on convention rules is up to the convention itself. However, state legislators can recommend particular rules or instruct their commissioners (delegates) to vote only for particular rules. In calling the convention, Congress may recommend rules but may not prescribe them.
* These proposals were not invented out of thin air by me or by anyone else. For the most part, they are similar to rules actually adopted by previous conventions of states—notably the 1861 Washington Conference Convention, but also the 1787 Constitutional Convention and others.
* There have been updates to take into account modern conditions. Those updates are explained in the footnotes.
* Most of these rules can be adapted to any amendments convention, but the last two are designed especially for a convention called under the three-part application sponsored by the Convention of States movement. The three parts are (1) fiscal restraints on the federal government, (2) limits on the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and (3) federal term limits. Those would be only subjects allowed, and the rules provide that other subjects are out of order. (Claims that the convention could consider other subjects are misinformed.)
CoS soon will offer a website that will allow public comment.
Seldom has a claim so weak been so often advanced than the claim that a convention for proposing amendments would be a “constitutional convention” that could “run away”—that is, disregard its limits and propose amendments outside its sphere of authority.
I have little patience with this sort of alarmism, partly because it is so patently based on ignorance of history and constitutional law and partly because it first widely publicized as part of a deliberate disinformation campaign to disable one of our Constitution’s key checks and balances.
Nevertheless, early in 2013 I took the time to pen a lengthy rebuttal to the runaway scenario, examining the question from almost every possible angle. I did, however, leave one thing out: Modern communications technology makes a “runaway” essentially impossible.
I have, therefore, added the following to my 2013 essay:
There is another aspect of this the “runaway” theorists overlook: modern communications. Even if the 1787 convention had run away, modern communications render the analogy an ill-fitting one. As Walter Phelps Hall and Robert Greenhalgh Albion pointed out in their History of England over 60 years ago, before modern communications diplomats were unable to consult home authorities quickly and sometimes had to make decisions that presented those authorities with a fait accompli. But today’s communications enable the authorities to control their diplomats to the point that the latter can be turned into “nothing but damned errand boys at the end of a wire.” At any convention for proposing amendments, the state commissioning authorities will be in constant contact with their commissioners.
Margaret Mitchell, the author of the hugely popular novel Gone With the Wind, was a newspaper reporter and the child of a family steeped in history. Her father, a prominent Georgia attorney, was one of the leading lights in the state historical society.
That her book has a plethora of references to historical events occurring during the 1860s is therefore not surprising.
In early 1861, after some of the Southern states had seceded, Virginia sought to head off further secession and civil war by calling a general (national) convention of the states. The goal was to propose a constitutional amendment that both sides would find acceptable.
All but a few states sent commissioners to the Convention, which met from February 4 through February 27. More information about the convention appears here.
On page five of Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara refers to it:
“You know there isn’t going to be any war,” said Scarlett, bored. “It’s all just talk. Why, Ashley Wilkes and his father told Pa just last week that our commissioners in Washington would come to—to—an—amicable agreement with Mr. Lincoln about the Confederacy.”
Scarlett was intelligent, but she was a spoiled young girl who had avoided studying her history or her Latin, and she was not much interested in current events, except insofar as they affected the availability of adoring “beaux.” On a number of occasions, Mrs. Mitchell demonstrates Scarlett’s ignorance, and this may be one of those occasions. At the time Scarlett was supposedly speaking, the Washington Convention already had adjourned. Moreover, her own state of Georgia seceded during the month before the convention and therefore had not sent “commissioners” to Washington.
The movement for a “convention for proposing amendments” won some stunning successes in the 2014 state legislative sessions. There was more progress during the 2015 sessions—several applications were passed and none was repealed—but the rate of progress slowed.
So where are we now? Georgia lawyer and Article V expert David Guldenschuh has issued a detailed status report on the movement. Particularly engaging are his profiles of some its leading legislative opponents.
Article v advocates also will be interested in tactics he recommends for the immediate future.
As is true of any outside material, this report contains opinions that are not necessarily my own, or those of the Independence Institute or the Article V Information Center. But Guldenschuh has done a great deal of work on the subject, and his Article V analyses are always worth reading.
Filed under: All Postings, Article V, The Founding, supreme court
This article was first published on CNS News.
A newly published speech by one of our Framers offers important clues to the constitutional role of the states, of the right to keep and bear arms, and of the amendment process.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton represented Maryland at the Constitutional Convention. After the convention was over, he advocated the Constitution’s ratification.
Recently-isssued Maryland volumes of the Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution of the United States include a number of important documents, productions by Carroll among them. As I explained in a recent post:
One of the two new Maryland volumes contains a draft speech by Charles Carroll of Carrollton to be delivered in 1788. Although the speech was not delivered, it is evidence of the educated understanding of the time—especially because Carroll had served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and therefore helped write the document. The Carroll speech specifically affirmed that wills and property conveyances were within the jurisdiction only of state courts, not federal courts (vol. 12, p. 844).
The new Maryland volumes also reproduce another undelivered speech. This one may have had public impact, because it was published well before all the states had ratified. Although it was anonymous, it was almost certainly the finished version of Carroll’s address.
As I also explained, the oration reinforced other founding-era representations about the limits of federal power:
This speech emphasized that Congress would be powerless to regulate inheritances, alter the laws of wills, or establish a national church. (Vol. 12, p. 881). It went on to say that each state will have exclusive control over “the whole regulations of property, the regulations of the penal law, the promotion of useful arts [i.e., technology], the internal government of its own people.”
I did not mention in that post, however, that Carroll further elucidated the roles of different parts of the system in protecting freedom:
The three distinct powers of the federal Govt. Are skillfully combined so as to balance each other . . . Sir, this is not all; the federal Govt. Is not only well balanced by the judicious distribution of the powers, which compose it, but the several State-governments will always keep it within its own & proper sphere of action: thus while it restrains the State-Governments with their orbits, it is by them retained within its own. . . The executive & judicial of the State goverts. Will keep a fixed & stedfast eye on those departments of the federal Govt., whose duty it will be not to overlook any encroachments on their respective Jurisdictions.
In addition, Carroll touched on the importance of the right to keep and bear arms:
The vast extent of our territory, the exertions fo thirteen governments, the diffusion of knowledge spirit of liberty amongst the citizens . . . all of whom know the use of fire-arms, would soon prove the folly and madness of the undertaking [of a hostile federal army]. In such a case, the president and congress might, in vain, call upon the militia. In such a case the force of the militia would be exerted against the base traitors to their country.
Carroll further emphasized the utility of the method of proposing amendments by a convention of states, and the independence of the convention from federal control:
When we shall have made a fair trial [of the Constitution], and found the whole, or any part of it, pernicious; the very same authority, which made, can, at any time undo, or improve it. If ever, after the adoption, a convention shall be proposed to amend it, in the way, pointed out by itself, I have the most perfect confidence, that the appointment will take place, and that neither the president, nor the congress, nor any other department will dare to oppose it . . . The very attempt to restrain, would operate most powerfully to promote it.
Finally, the speech contained a passage (too long to be reproduced here) that focused on the division between the federal and state judiciaries and the limited nature of the federal judicial power.
Although Chief Justice Roberts’ Dissent in the Arizona Legislature Case Cited My Research, I Actually Agree With the Majority!
Filed under: All Postings, Article V, TABOR, The Founding, supreme court
In my last post, I discussed the effect on Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Comm’n. In this post, I explain why the Arizona case was decided correctly.
Some people may be surprised that I think the holding was correct. I’m politically conservative and the case was brought by a Republican state legislature. The decision was 5-4, with the more liberal justices on the winning side and the more conservative justices dissenting. In his own dissent, Chief Justice Roberts was kind enough to cite one of my own works (although on a point only distantly related to the result). And conservative complaints about the case have been strenuous.
But in this column I try to tell it as it is, and in this instance I think the liberal justices clearly had it right.
The basic issue was the meaning of “Legislature” in the clause of the Constitution that provides that “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof . . . . ” (Article I, Section 4, Clause 4; abbreviated I-4-1) That provision is sometimes called the Election Clause. A better name for it is the Times, Places and Manner Clause. We’ll use the latter term here.
Now, it is well established—based on case law and on the Constitution’s original legal force—that part of prescribing the “Places. . . of Elections for . . . Representatives” is drawing the congressional districts within a state.
For many years, the Arizona state legislature drew Arizona congressional districts, and many people claimed those districts often were gerrymandered. The state’s voters, therefore, opted to transfer the job to an independent redistricting commission, a decision made by voters in several other states as well.
Arizona state lawmakers sued, claiming that the term “Legislature” in the Constitution always means the specific representative assembly of a state. They claimed, in other words, that the people had acted unconstitutionally, and that they could not move congressional district-drawing from the state legislature to a commission.
The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission responded by arguing that sometimes the Constitution uses the word “Legislature” to mean the general legislative power of the state. In this case, the commission argued, the people, through the initiative and referendum process, had acted as the “Legislature.” Just as the people could deputize one assembly to do the job, the people could deputize another (the commission).
The Supreme Court held that in this case the term “Legislature” meant the general legislative power of the state: Arizona voters, as the supreme state legislative power, had acted constitutionally.
The Court had case precedent on its side. Earlier cases had ruled that, although in some parts of the Constitution (e.g., Article V), the term “Legislature” means only the representative assembly, in the Times, Places and Manner Clause it meant the general legislative power, however the people of a state wish to exercise it.
Of course, the Supreme Court’s precedents do not always reflect the true, original meaning of the Constitution. In this instance, though, they do. Here’s why:
* Although there is a presumption that the same word in different parts of the Constitution means the same thing, there are important exceptions. For example, in my book, The Original Constitution, I show how the word “property” in Article IV means “real estate” while same word in the Fifth Amendment means both real estate and personal property.
* Similarly, the Constitution uses the term “Congress” in a dual sense. Sometimes it means only a specific assembly. (Examples include I-1; I-4-2; and Article V.) But on other occasions the Constitution employs the word “Congress” to mean the general legislative power. (See, for instance, I-8 and III-3-2). When “Congress” acts as a specific assembly rather than as the legislature per se, it acts by an ad hoc resolution, not by a law, and without any need for presidential signature. When Congress acts as the federal legislature, it enacts laws, which generally have to be signed by the President.
The fact that the Constitution employs this double usage for the federal legislature implies the same double usage for state legislatures.
* Founding era legislative practice also supports this view. The Constitution provides that presidential electors for each state are appointed “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” When the legislature of South Carolina, for instance, first provided for selection of presidential electors, it did not do so by an ad hoc resolution. It did so by formal legislation.
* in fact, Founding Era election rules universally were established by acts of ordinary legislation, not by ad hoc resolution. The Times, Places and Manner Clause was written against a long background of formal election legislation, both in America and in Britain.
* How the people choose to allocate the legislative power of the state is entirely up to them, as James Madison and other Founders recognized. Indeed, at the time the Constitution was adopted, several states provided for slices of the legislative power to be exercised by entities other than legislature—by the governor, by executive councils, and by the people themselves.
Finally, here’s a political point: As this case illustrates, in Arizona and some other states, pro-freedom citizens sometimes attack the initiative and referendum process and demand curbs on it. This is a mistake.
It is politically foolish (you don’t please the voters by attacking them), but it is also wrong as a matter of principle.
In our country, the people are the rightful source of all political power. A “republic,” as the Constitution uses the term, is a government based on the people’s will. Instead of attacking the people’s right to decide, our time is best spent persuading them to make the best decisions possible.
The drives for one or more convention of states to reform the dysfunctional federal government are proceeding apace, and Georgia lawyer David Guldenschuh is providing a newsletter with regular updates.
His summaries contain information on the progress of every major application campaign—balanced budget, “convention of states,” campaign finance, and more.
The latest version is here. A footnote explains how you can be added to the recipient list.
I’ve already mentioned another of Mr. Guldenschuh’s contributions to the Article V movement in this column—his calculation that even if an Article V convention were to adopt a population-based voting rule, it wouldn’t result in much practical political difference than if the convention stuck to the traditional state-based voting rule.
Filed under: All Postings, Article V, The Founding, supreme court
In a recent post, I pointed out that, despite superficial appearances, the Constitution’s Necessary and Proper Clause—clarifying that Congress has authority to make laws “necessary and proper” to carrying out its other enumerated powers—actually grants Congress no power.
The Necessary and Proper Clause is representative of one of four related kinds of provisions found in 18th century grants of authority. Some of these provisions granted powers, but others merely clarified how their documents were to be interpreted. The Necessary and Proper Clause was one of the latter kind. For that reason it is what lawyers call a “rule of construction”—that is, a guideline for interpretation.
During the debates over the Constitution, advocates of the document repeatedly outlined to the ratifying public the purely explanatory role of the Necessary and Proper Clause. James Wilson, for example, probably the second-most influential framer after James Madison and the most influential Pennyslvania ratifier, made this point at his state’s ratifying convention. He stated that the Clause did not “in any degree, go beyond the Particular enumeration . . . . It is saying no more than that the powers we have already particularly given, shall be effectually carried into execution.” His ally at the convention, Thomas McKean, echoed this position.
At the North Carolina ratifying convention, another spokesman for the Constitution stated the same thing this way:
This clause specifies that they shall make laws to carry into execution all the powers vested by this Constitution; consequently, they can make no laws to execute any other power. This clause gives no new power, but declares that those already given are to be executed by proper laws.
Even John Marshall, the Chief Justice often accused of taking an overly-expensive view of the Clause, concurred with this reading.
In a recent posting, an anonymous blogger with perhaps more enthusiasm than knowledge argued that this was incorrect. Among that person’s claims were that the Federalist Papers showed that the Clause was an affirmative grant rather than a rule of construction.
No one who reads the Federalist carefully could come to such a conclusion. Madison’s Federalist No. 33 is absolutely clear that the Necessary and Proper Clause grants no power, but is purely explanatory:
[I]t may be affirmed with perfect confidence that the constitutional operation of the intended government would be precisely the same, if [the Necessary and Proper and Supremacy] clauses were entirely obliterated, as if they were repeated in every article. They are only declaratory of a truth which would have resulted by necessary and unavoidable implication from the very act of constituting a federal government, and vesting it with certain specified powers. . . . The declaration itself, though it may be chargeable with tautology or redundancy, is at least perfectly harmless.
Similarly in Federalist No. 44 Madison explained what would have happened if the Clause had been omitted.
Had the Constitution been silent on this head, there can be no doubt that all the particular powers requisite as means of executing the general powers would have resulted to the government, by unavoidable implication. No axiom is more clearly established in law, or in reason, than that wherever the end is required, the means are authorized; wherever a general power to do a thing is given, every particular power necessary for doing it is included.
In 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts agreed:
[T]he Clause is “merely a declaration, for the removal of all uncertainty,that the means of carrying into execution those [powers] otherwise granted are included in the grant.”
All the Founding-Era quotations for this posting are found in my article on the origins of the Necessary and Proper Clause, which is available here. Those who wish more detail can consult the book I co-authored on the Clause with three other scholars. The publisher forbids me to post that work free of charge. I receive no royalties from it, but the publisher needs to recover costs of production.