Willson v. Black Bird Creek Marsh Company (1829) – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

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The Dissolution of the Dormant Commerce Clause:  Willson v. Black Bird Creek Marsh Co.

In The Colorado Kid, author Steven King says, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”  This is certainly true when it comes to issues of public policy and constitutional law.  In this essay, we discuss the concept of the “Dormant” Commerce Clause, specifically within the context of navigable waterways.  The issue of who has jurisdiction over “navigable” waters is one that remains a subject of enormous debate—especially as the environmental movement has pushed an ever-more-marginal definition of “navigability” in order to pull more waters under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

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Green v. Biddle (1823) – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

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Green v. Biddle: Clear Title and the Relationship of States to the Federal Government

The easy conveyance of clear title to real property is an essential element of both a stable and prosperous civil society. “Clearing” title by conveying “unappropriated” lands to a central government is one way that fledgling or developing nations spur exploration, settlement, and development of lands.  Such was the issue in the 1823 Supreme Court Case, Green v. Biddle, 21 US 1 (1823), wherein the conveyance of certain unappropriated lands from Virginia to the federal government resulted in confusion when much of that land was used to create the state of Kentucky.

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2004, George W. Bush Defeats John Kerry: Due Process, Terrorism, And The Constitution – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

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“One of (PATRIOT Act II’s) provisions would apparently enable federal employees to strip US citizens of their rights without due process. More broadly, it would create a separate, very shadowy justice system for terrorist suspects in which most of the rights and procedures normally guaranteed criminal suspects can be abrogated at the discretion of the government.” – John Kerry, A Call To Service, pp. 177-178 (2003)

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1980, Ronald Reagan Defeats Jimmy Carter, John Anderson: The Critique Of The Administrative State – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

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In many ways, the circumstances surrounding the 1980 presidential election mirror those surrounding the 2016 elections: America’s economy in the doldrums and an electorate hungry for change. But the 2016 elections allow us the hindsight of nearly four full decades of history, and teach us that if we aren’t willing to learn those lessons, we are doomed to repeat them.

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When Waters Aren’t Waters At All: Executive Branch Over-Reaching And Federal Land Use Controls (Part 2) – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

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Waters, Regulation, And Political “Sleight Of Hand”

At its most-basic level, sleight-of-hand is the art of performed misdirection.  A magician gets an audience to focus their attention on something shiny he is holding in one hand, distracting you from the trick he is attempting behind his back.  If successful, the audience is fooled into thinking that something magical has happened, completely unaware of what tricks the illusionist has engineered to accomplish his feat.  Woe be unto the illusionist who can’t complete his feat without exposing the artifices used to achieve it, or, worse, who public fails at their misdirection.

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When Waters Aren’t Waters At All: Executive Branch Over-Reaching And Federal Land Use Controls (Part 1) – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

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How We Got Here

There is a truism when it comes to the power of the federal executive branch: over time, the power of that branch grows.

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Operation Choke Point: Agencies Getting Around The Constitution’s Protections – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

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“The Constitution protects us from our own best intentions. It divides power among sovereigns and among branches of government precisely, so that we might resist the temptation to concentrate power in one branch as the expedient solution to the crisis of the day.”

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The IRS’ Reach Into Political Speech – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

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The power to tax is the power to destroy. When Justice Marshall wrote these words in 1819 (echoing the words of Daniel Webster) he was expressing what could be considered a prophetic statement–those who have the power to tax wield enormous power over everyday lives, power that is apt to be abused.

This mistrust of those who hold the tax and power is nothing new. Looking back at the New Testament, those who witnessed Christ’s acts noted the skepticism that abounded because among those Jesus surrounded himself by where tax collectors, who were commonly reviled.

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Friday, April 26, 2013 – Essay #50 – The Wilmot Proviso – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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Sometimes the smallest, most seemingly inconsequential events can have tremendous historical significance–a minor Central European Arch Duke’s assassination igniting World War I, for instance.  So it is with The Wilmot Proviso, a 71-word, one paragraph bill in the US House of Representatives.

Introduced by Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot in 1846 as part of the debate on appropriations for the cessation of the Mexican-American War (and treaty negotiations), the Proviso would have banned slavery in any territories acquired from Mexico as a result of America’s victory in that war. Read more

Monday, April 22, 2013 – Essay #46 – Speech on the Oregon Bill by Sen. John C. Calhoun, June 27, 1848 – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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Politics, a process of using rhetoric to maneuver and influence in order to either induce policy change or maintain the status quo, has been compared to many things–war, football, chess.  And like these comparatives, one side or another can outmaneuver the other (or, in turn, be outmaneuvered). Read more

Friday, April 19, 2013 – Essay #45 – February 6, 1837 Speech on Abolition Petitions by Sen. John C. Calhoun- Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President, Institute for Liberty

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In his historical play, Henry V, Shakespeare talks about casting our glance back through history, and compressing the events of many years “into an hourglass.”  In the 21st Century, it is easy to think of the debates on the abolition of slavery as having taken place with the relative-rapidity of the passage of Obamacare, but in reality this debate happened over the course of nearly an entire century of the nation’s founding years. Read more

Listen to Janine Turner Interview Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty on the Janine Turner Radio Show – on Amendment I: Congress Shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech

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February 27, 2012 – Janine Turner Interviews Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty on The Janine Turner Radio Show!

Listen to Andrew & Janine discuss Andrew’s essay: The First Amendment: Congress Shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech!

February 27, 2012 – Essay #6 – Amendment I: Congress Shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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http://vimeo.com/37493542

Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.

In our free republic, fewer rights are more cherished, or more important, than those enumerated in the First Amendment.  It is the hallmark of a free society that the people can speak their minds without fear of retribution from the government or other citizens.  Fundamentally, there are always two questions that accompany any dissection of free speech rights:  what is their seminal role in our society (ie, why do we have them?), and what are the limits to free speech?

People say things with which we might vehemently disagree.  They may make us angry, they may make us outraged.  And the feeling might very well be mutual.  Yet both their speech, and your own, are equally protected under the US Constitution.  For the United States, this creates a true marketplace of ideas.  A marketplace that has the benefit of allowing ideas that are reasoned, thoughtful, and valid to take hold, while ideas that simply aren’t (reasoned, thoughtful, or valid) to wither and die.

It is the latter that is perhaps free speech’s greatest asset in our society.  Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that, “sunshine is the best disinfectant,” and this is especially true when it comes to speech that, were it outlawed, would fester or become cancerous when kept behind closed doors.  In fact, when you look at societies within which free speech was outlawed, when those societies ultimately moved towards freedom, the forces of hate simply exploded on the scene, because for so long there had been no open debate or airing of the stilted beliefs of extremists groups.

In the US, we want people with the most hateful, horrible ideas to be able to say them, loudly and publicly.  That way, we can not only challenge them directly (if we want), but we know which people to avoid, if we want.  It’s as though they’ve put on the brightest, most-garish sign around their neck, saying, “AVOID ME,” and we’d be wise to heed their warnings.

Just as important, however, are the limits to those free speech rights.  It is one of the most basic hallmarks of our society that the exercise of rights is only justly limited by their direct and harmful impact on others.  In other words, I may have the right to swing my hands around wildly, but that right ends at the point where my hands meet someone else’s nose.

Though the adage still prevails that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me,” the truth is that words can and do hurt—and the law has made several important carve-outs for speech that is not protected by the 1st Amendment.

One of the most basic carve-outs is for speech that is considered defamatory—which, in laymen’s terms, is essentially knowingly spreading falsehoods about a person for the purposes of harming that person’s reputation—destroying a person’s personal life or ability to make a living.  Other restrictions are placed on speech that works to incite violence, or immediate wanton lawlessness—the concept that someone can neither work to provoke people to an immediate riot, or, likewise to yell “fire” in a crowded theater.  Commercial speech, and speech over the public airwaves, can also be regulated—generally under the concept that people cannot make false claims about the goods that they sell, and that because the government assigns space on the public airwaves, the government can prohibit certain kinds of content from being broadcast if it can be deemed offensive.

But by that same token, one of the most controversial debates over free speech today if found in the realm of whether or not corporate interests have free speech rights in the same manner that individuals do.  The Supreme Court ruled in their well-known Citizens’ United decision that, in point of fact, corporations do have these rights—a decision that many progressives have decried, and are attempting to undo.

Should they succeed, it would create a very dangerous situation—not only because these corporations are taxed and regulated very similarly to individuals (and, in some cases, more stringently), and therefore ought to be able, as affected entities within a society, to speak out on their own behalf, but many corporate institutions serve valuable purposes within our civil society.

If we fail to extend free speech protections to corporations, what is there to prevent an angered government, upset with a news company’s coverage of their actions, from shutting down that news organization’s business?  While some might argue that the government would be prevented from silencing the individual journalists within that organization, should the government succeed in closing down the corporation’s tools, the journalists will have been silenced.

Dissent is the hallmark of any free society—and whether that dissent comes from individuals or corporations, it is an essential element in civil discourse.  As a people we require free speech to allow good ideas to prevail, and bad ideas to be defeated.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty, and host of The Broadside, a weekly internet radio show, which can be heard on the Institute for Liberty website.


June 23, 2011 – Amendment XXVI of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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Amendment XXVI

1:  The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.

2:  The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The final (or, more accurately, most recent) amendment to the US Constitution is the 26th.  It lowered the national voting age from 21 to 18 years of age.

The founders initially left it up to the several states to determine various eligibility requirements for voting.  But following nearly a century of reform, including the passage of the 19th Amendment ensuring suffrage for women and various civil rights laws operating under the auspices of the 14th amendment, national leaders began to grapple with pressure to lower the overall voting age nationally from the generally-accepted 21 to 18.

President Eisenhower was the first chief executive to publicly support such a move, but Congress’ attempts to nationally require states to do so were met with constitutional opposition from the Supreme Court.  The High Court found that Congress had exceeded its authority under the Constitution, and that amending the Constitution would be required.

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t simply the anti-war movement that was pressuring national leaders to lower the voting age.  Young adults from all walks of life, who had already assumed the full mantle of adulthood (marriage, children, sole self-support, etc), were eager to ensure that they had a voice in public policy.  But it was the anti-war movement that captured the popular sentiment, with the concept that “if I’m old enough to be drafted to fight for my country, I ought to be able to vote those policies facing my country.”

The issue of the draft isn’t a small one, either.  The fact that young men were facing the possibility of involuntarily putting themselves in harm’s way is a compelling justification for allowing these same young men a voice in their own futures.

By 1971, the White House had become a champion of the push to lower the voting age as well—which, given the ire the anti-war movement felt towards the Nixon administration, was nothing short of ironic.  In fact, in one of the oddest instances of changing places, The New York Times, incapable of seeing anything good coming from the Nixon White House, came out in opposition to the lowered voting age—stating that young people were simply too immature intellectually to be good voters.

But the proposed amendment did pass Congress, and Nixon signed it in March of 1971. The amendment rocketed through state legislatures, and by July 1 it had been ratified.

The force and effect, however, has been somewhat limited.  Rates of voting for the 18-21 year old segment of the population was at its highest for the 1972 election.  After that, even considering important contributions in the 1984, 1996, and 2008 Presidential elections, voter turnout among this demographic has remained tremendously low.  Despite this fact, there are some calling for lowering the voting age even more—to 16![1]

It is doubtful that this will happen, given a host of factors—including one trend that has run parallel through the 40 year history of the under-21 vote.

While there may have been some justification in the late-1960s and early-1970s for lowering the age due to the factors facing a disenfranchised segment of the population, those factors have continued to shift.  Not only do we have an all-volunteer military, wherein nobody is forced to join without their own-free choice, but the age we consider “adult” today continues to increase.

Currently, for instance, we have the greatest percentage of individuals under 30 living in their parents’ homes.  Few have families, fewer own homes.  It has become acceptable to consider adolescence to extend well-beyond age 18, and some believe it to extend beyond 30 years of age!

This belief became enshrined now in federal public policy as well.  One of the central issues in Obamacare is the mandate to health insurance companies that they allow parents to put their children on their insurance plans up to the age of 26.  I believe such a consideration would have been unthinkable in the era when the 26th Amendment was being considered.

Nobody is suggesting that the voting age be raised again—though many believe that young people do squander their franchise rights.  What is certain is that the 26th Amendment is illustrative of the idea that pressing issues of the day ought not drive the amendment process.  Rarely does such tinkering with the founders’ vision produce the results that we want.


[1] This organization, the American Youth Rights Association, believes that voter turnout will increase, and that because young people may retain better knowledge of historical facts than the general population, that they will be a more informed segment of the voting electorate.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty http://www.instituteforliberty.org/

June 16, 2011 – Amendment XXI of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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Amendment XXI

1:  The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

2:  The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

3:  This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

If nothing else, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution underscores the slippery slope that comes from both the adaptation of Constitutional prohibitions to the mores of the day, and the legal gymnastics that invariably ensue.

If you’ve already read Professor Joerg Knipprath’s excellent essay on the 18th Amendment here at Constituting America, you understand what led to the Prohibition era in the United States.  It became clear within the matter of a decade that America’s statist experimentation with a wholesale ban on alcohol was an abject failure—but because the nation had taken the extraordinary step of banning the manufacture, sale and use of a something within the Constitution, it would take another constitutional amendment to repeal that ban.

But while this act of “liberal fascism” (as Jonah Goldberg so aptly put it) took many years to come to fruition and ratification, it was undone in a matter of mere months.  This is because the architects of the 21st recognized something that should remain foremost in the minds of citizen activists when they are trying to figure out if politicians will do the “right thing” on issues.  They recognized that when push comes to shove, politicians will invariably be beholden to a narrow range of vocal special interests, and are thus apt to do something profoundly stupid for the rest of us.

When it comes to ratification of constitutional amendments, we are provided with two methods—the state legislature method, which had been the primary method of ratification of most of the Amendments to that point; or the state convention method.  In the case of the 21st, the architects chose the latter.  The reason for this is simple:  the proponents of the 21st wanted to avoid the political pressures that had, in fact, led to the adoption of the 18th amendment in the first place.  State legislators continued to be beholden to the temperance movement, a loud group whom it was perceived held great political power.

Using a method of state conventions, the 21st Amendment was ratified just months after it was passed by Congress.

The 2nd section of the amendment makes manifest the axiom of the road to hell being paved with good (legal and political) intentions.  While the architects clearly wanted to do the right thing and preserve those essential elements of state sovereignty guaranteed in the 10th Amendment, the broad, sweeping language has puzzled legal scholars and presented case after case to the courts.

Fundamentally, the questions arise as to whether or not the powers reserved to the states in section 2—to essentially decide for themselves if the state will remain “dry”, trump other rights guaranteed or powers created or reserved elsewhere in the Constitution.  Can a state ban the total use of alcohol, for instance, even in religious situations, thereby trumping both the 1st and 14th Amendments?  The answer is no, it can’t but it took a ruling by the Supreme Court to make that certain.

Clearly, the states have the power to exercise tremendous control over the alcohol that is manufactured and purchased within their borders.  But like all other powers in our republic, those too are limited.

America’s foray into constitutionally prohibiting the sale of a good in the marketplace offers us a helpful object lesson for those attempting just the flip-side today.  Today we’re not talking about the federal government trying to enact a sweeping ban on the sale of a good—we’re talking about attempts to enact a federal mandate on the purchase of a good:  health insurance.

Citizens implicitly understand the Constitution’s limitations in the imposition of the individual mandate:  Congress simply has no power to compel individual Americans to purchase a good.  We will most likely see the Supreme Court striking down those provisions of the recent comprehensive health care reform legislation on those very grounds.

But with almost similar certainty, when that happens, we will see a movement, similar in many respects to the Temperance movement, attempting to pass and ratify an amendment to make the compelled purchase of such a good constitutionally legal.

We know from careful study of the constitution and an implicit understanding of the concepts of limited, enumerated, and separated powers just how terrible such an amendment would be.  We need only look at the tortured history of the 18th and 21st amendments, and their impacts on American society and legal frameworks, to see directly what would happen if such a mandate were to come to constitutionally pass.

If there’s anything that we’ve learned from our foray into using the Constitution to tinker with both the marketplace and societal norms, it’s that it not only doesn’t work well, it has horrendous unintended consequences.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty http://www.instituteforliberty.org/

June 1, 2011 – Amendment X of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The last amendment in the Bill of Rights, the 10th, is an apt bookend for the 1st.  In fact, taken together with the 9th Amendment, it can be said that the entire vision the founders had for the United States can be found in these two amendments.

The Founders were inherently skeptical of concentrated government power—it is why we were initially conceived as a loose confederacy of sovereign states.  When that ultimately collapsed, the Founders looked towards federalism, a political system in which power is diffused among various branches and levels of government.  As the Supreme Court said only 20 years ago, “federalism secures to citizens the liberties that derive from the diffusion of sovereign power.”[1]

What was envisioned was a system of “dual sovereigns,” separate, but  (at least as conceived) co-equal systems of government, a system in which the federal government had carefully enumerated powers, the states had carefully enumerated powers, and that which had not been delegated would be retained by the people.  In other words, power flows from the people to the government, and as the High Court said 70 years ago:  “The amendment states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered.”[2]

Abuse of the Commerce Clause led to a near-ignoring of the 10th Amendment by federal authorities for decades.  It was only in the 1990s that there began a resurgence of these principles, as the High Court finally began to recognize that the Founder’s vision of the nation had become rather twisted.  They began to restate that vision, and the reason why, re-affirming that efforts to grow federal power should only be undertaken with great deliberation.  In one of the most poetic Supreme Court passages ever written, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:

[T]he Constitution protects us from our own best intentions: it divides power among sovereigns and among branches of government precisely so that we may resist the temptation to concentrate power in one location as an expedient solution to the crisis of the day.[3]

How often have we seen federal power enlarged, or attempts made to grow federal power, for just those reasons?

Many of the cases brought to the Supreme Court in the 1990s and beyond have centered on the problem of Congress essentially compelling the states to act in a particular manner—or forcing those states to act as agents of the federal government.  There are a number of problems with this, from a basic “good government” perspective—not the very least being it forces those states to spend money on federal priorities, rather than their own.  Moreover, it removes policy prioritization an additional level away from an impacted population.

Again, as the High Court said in New York v. United States:

States are not mere political subdivisions of the United States. State governments are neither regional offices nor administrative agencies of the Federal Government. The positions occupied by state officials appear nowhere on the Federal Government’s most detailed organizational chart. The Constitution instead “leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty,” The Federalist No. 39, p. 246 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961), reserved explicitly to the States by the Tenth Amendment.[4]

Since the 1990s, there has been a line of cases in which these principles have been reasserted by the High Court.  In 1995, the Supreme Court finally found a limit to the Commerce Clause by striking down the Gun-Free School Zones act in United States v. Lopez. Two years later, in Printz v. United States, the Court struck down portions of the “Brady Bill”.  The court has repeatedly stated now that regardless of how well-intentioned a federal law might be, Congress cannot ignore the Constitution’s precepts on limiting federal power and not forcing a state to substitute federal priorities for its own.  The federal government can encourage, it can even “bribe” with federal funds, but it cannot out-and-out compel a state to act in an area in which the states hold their own sovereign power.

In New York v. United States, Justice O’Connor called the 10th a “tautology”, a restatement of what is obviously true.  But given the erosion of the 10th Amendment over the course of the republic’s history, and the even greater erosion of constitutional knowledge, this so-called tautology needs to be restated.  When discussing the principles undergirding our founding, regardless of the audience, it is helpful to reiterate the following, as underscored by the 10th Amendment:  government does not have rights.  People have rights.  Government has powers—powers that we have narrowly and carefully ceded to it by limiting some measure of our rights.  All that we have not surrendered, we have retained, and we must defend those rights earnestly and vigorously.


[1] New York v. United States, Coleman v Thompson, etc

[2] United States v. Darby, 312 US 100, 124 (1941)

[3] New York v. United States, 505 US 144 (1992)

[4] Ibid.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty http://www.instituteforliberty.org/

May 25, 2011 – Amendment V of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment V to the Constitution, among longest in the Bill of Rights, is also one of the richest in terms of content.  A transitional amendment, it is unique in that it encompasses restraints on both criminal and civil powers of government—transitionally linking the two.  The first half of the amendment serves as the bedrock of protections for accused individuals under the criminal code, while the second half lays out the bedrock principles underlying private property rights.

Americans are all-too familiar with the criminal elements within the 5th Amendment.  These were borne out of the principles of English common law, stemming from the Magna Carta—principles that the revolutionary founders had seen eroded by the Crown prior to and during the War for American Independence.  Given the tremendous difficulty many of the founders had in seeing power concentrated in a single federal government, they felt it important enough to further constrain those powers and enshrine basic protections to accused persons within the Bill of Rights.

The assurance of a grand jury indictment before trial, the assurance of not being subjected to perpetual trial should the government not achieve a guilty verdict, the assurance of not being made to testify against oneself, these all had roots in English common law—very basic rights that represent a check on government power run amok.  The idea of the grand jury process helps to ensure that a single government official cannot arrest an individual without merit.

The prohibition against “double jeopardy” insures that these same government officials cannot hold an individual in perpetuity, for multiple trials, when a jury of his or her peers has found them not guilty of a particular crime.  And the prohibition against self-incrimination is a recognition of the dignity of the individual in not being forced to act against his own interest in self-preservation and liberty.

The statement on due process really forms the transition between civil and criminal in the 5th Amendment.  In terms of criminal jurisprudence, obviously an individual accused of a crime must be afforded some fair process by which his case is heard, ensuring that his team is able to amount a fair defense.

But then the 5th Amendment grabs onto a core value of the American founding:  the importance of private property rights.  Having its basis in John Locke’s theory that government’s role is to protect life, liberty, and property, Jefferson has originally written that our inalienable rights were life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.  Private property undergirds the foundation of the Republic—scholars such as Hernando DeSoto have written that property rights are essential to the stability and prosperity of any free society.

As it happens, it is these rights that have come under the greatest siege in the last century and a half—eroded in an incredible number of ways, largely because they are the among the least understood rights.  As it happens, the Bill of Rights sets out very simple protections.

Government has the power to take private property from people.  We cede that power to it in the 5th Amendment.  But three things have to happen in order for that “taking” to be lawful:

  1. First, the taking has to be for a “public use”. Traditionally, this was for things like public buildings, roads, even public spaces like parks;
  2. Due Process has to be accorded to the property owner.  They have to be given a fair hearing or process by which they can negotiate with the government, perhaps to avoid the taking entirely;
  3. Should 1 and 2 be satisfied, “just” compensation has to be paid to a property owner, generally what a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller.

For many years, litigation and legal debates arising under the 5th Amendment’s property rights provisions centered on what constituted a taking and whether or not property owners had been afforded due process—and at which point a landowner could seek compensation from the government.

A government need not physically occupy or affirmatively confiscate property, either.  As government has grown, the reach of that government into the daily lives of property owners has similarly grew—and the concept of “regulatory takings” was made manifest.  In the seminal 1922 Supreme Court case of Pennsylvania Coal v. Mahon the High Court stated clearly that when a regulation goes “too far” it will be considered a taking, triggering the 5th Amendment’s requirements.

Thus, under laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, when a piece of property is restricted from substantially all uses, the landowner can seek just compensation for the taking of his property under the 5th Amendment.

What has come to the forefront in recent years is the long-time debate over what constitutes a “public use”.  In the 2005 Supreme Court case, Kelo v. City of New London, the High Court ruled that the home that elderly Suzette Kelo had lived in since she was a girl could be taken by the City of New London, CT to make way for a parking lot for a Pfizer manufacturing facility.

The public outrage was palpable—after all, the taking would directly benefit a private entity, the Pfizer Corporation, and not constitute a “public use” as stated in the 5th Amendment.  People wondered how the Supreme Court could have ruled this way.

The problem was that this decision was the end-result of 130 years of Supreme Court erosion of the “public use” doctrine.  Starting with a line of cases in which the High Court ruled that it was appropriate for government entities to take private property for quasi-private/quasi-public utility companies, and leading into years of cases in which the court decided that it was OK for localities to condemn wide swatches of private property in the name of urban redevelopment, we were left with an entirely different interpretation of “public use”.

By 2005, the Supreme Court’s precedent said that so long as there was a nebulous “public benefit,” the Constitution’s requirement of a taking for “public use” was satisfied.  Generally, this means that if there is a net increase in a city’s tax rolls, the 5th Amendment is satisfied.

The problem wasn’t that the High Court was making new law in Kelo.  The problem was that the High Court didn’t have the courage to over-rule years of bad law.

The 5th Amendment’s property rights protections are constantly under siege.  If we hope to keep the Republic, we must defend those protections earnestly and vigorously.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty http://www.instituteforliberty.org/

March 2, 2011 – Article I, Section 03, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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Article 1, Section 3, Clause 3

3:  No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

In setting out the framework for the fledgling government, the founders grappled  with the most basic issue of creating a government that would not be so powerful as to overwhelm the citizenry, but still strong enough to withstand the test of time.  The Senate, created as an analog to the upper house of Britain’s parliament, was meant to be a more deliberative body than the House of Representatives.

As such, the qualifications are rather different than those set out for House members.  House members need only be 25 years of age, American citizens for only seven years, and need not be actual residents of their congressional district at the time of the election.

In fact, the qualifications set out in this section are rather more proscriptive than those set out in other sections, and it begs the question, “why.”  Keeping in mind that this project will discuss the 17th Amendment at a later time, suffice it to say that initially United States Senators were to be selected by the legislatures of individual states.  Because those doing the selection would be a narrower group in size and scope, the founders wanted to make certain that appropriate choices would be made by these state legislators.  While there is tremendous accountability in having legislators do that selecting, nevertheless the authors of the Constitution thought it best to place strict rules on those qualifications.

Digging deeply into those qualifications themselves, what first jumps out is that the age requirements are greater than those for the House.  If we are to understand that the Senate was to be the more deliberative of the houses of the US Congress, then this makes perfect sense.  The founders recognized that the Senate ought to have a greater level of gravitas (given the limitations on size)—and such gravitas generally comes with age and experience.  Even in the 18th Century, there was a tremendous leap in maturity between the ages of 25 and 30 (which, given life expectancies at the time was approaching middle age).  Madison, in Federalist #62, referred to this as “stability of character.”

This requirement also opens the possibility of potential Senators gaining federal legislative experience by first being members of the US House of Representatives.

Most people are surprised to learn that there are no actual “residency” requirements for US House members—they must merely inhabit the states whose districts they are supposed to represent.  The Constitution’s authors had tremendous faith in the people in terms of being able to decide the propriety of those they would directly elect.  In both the requirements for House members and for Senators, they use the word “inhabit” to make it abundantly clear that they wanted these elected officials to live in their states—and again, the founders came down somewhat more strictly on potential Senators.  According to various historical accounts, Convention Delegate (and member of the committee to author the Declaration of Independence) Roger Sherman moved specifically to substitute “inhabit” for “resident” for these reasons.

While there may have been adequate reasons for not requiring habitation in House districts in the 18th and early 19th centuries, given the finite number of Senators from each state the founders wanted to ensure that someone from that state would be representing that state’s interests in the Senate.  This was especially important when one considers that given the realities of travel and transportation at this time, as well as prevailing political perceptions (as evidenced later by the 9th and 10th Amendments), the states themselves were viewed as sovereign entities in their own right.

According to the Senate’s official history, the 9-year citizenship requirement was a compromise—between those who believed that anything less would allow for people with a remaining “dangerous attachment” to their mother countries to gain undue influence in American affairs (especially given the Senate’s role in ratifying treaties with foreign nations), and those who believed that anything more would hinder “positive immigration” and offend those nations in Europe who had lent support for our revolution.

It is interesting to note in this regard that this qualification differs greatly from that of the President’s.  The founders recognized that because the Senate’s power was diffused among many members, the President, as Commander-in-chief  and the Chief Executive of the United States, acts with a solitary and unilateral power (within limits).  So while the President must be a natural-born citizen, the same does not hold true for Senators.

All in all, while relatively straightforward, once again the founders demonstrated their brilliance in laying out a strong yet simple framework for our nation’s government.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty http://www.instituteforliberty.org/

Posted in Analyzing the Constitution Essay Archives | 10 Comments »

May 21, 2010 – Federalist No. 18 – The Same Subject Continued: The Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union, For the Independent Journal (Hamilton & Madison) – Guest Blogger: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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Friday, May 21st, 2010

Federalist #18

What sets the founding of the American republic apart from the founding of so many nations on Earth was the depth and breadth of knowledge, research, analysis and debate that went into it.  This is made evident from Madison’s Federalist #18, written under his pseudonym “Publius”.  In 18, Madison delves deeply into the experience of the ancient Greek states and the various federations, alliances, and confederations that they had historically formed.  In an era without instant electronic access to libraries of information, the sheer amount of scholarship presented in these pieces is nothing short of astounding.

Federalist #18 charts the shortcomings that arose within these various confederacies, presenting them as analogs and object lessons for the then-current struggles the fledgling republic was experiencing.  The message was simple:  we must learn from these mistakes, and make every effort to correct where the learned Greeks were deficient.  It is the essence of archival scholarship:  those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

Two key lessons emerge.  First and foremost, the issue of balancing minority interests against those of a powerful majority, and vice-versa.  It was only though the careful historical scholarship of the founders that the delicate structures that we have today were created—and direct lines can be drawn from these lessons to the creation of two very different legislative branches, one stemming from direct democracy (The House), the 2nd stemming (initially) from a more genteel (but, in my estimation far more responsive to the people) source of power (The Senate, which until the ratification of the 17th Amendment drew its members from the nominations of state legislatures); the electoral college (which serves to balance the interests of rural and urban population centers); as well as the very system of dual sovereigns that underpins the system of federalism.

The second lesson arose out of the first—that whatever federal union would be created, would have to be strong.  That even though federalism “secures to citizens the liberties that derive from the diffusion of sovereign power” (The Supreme Court in Coleman v. Thompson, 501 US 722, 759 (1991)), nevertheless there would still have to be a strong and unified central power, to ensure that the nation would not only grow and prosper, but be able to effectively defend itself.  There is strength to be had in numbers, and this is the essence of E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One).

Call it happenstance, call it the coincidence of timing and talent, or call it (as I do) divine providence.  The bottom line is that at the time when this nation needed learned minds and steady hands guiding it, those men were to be found leading it.  Their grasp of the lessons of history (both the mistakes, and triumphs) are evident in Federalist #18.

Andrew Langer is the President of the Institute for Liberty

 

April 22, 2010 – Article II of the U.S. Constitution – Guest Blogger: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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While much attention has been focused on Congress and Article One’s legislative powers, the Constitution provides for three branches of government and Article Two  of the U.S. Constitution outlines powers for the executive branch i.e., the office of the President and those who serve under him. In addition to enumerations of the powers to nominate appointees (with the advice and consent of Congress), the power to make treaties (which have to be ratified by the Senate),  and his executive or enforcement authority Article 2 also discusses the wholly unique system of electing a president, known as the electoral college.

 In this particular post, we will focus on two aspects of Article Two: the enforcement of laws passed by Congress, as well as the issue of the Electoral College.

 As is clear through the structure of the Constitution itself, power flows from the people to the government via the legal structure called the Constitution.  In its opening statement, Article 2 reaffirms this concept, making it clear that power “vests” in an “executive” branch of government—meaning that it administers, oversees, and “executes” what is the legislative “will” of the people.

 Because the system is one of checks, balances, and diffusion of power (the founders were skeptical of concentrated government power), powers enumerated to the federal executive are undercut by powers enumerated to Congress under Article 1 (and vice-versa).  The President is  Commander-in-Chief of the military under Article 1, but it is only Congress that can declare war.  On the other hand, while Congress passes laws, Article Two vests with the Executive Branch the requirement that those laws are “faithfully executed”.  In the modern executive branch many of these tasks are carried out under what is called “administrative law” via the federal regulatory state.

 Issues have arisen when the agencies carrying out the execution of Congressional laws appear to exceed their statutory mandate and often challenges arise charging that an agency has effectively undermined Congress’ power to make the law.  While there may be an inevitable tension between the executive and the legislative branch in terms of the scope of their power, Article Two contemplates that the Executive branch engage in enforcement and execution of laws with little to no lawmaking like behavior occurring.

 Critics charge that as Congress grows more unwilling to take proper care in writing laws that are clear and limited in scope, they have invited the Executive Branch to assume far more authority in the interpretation and execution of those laws leading to a greatly convoluted regulatory state.    However as the writers of the Constitution make clear the powers of the executive are to be checked by those of the other two branches such that a significant deviation from the Constitution could be subject to challenge in Court or by Congress through its powers to tax and appropriate etc.

 Now let us turn to the electoral college.

 When envisioning the Republic, the founders recognized that competing interests would require that the demands of a majority group be weighed against the impact of those demands against the rights of minority groups (political or otherwise).  Thus, we are not a pure democracy, but a representative republic—and, the American Electoral College was born out of those notion.

 One of the challenges to the Republic, the founders knew, would be the inherent conflict between the interests of rural Americans and those who lived in cities.  Different things are important to people living in farming communities than to those who live within urban centers—there are different public policy priorities, at the very least, and possibly different sets of values and societal mores.  But in a pure democracy, regions with the highest populations would drive the public policy agenda, potentially sacrificing the interests of those in rural or desolate regions on the altar of the regions with the most people.

 The founders didn’t want the selection of the President to be by “urban center fiat”, so they devised a mechanism to level the playing field.  It is akin to how the World Series is played:  it isn’t decided in one single game, or which team scored the most runs in a series of different games.  It is broken down into a “best of seven” contest, leveling the playing field by allowing each time numerous chances to score incremental victories.

 As initially envisioned, each state gets a number of votes equal to the sum of the number of House members plus the number of Senators.  That way, even the states with the smallest population have a minimum of three votes, and are thus equalized.  Moreover, when combined, the electoral votes of these smaller or less populous states could challenge or overcome the electoral votes of larger and more populated ones.  Thus, the common interests of more rural states could be effectively aggregated, and their rights protected.

 Unlike many other systems which rely on simple majorities our system ensures that the President actually presides over “united” states and has a built in constituency that is broad and enduring.   The end result is the President of our nation ultimately chosen by the electoral college far more broadly represents the interests of the nation as a whole.

Posted in Article II of the United States Constitution, Constitutional Scholar Essays | Edit | 73 Comments »