Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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Unfortunately, the Court cast aside Justice Frankfurter’s warning that judges should stay out of the apportionment controversy and let the democratic process resolve it. Where wise men feared to tread, the justices foolishly rushed in. In 1962, in Baker v. Carr, they decided that such issues were “justiciable,” after all. Two years later, in Reynolds v. Sims, they decided that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment supplied the solution. All legislative districts, whether congressional, state legislative, or local, had to be equal in population to be constitutional. The history of the Equal Protection Clause contains no evidence that the Congress or the states intended it to address this issue. Indeed, section two of that amendment addresses a very specific instance of representation, that is, a state’s representation would be reduced in the House of Representatives by the proportion that it denied its adult male citizens the right to vote on racial grounds. The framers of the amendment were fully aware of political representation, yet did not consider the Equal Protection Clause itself applicable broadly to representation or voting.

The Court cast the operative principle as “one man, one vote.” The cases most assuredly had nothing to do with voting. No one was denied the right to vote. Nor did one person’s vote count differently than that of the next person in line. What it came down to was that, in districts with unequal population, a voter in a larger district allegedly had his vote diluted in the legislature in comparison to a voter in a smaller district, because the former’s representative represented more residents than the latter’s. The Court ignored the fact that there was no logical connection between who could or could not vote and any particular system of representation.

Other difficulties with the Court’s opinion were that districts with equal numbers of residents might not have equal numbers of voters. In Evenwell v. Abbott, in 2016, the Court ruled that population equality is based on residents, not voters. Of course, this will result in vote dilution for those who vote in districts with many voters, compared to those who vote in equally-sized districts with many non-voters, such as children, prisoners, and aliens, legal or otherwise. Moreover, populations change over ten years, so any attempt to adhere slavishly to population equality is doomed to immediate failure, as districts change in relative size.

Why, then, did the Court decide to tilt at these constitutional windmills? The catalyst was the decades-long failure of certain mainly Southern states to reapportion their districts in violation of their own state constitutional requirements. This produced often significant discrepancies in population between small rural districts and populous urban areas, a trend exacerbated by the 20th century’s technology-driven trend of urbanization. The Court viewed recourse to state constitutional conventions as too cumbersome. Since the delegates to those conventions were likely to be elected from those same malapportioned districts, they, like the legislatures, could not be counted on to challenge the existing system in a meaningful manner. Congressional interference with state districting would tread on thin constitutional ice and, in any case, was unlikely in light of the malapportionment of many congressional districts. The justices are drawn from a legal elite that shares many common outlooks, whatever their personal partisan affiliation. The common wisdom for that elite was that the existing systems exaggerated the influence of rural, socially and politically “unenlightened” residents and politicians, and constrained the economically, racially, and socially more progressive urban dwellers.

If the goal was to make the political environment reflect imagined urban progressivism, the results definitely have been inconclusive. The reapportionment cases, with their emphasis on population equality over everything, did break down the power of rural and small-town politicians and interests. In the South, they helped loosen the stranglehold of the Democratic Party that had produced the “Solid South” for over a century. But political power did not flow from the rural Democrats to the urban Democrats, as much as it did from the rural Democrats to the suburban Republicans. In non-Southern states, power similarly tended to flow to the expanding suburban areas, many of which did not share the mindset of the urban elites.

More significant in the long run was the “law of unintended consequences” manifesting itself in the guise of naked partisan gerrymandering. Going back to the country’s founding, most states apportioned one of their legislative chambers primarily on the basis of population and the other at least partially on other factors, such as county lines or city boundaries, much as the old Massachusetts and Virginia constitutions had done. In many states, the latter had been used for the lower, more numerous house. In contrast, more recent apportionment plans, as in California and Colorado, had followed the “federal model” and used population for the more numerous house and allowed political boundaries as a significant factor to apportion the less numerous upper legislative chamber.

The Court rejected both systems in Reynolds. As to the “federal model,” the Court argued that the Constitution was a compromise among sovereign states. However, the states’ political sovereignty did not extend to deciding how to govern themselves internally, because the cities and counties were not themselves sovereign actors, but mere creatures of the states. The same day as Reynolds, in Lucas v. 44th General Assembly of Colorado, the Court used the same reasoning to strike down a recent reapportionment of the Colorado legislature, approved by a significant majority of voters in every legislative district in the state. The Court’s objection was that the political majority might elect the governor and the lower house of the legislature, but it would take two-thirds of the population in the most populous districts to elect a majority of the upper house. The purpose of the Colorado system was to give some political influence to the residents in the large areas of Colorado not within fifty miles of the intersection of I-25 and I-70 and the city of Denver. The Court was unmoved by the fact that Colorado’s urban and suburban residents had themselves voted in favor of the plan, and that the voters had also overwhelmingly rejected a proposal that incorporated the system the Court eventually imposed. If even one voter’s vote was diluted, the Court declared, a constitutional violation had occurred.

In subsequent decisions, the Court softened its numerical rigidity somewhat. For congressional districts, under Karcher v. Dagett (1983), any deviation from absolute equality will be strictly scrutinized. For internal state legislative districts and for local districts, however, the Court decided in Mahan v. Howell (1973) that only “substantial equality” is needed, with deviations up to 20% from an ideal equality among districts being acceptable.

But the damage is done. By severely curtailing the ability of states to consider factors other than population, the Court removed the constraints on the one apportionment tool that coexists comfortably with population equality, the partisan gerrymander. When apportionment had to occur within set political boundaries, partisan considerations were blunted. Moreover, population movements and new political issues could change the partisan composition of a district. Politicians more likely had to moderate ideological predispositions and be less rigidly partisan. When preexisting district lines are meaningless and the quest for numbers is paramount, districts are drawn to maximize partisan advantage. Using computerized data and statistical formulae, apportionment experts create “safe” districts to maximize the majority party’s advantage well beyond their share of voter registration. For example, in California, Democrats have 46 congressional seats, Republicans 7, even though the Republican share of the vote in California is around 38%. Based on percentages, the Republicans should have had an additional 13 seats. These safe seats are won during primaries by the most militant candidate appealing to the party’s ideologically committed base. The winners then become difficult to dislodge and serve many terms, thereby putting them in legislative leadership roles.

Many observers have mourned the increased partisanship and hardening of ideological lines facilitated at least in part by the representational paradigm of population equality. At the state level, longevity of service is restrained by term limits, but ideological militancy is not. A final chapter may be emerging in the Supreme Court’s apportionment experiment. So far, the Court has avoided tackling partisan gerrymandering. However, the justices served notice in Davis v. Bandemer (1986) that such gerrymandering might violate the Constitution if it resulted in systematic and continuous exclusion of a party from political power. The justices could not agree on a specific standard to determine whether such an injury had occurred. In Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004), a plurality led by Justice Antonin Scalia found such cases to be non-justiciable, precisely because courts had not been able to discover any constitutional standard to apply in political gerrymandering claims. The intensely and inherently political nature of partisan gerrymandering and the many nuanced shapes it can take makes this a very difficult area for judicial resolution. However, the recent case of Gill v. Whitford (2018) and current litigation involving partisan gerrymandering in Maryland suggest that the judiciary’s struggle to extricate itself from the political issues that infuse partisan gerrymandering continues.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

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While Congress determines each state’s allotted number of representatives, each state draws the lines of its congressional districts. A few states early in their history experimented with at-large elections to maximize their clout in the House, but Congress quickly passed a law to require election from single-member districts. That method reflects the American constitutional tradition, dating back to colonial times, of tying representation to local political units and geographical areas, with their inhabitants voting for one of their own. Although the Constitution does not explicitly require members of the House to live in the districts that they represent (hence, the possibility of at-large elections), residence in the district is a practical requirement. Jon Ossoff, a Democratic candidate in a 2017 special election for a congressional seat in Georgia was found not to reside in that district, a fact that was publicized by his opponent. Despite massive out-of-state financial support, Ossoff lost, and his failure to live in the district likely contributed to that loss.

States also apportion their state legislative districts and determine how local electoral districts are apportioned. State constitutions typically provide for regular reapportionment and fix who–legislatures, courts, commissions–is to conduct that reapportionment. Local districts, such as county commissioners, school boards, and junior college districts, are included in this process, even if they perform multiple functions, as long as one of those functions is legislative and the body is elected by districts. The Supreme Court has recognized one exclusion, in Ball v. James (1981), for certain special governmental units that have only limited legislative powers, such as water districts. For those, voting and representation can be apportioned on the basis of amount of water rights or use, rather than population. The distinction between special and general governmental bodies is none-too-obvious, however.

In the 1960s, another wave of discontent arose over voting and representation, originating in litigation over racial discrimination. For many years, the Supreme Court had stayed out of the “political thicket” of legislative apportionment about which Justice Felix Frankfurter had warned in Colegrove v. Green in 1946. Constitutional challenges to legislative apportionment were dismissed as “non-justiciable political questions,” meaning that they were not suitable for resolution by courts. The reason was republicanism. Voting and representation are quintessential expressions of self-government, determined by consent of the governed through direct participation in voting or through representative bodies, such as constitutional conventions or, at least, legislatures. Unelected judicial mandarins accountable only to their conscience imposing a system of government on society fundamentally undercuts the modern consensual basis of the legitimacy of the state.

Another problem was that republicanism requires neither some particular system of voting, nor a specific scheme of representation. Hence, voting qualifications are addressed in clear constitutional provisions. Changes to voting qualifications, at least at the level of the U.S. Constitution, with a few controversial exceptions, have been produced through explicit and formal amendments. Matters of representation, as well, are addressed in express manner in a few rather terse and specific provisions.

Beyond those basics, the Constitution has left such political issues to the political process, particularly in the several states. Especially regarding representation, the Constitution only requires that the states have republican forms of government. We know what a republican form is not, namely, hereditary monarchy or aristocracy. But we do not know what it is. Must representation be based on districts? If so, must these be single-member? Must representatives be elected by a majority, or does a plurality suffice? At the state or local level, must it be based on residents, adult residents, citizens, registered voters, actual voters, or something else? Must all districts be drawn on the basis of population equality only? May the system give recognition or accommodation to political subdivisions; cohesive racial, ethnic, religious, or cultural communities; organized societal subgroups, such as labor unions, business or professional associations, or military veterans; or wealthier areas that contribute more to the maintenance of the political community through their taxes? Most of these variants have occurred in the constitutions of the several states or in current or former republican systems around the world.

Finally, judges approach such issues through the language, methodology, and epistemology of the law. Lawsuits produce winners and losers and deal in absolutes. In constitutional litigation, there is the additional complication that the Constitution confers a certain moral legitimacy on the winner and concurrent illegitimacy on the loser. These institutional factors tend to produce arguments and results that lurch towards conceptual absolutes and hard attitudes rather than compromise, flexibility, and nuance. Representation often requires the balancing of numerous competing interests, particularly in a political system that, through its Madisonian roots, is consciously designed to pit temporary and changing coalitions of diverse self-interested factions against each other.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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In a republic, two distinct principles are essential to political influence, voting and representation. Although there is no logical connection between any particular systems of voting and representation, there is a practical overlap. It is not astonishing, therefore, that allocation of voting and representation not only have been addressed in all republican constitutions, ancient and modern, but that conflicts over these issues have flared up in American history. “No taxation without representation” was one potent Revolutionary War-era slogan–and continues to be an (avoidable) obsession with some residents of the District of Columbia and with its municipal government. That slogan arose out of fundamental differences between English and American conceptions of voting and representation that had evolved from the experiences of living under distinctive physical and social conditions.

Voting qualifications and representation have been major controversies in several periods of American history. The Philadelphia Convention in 1787 was deadlocked several weeks over the representational structure of the proposed Congress and nearly broke up over the matter before Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut presented the current compromise system. The constitutional upheaval of the second quarter of the 19th century during the “Age of Jackson” that produced numerous state conventions was triggered by popular restiveness over the outdated systems of voting and representation. One particularly tragic-comic event during that time was the Dorr War, a “civil war” in Rhode Island in 1841/2. It was precipitated by an attempt to reform the voting qualifications and legislative apportionment in place since the old colony’s royal charter had been made, with a few qualifications, the new state’s constitution at independence. Once more, in the 1960s, voting and representation became major constitutional issues. This time the matter was addressed through litigation in courts, rather less democratic than constitutional conventions and less dramatic than civil wars, no matter how small.

As early as 1639, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut fixed voting for the General Court in all free adult male inhabitants of the towns, if they had taken the Oath of Fidelity. The Orders also fixed representation in that body based roughly on the population of the constituent towns. Other colonial charters followed suit. After independence, the state constitutions addressed these issues, sometimes in considerable detail. For example, the Virginia Constitution of 1776 simply provided in a fraction of one sentence that voters must be free adult males with sufficient common interest with, and attachment to, their community, presumably based on residency and property ownership. The system of representation, on the other hand, took up two complete sections, with representation in the House of Delegates primarily on the basis of counties and cities, and in the Senate, on the basis of larger districts composed of various counties.

The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 similarly allowed voting for its two legislative chambers by adult male inhabitants with sufficient estates who lived in their respective electoral units. The forty senators would be elected from districts that were apportioned based on the proportion of taxes that they paid. The number of districts, their lines, and the number of senators from each would be determined periodically by the legislature. The state’s House of Representatives would be apportioned on the basis of incorporated towns, with some adjustment for population size among the towns. It was the Massachusetts system of senatorial apportionment by the legislature that made a lasting contribution to the political lexicon. In 1812, the legislature redrew the Senate districts to favor the Jeffersonian Republicans. One district, in Essex County, had a particularly convoluted shape, which an editorial in the Boston Gazette compared to a salamander and dubbed a “Gerry-mander.” The governor, Elbridge Gerry, had signed the legislation despite personal misgivings about its hyper-partisanship. Partisan apportionment remains a common tactic today, and districts not infrequently have similarly odd shapes. One refreshingly honest practitioner, former California Democratic Congressman Philip Burton, in 1981 called one such creation his “contribution to modern art.” While the pronunciation has changed slightly, to a soft “g,” the “gerrymander” has endured.

The U.S. Constitution provides for apportionment of representation among the states. In the Senate, representation is based on the political equality of all states in their corporate capacity, in recognition of their residual sovereignty. In the House of Representatives, it is based on a combination of population and political identity, in that more populous states receive more representatives, but each state has at least one, regardless of population. The Constitution initially provided for one representative for each 30,000 residents, which number itself had been controversial. The convention had settled on one member for each 40,000, but George Washington thought that too high. It was the only time that Washington, the presiding officer of the convention, spoke on a substantive issue before the convention. His proposal was quickly adopted. Beyond that, some speakers at the Philadelphia convention and the state ratifying conventions spoke broadly about the desirability of population equality in drawing districts, and the need to avoid the “rotten boroughs” of England, that is, districts that no longer had many residents, yet still elected members of Parliament. State constitutions also endorsed equality in representation. As, the Virginia and Massachusetts constitutions showed, however, their concept of equality was far more nuanced than the numerical rigidity that the Supreme Court later discovered in the Constitution.

While population growth and admission of new states initially resulted simply in increasing the number of representatives, in 1929 Congress capped the size of the House at 435 voting members, to prevent their number from becoming too unwieldy to conduct business efficiently and to deal with a lack of physical space in the chamber. As a consequence, after every decennial census, unequal population increases in the various states now cause some states to gain representatives, and others to lose them. This can also produce significant population disparities among districts in different states, depending on the formula Congress uses. Under the current formula, the largest district, in Montana, has nearly twice the population of the smallest district, in neighboring Wyoming.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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The next significant impact on the development of the California constitution came during the Progressive Era of the early 20th century. The Lincoln-Roosevelt Republican movement had seized control, first, of the Republican Party and, then, in the 1910 elections, of the state government. The movement was an upper-middle class, college-educated, young, elitist, technocratic reform movement centered in the legal profession, the press, and, to a lesser extent, the independent entrepreneurial class. These reformers had been excluded from the traditional retail politics of the urban machines with their roots in the working classes, strong partisan identity, and “spoils system” of political patronage. They professed to believe in the people and democracy, but a people led by the right kind of leader whose programs would use government to improve the lot of the masses. The people, in turn, would recognize the wisdom of those programs and voice their approval in the voting booth.

In January, 1911, the Progressives had full control of the legislature and had in the governorship perhaps the most popular politician California has produced, Hiram Johnson. That year, a special election was held to vote on, among other things, 23 measures that required amendment of the state constitution were proposed. All but one were approved by the voters.

Among the most significant and enduring, for better or worse, of those changes are the initiative and referendum procedures. Initiatives are brought by petitions signed by voters to enact statutes or constitutional amendments. For a statutory initiative, voter signatures must number at least 5% of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. For a constitutional initiative, the signature requirement is 8%. In either case, once on the ballot, the initiative requires majority approval to pass.

A referendum is a decision by voters on an action already taken by the legislature. For a statutory referendum, the same signature requirements exist as for a statutory initiative. A constitutional referendum to amend or revise the constitution is different. The proposed amendment or revision must first be adopted by a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the legislature (27 out of 40 in the state senate; 54 out of 80 in the assembly). Then a majority of voters must approve. The legislature can also call a constitutional convention to revise the constitution, a task that, despite periodic clamor by the press, it has declined to perform. Finally, a “mandatory” referendum is required for bonds to be issued, if the bonds are repaid by taxpayer dollars. The legislature and governor must approve, after which a majority of voters must concur. All told, the California constitution has been amended over 500 times since 1879, with topics from criminal law reform, to term limits, to state pension benefits.

A third device of direct democracy is the recall of public officials. While the number of petition signatures depends on the office, for most state-wide offices, signatures equal to at least 12% of the votes cast for that office in the most recent election are required. If enough signatures are collected, two separate questions are presented to the voters. First, a majority must decide that the targeted official should be recalled. A second question decides who should take the recalled official’s place, if the recall is approved. There is no winnowing out of candidates through a primary election. Whoever gets the most votes, wins. A recent, and at the time rather shocking, demonstration occurred in 2003. Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, was recalled by 55-45%, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected with 49% of the vote over a plethora of other candidates.

Although these structural aspects of the Progressive Era amendments have had the most significant impact, other reforms also changed the nature of California politics. The Progressives’ hostility to political partisanship led to the abolition of straight-ticket voting, the adoption of cross-filing in primary elections (a process by which a politician could run for political office on the ballot of more than one political party), and the increase in officially non-partisan offices. Local elections cannot be contested by political parties. Thus, mayors and city councils are elected in nominally non-partisan elections.

Many academics and other reformers long have lauded this push toward meritocratic, non-partisan government. In a sense, it is faithful to the classic republican ideal of leaders dedicated to the common weal, rather than factional self-interest. But, in reality, evidence now shows that these restrictions tend to dilute voter attention and interest, which, in turn, produces more and more frantic efforts to increase voter participation. California’s latest constitutional contribution has been the introduction of the “jungle primary,” in which all candidates of the various parties for a particular office are placed on the primary election ballot. The top two vote-getters then run against each other in the general election. This was supposed to produce more “moderate” winners, rather than the more ideologically extreme candidates produced if each party had its separate primary. Instead, this process appears to increase voter confusion from the large number of names on the primary ballot, and lessen voter interest and involvement if, as often happens, the two names on general election ballot are members of the same party. This has further stultified the resiliency of political parties, especially the Republicans, in California.

California’s governmental structure differs from the federal system. The legislative branch is composed of two chambers, both elected on the basis of population. The executive branch is a “plural executive.” The governor is elected by popular vote, as is, separately, the lieutenant governor. While the President appoints federal department heads with Senate confirmation, in California many such officials (attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, etc.) are elected as independent constitutional officers. While most of the governor’s powers are similar to those of the President, the governor also has a line-item veto over budgetary items. If the governor opposes a particular legislative budget item, he can veto it entirely or reduce it to a palatable level. That veto can then be overridden by a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature.

Judges of the local and appellate courts can be appointed by the governor if a vacancy in the office has occurred. For appellate judges, the governor’s candidate must have been approved by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. There is no participation by the legislature. Once appointed, the chief justice and the six associate justices of the state supreme court serve for 12 years, after which they must submit to a retention election. The voters choose whether or not to retain the justice subject to this plebiscite. While retention is almost a foregone conclusion, in the 1986 general election, Chief Justice Rose Bird and Associate Justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso were rejected due to their perceived eagerness to overturn all death penalty verdicts that came before them.

The state’s current constitution, in sum, is quite different from its predecessor. But, then, so are the people of the state. The earlier version followed the path of traditional American constitutional structure, with its basic organization of government and its “natural rights” approach. Today’s constitution is a record of over a century of interest group politics. It has long since ceased to be a constitution of law and become a constitution of policy. It is easy to mock the inclusion in a constitution of an exemption from property tax for “Fruit and nut trees until 4 years after the season in which they were planted in orchard form.” But one must not ignore the bigger issue. What started as a reform to get around a political structure controlled by the bosses of entrenched and organized political parties and clubs by creating a system of direct democracy to appeal to the voters directly, has become the playground of well-funded, unaccountable, politically-connected private pressure groups posing as expert technocrats solving problems. In the guise of the “public interest” are private interests achieved. This is the inevitable result of the Progressives’ Platonic vision of themselves leading the masses designed to follow. It is a fit constitution for a California increasingly divided into a highly-educated, highly-compensated elite; organized interest groups of public employees, environmentalists, and ethnic affiliation; a shrinking middle class, and a mass of workers and unemployed struggling to get by.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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California has had two constitutions during statehood, one from 1849 and the other from 1879. Although only a generation separates them, their style, operative principles, and political consequences could hardly be more different. The Constitution of 1849 represented the classic American constitutionalism of the U.S. Constitution and of the Iowa and New York state constitutions that were its direct antecedents. The Constitution of 1879 bore the imprint of the wave of political populism sweeping the country during that decade. Together with subsequent amendments adopted during the Progressive Era, it became–and remains–an instrument of that time and contributes to the state’s radical politics.

The collapse, after about one month, of the quixotic Bear Flag Republic that had been proclaimed at the small town of Sonoma in June, 1846, and the ensuing declaration of American military control over California by Commodore John Sloat, resulted in a de facto military government for the next several years. The war with Mexico and the national controversy over slavery became tangled with the discovery of gold in January, 1848, at John Sutter’s sawmill at Coloma, east of Sacramento, and the ensuing rush of “49ers” into the area. Ordinarily, Congress would have established a territorial government and set California on an eventual path to statehood. But the political difficulty attendant to deciding what to do with the large territory gained from Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo resulted in a stalemate in Congress that kept California’s status frozen in place.

Californians had grander ideas. Why not skip territorial status and move directly to statehood? California, after all, was different from the rest of the formerly Mexican territory. California had established towns, a developing economy, good harbors for commerce, and a comparatively sizable population. Texas was different, too, and it had received statehood. Most of the rest of the new lands were wild and unoccupied.

When Congress failed to act, Californians in several towns in the northern, much more populous, part moved to organize representative governments on their own. They were encouraged by various national politicians, such as Missouri’s Senator Thomas Hart Benton, President Zachary Taylor, and the new “civil” governor, General Bennett Riley. The latter two went further, urging Californians to elect delegates to a state constitutional convention.

The convention of 48 delegates met in early September, 1849, in Monterey. Three-fourths of the delegates came from the northern areas (mostly settled by Americans from the Northern states; only 11 came from the Southern California (predominantly settled by American Southerners). The mining districts had elected a number of additional delegates who did not attend because of more pressing matters–mining for gold.

The northern delegates voted for statehood, the southerners preferred territorial status over concerns about taxation. The slavery issue was quickly settled. California would be a free state not due to humanitarian abolitionist sentimentality, but because, as one historian observed, the 49ers “were sensitive on the matter of dignity of hard manual labor, or rather of their particular form of it; they were outraged at the imputation that goldmining was work appropriate for slaves.” Echoing the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, and foreshadowing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the convention voted that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this state.” At the same time, the convention initially adopted a provision to exclude free Blacks from the state, but eventually reversed itself out of concern that Congress might reject the constitution on that ground.

The most difficult question, one that almost broke up the convention, was the question of the state’s eastern boundary. One faction wanted what eventually became the boundary, another wanted to include present-day Nevada and most of Utah and Arizona. The latter group had on its side the fact that the most common maps at the time and the one used in the treaty of peace showed this version of a “Greater California.” The convention eventually settled for the smaller boundary because of concerns about inability to have representative government for such an expanse, the inclusion of the Utah Mormons who were agitating for their own “State of Deseret,” and Congress’s likely negative reaction against such a massive state.

The constitution prohibited dueling, a restriction that proved quaintly optimistic. In a rough-and-tumble, male-dominated society that was still tinkering with formal legal structures, physical altercations would be a quick and direct way to resolve personal differences. One of California’s first Senators, William Gwin, fought a duel in 1853. Another Senator, David Broderick (a political rival of Gwin), would be killed in a duel by state supreme court chief justice David Terry. Broderick was not Terry’s first dueling victim. Terry was a master of several weapons, from knife to machete to pistol. Terry was shot many years later by a body guard of one of Terry’s former colleagues on the court, Stephen Field, who by that time had become a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The body guard, U.S. deputy marshal Neagle, feared that Terry was about to draw a weapon to kill Field.

The structure of the constitution reflected the traditional separation of powers among branches of the government. It was a comparatively brief and concise document produced within six weeks by using the Iowa constitution (mostly) and the New York constitution (some) as models. There was a bicameral legislature, and a plural executive whereby the governor and various other officers were elected independently from each other by the voters. The constitution followed the emerging democratic trend of the 19th century of an elective judiciary at all levels. The state supreme court was composed of a chief justice and two associate justices, with the office of the chief rotating year-to-year. The constitution also contained an extensive declaration of rights. Aside from that list, it addressed miscellaneous issues deemed significant, including the novel concept (derived from Spanish law) that property owned by a woman before marriage or acquired by her by gift or inheritance would remain hers.

The constitution was published in English and Spanish and submitted to the voters, who approved it on November 13, 1849, by 12,061 to 811. The legislature met in San Jose in December and submitted a petition for statehood. Congress, wracked by the slavery issue, did not accept until the Compromise of 1850 was worked out. The President signed the admission of California as the thirty-first state on September 9, 1850, and the constitution formally went into effect. It was amended only three times in the next thirty years.

There matters remained until the financial, political, and ethnic convulsions of the 1870s. The financial panic of 1873 brought unemployment and business losses. The immigration of a large cohort of Chinese brought racial tensions. The general political restlessness and increasing stridency of rhetoric contributed to political instability and the rise of new political associations, particularly the Workingmen’s Party, a pro-labor, anti-capitalist, anti-business, anti-Chinese party. In 1877, voters approved a call for a constitutional convention. Delegates were elected in June, 1879, and the convention gathered in Sacramento in September. The convention was three times as large as that of 1849, but it represented a non-Indian population that had grown from about 50,000 to nearly 900,000. It also took six months, rather than six weeks, to conclude.

It is not necessarily true that more time and man-hours produce a better result. The new constitution was an original work, but it was long, detailed, and prolix. A part of the problem was that the convention met during politically turbulent times and addressed “reforms” that should have been handled, if at all, through the legislative process. Another cause is that state governments exercise all legislative powers not surrendered to the general government. They are not governments of limited and delegated functions. Therefore, restrictions on state governments must be express. Today, the California constitution is even longer, due to the many amendments and the lingering effects of the Progressive Era changes described below. Even after voters in the 1960s and 1970s approved the removal of about 40,000 words by the Constitution Revision Commission, it is twelve times as long as the U.S. Constitution, making it among the most verbose state constitutions.

Representatives of the farm and labor interests, as well as of business, pushed through a common reform of the time, the creation of a state railroad commission with specified membership and powers. Labor got a maximum-hour provision for public works projects. A new state tax assessment board was created. Specific tax regulations to protect farmers were adopted. As would be expected, these regulations were easily circumvented by creditors, yet they remain part of the constitution. Corporations and banks were particular targets, with provisions passed to increase accountability of directors and shareholders. Labor law, business law, tax law, all matters that should be part of a system of codes brought into the fundamental organic law of government, the state constitution.

Finally, the Chinese. In a stark contrast to the current state government, a lengthy article of the constitution authorized the legislature to protect the state from “aliens, who are, or may become…dangerous or detrimental.” Chinese could not be employed by corporations or on public projects (except as punishment for crime, e.g. road gangs). It prohibited “Asiatic coolieism” as a form of human slavery. These provisions, predictably, were found unconstitutional by federal courts as violations of equal protection or of the federal government’s power over naturalization and immigration. The Constitution of 1879 was adopted by the underwhelming popular vote margin of 54-46 percent. In amended form, it remains the state’s constitution.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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A wave of state constitutional conventions during the middle of the 19th century reflected the increased “democratization” of American politics that resulted in the election of President Andrew Jackson and the emergence of two modern national programmatic parties, the Democrats and the Whigs. In established and newly-formed states, the growing movement for popular control over government led to reforms of judicial systems by having judges run for political office under partisan aegis and denomination. Today, eight states retain some form of partisan election for their appellate courts, and more do so for their general trial courts.

By the late nineteenth century, the tide turned again, with partisan politics becoming identified with political corruption, urban political “machines,” and party bosses controlling the process from “smoke-filled back rooms.” Over the next several decades, reformers, often working under the label of “Progressivism,” pushed broadly for nonpartisan elections, including for judicial offices. Most new states, as well as some established states, adopted this system in the several decades beginning in the 1880s. About one-third of the states still have nonpartisan elections for their appellate courts; still more do so for their general trial courts.

There were also dissenters to the very idea of elected judges, at least above the level of local trial courts. Legal elites claimed that elections undermined judicial independence and gave short shrift to legal knowledge, experience, and temperament. One alternative would have been to follow the path of European systems that make judges civil servants, with a professional career path focused on passing examinations and embarking on the judicial analog to the old Roman cursus honorum to be selected to higher courts. While such a system makes sense for administrative courts or for courts that address technical issues of contract, property, or even criminal law, American courts address constitutional law controversies, as well. Those questions often overlap with controversial political issues, so that a more complex and difficult balancing act arises between judicial knowledge and independence, on the one hand, and political accountability, on the other.

One reform proposed early in the 20th century by the American Judicature Society was so-called merit selection. A non-partisan commission chooses a list of nominees, from which the governor appoints the judge, with no involvement by the state legislature. Thereafter, the people will vote at the next general election in a plebiscitary “yes-or-no” choice to retain or reject the appointee. Each judge so selected will have to stand in further periodic retention elections. This model was first enacted in 1940 in Missouri. Variants of the “Missouri Plan,” as it was dubbed colloquially, were adopted in about half of the states during the middle of the 20th century for intermediate appellate courts and supreme courts, though in fewer states for general trial courts. Since 1934, California has an inverted variation of the Missouri Plan, for courts above the Superior Court (trial court). The governor selects a nominee who must then be reviewed and confirmed by the state’s Commission on Judicial Appointments, which is composed of the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, the state attorney general, and a specified justice of the intermediate court of appeal. Again, the legislature does not participate.

While the Missouri Plan is still a popular reform proposal, it has come under fire by others who see it, with some justification, as an attempt by an unelected legal elite to entrench itself further in an isolated and unaccountable judicial bureaucracy. That opposition has manifested itself in increasingly divisive judicial retention elections and in some states, rejection of concrete efforts to institute the Missouri system. As to the former, while judges still overwhelmingly win retention elections, in California the vote in these elections has become closer. In the 1986 election, the chief justice and two associate justices of the California Supreme Court were rejected due to the public’s fury with the jurists’ perceived categorical hostility to application of the death penalty. Other critics complain that merit systems are a mirage, in that it is impossible to take partisan politics out of the process. They assert that political influence manifests itself in many ways through the structure of the system and the influence that the governor exerts through “citizen appointees” on the selection commission.

State courts generally have the same powers of judicial review regarding state constitutional law as federal courts have as to matters of federal constitutional law. If a state supreme court strikes down a state law as violating the state constitution, there usually is no review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The state court has acted under “adequate and independent state grounds,” which means that no federal constitutional interest is involved for further review. In addition, state courts can review state laws for their conformance to the U.S. Constitution, statutes, or treaties. Such decisions, whether for or against the state law, are usually subject to review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition to their role in shaping ordinary civil and criminal law, much constitutional law is made through the state courts. One reason is because the U.S. Constitution provides only a “floor” of protection for individual rights. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a relatively small percentage of cases decided by all lower courts, including the 12 federal circuit courts, the 50 state supreme courts, and assorted other courts. State legislatures (and Congress) can expand those rights by statute, and state courts can do so through interpretation of their state’s constitution. While it is not always clear when or whose rights are expanded, rather than contracted, some state courts have been quite active in striking down state laws. For example, in abortion, school financing, same-sex marriage, and criminal procedure, among other topics, state courts have often gone further or, at least, been ahead of federal courts in defining constitutional rights. Compared to the last half of the 20th century, the U.S. Supreme Court has become more reluctant to lead constitutional change during the last couple of decades. This has refocused litigants’ attention on the state supreme courts, a trend that is likely to continue.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Under the Constitution, the only required court is the U.S. Supreme Court. The creation of lower federal courts has always been entirely at the discretion of Congress. Even if federal courts have jurisdiction, they can only hear cases specified in Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution. They are “limited jurisdiction” courts. However, the Constitution does anticipate the existence of state courts, which, in addition to their duties under state law, would perform the functions of federal jurisdiction if Congress chose not to establish lower federal courts. Even today, state courts can hear cases that involve federal jurisdiction, such as claims that arise under federal statutes or the U.S. Constitution, unless Congress has expressly made hearing that type of case exclusive in the federal courts. Congress has done that in regard to claims where the United States is a party, for example.

State courts, therefore, form the backbone of the American judicial system. Most laws are state or local laws, and most cases, civil and criminal, are heard in state courts. There may be state courts of limited jurisdiction, such as the Small Claims Court, but there is at least one level of “general jurisdiction” trial courts. In California, this court is called the Superior Court, organized by county. In other states, this may be called county court, district court or circuit court. In New York, this is called, rather bizarrely, the Supreme Court. These general jurisdiction courts may have separate departments, such as the probate division or the family law division. There may also be entirely separate specialized courts, such as juvenile courts or, in Delaware, the Chancery Court for business law cases.

In addition, many states have an intermediate appellate court system analogous to the federal circuit courts. These are typically organized by larger geographical areas. They, too, vary in names. In California, this is called the Court of Appeal for the 1st [etc.] District. In some states, this may be called the Appellate Department of the [insert name of general jurisdiction trial court]. All states have a final court of appeal. Usually, this is called [the state’s] supreme court. In New York, it is called the Court of Appeals, since, as noted above, New York calls its general trial court the supreme court.

In many states, as well as in the federal system, the role of intermediate appellate courts and the supreme court differ. Intermediate courts exist substantially to correct errors of law made by trial courts, so there is generally a right to appeal cases from the lower court. Supreme courts, on the other hand, are “courts of law, not of error,” where protecting litigants from the errors of trial courts is merely incidental to resolving significant legal issues for the broader public good. Thus, supreme courts are usually given great discretion by the legislature as to which cases they will review. The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, hears almost no cases on appeal. Rather, review is exercised by granting a writ of certiorari that orders the lower court to certify the record of the case to the Supreme Court for review. Many states follow the same approach. In California, only death penalty cases have mandatory appeal. Everything else is within the state supreme court’s discretion.

Federal judges are appointed by the President, with confirmation by a majority vote of Senators. With some exceptions for specialized, administrative law-type judges, such as the Tax Court, they serve during “good behavior,” i.e. potentially for life, subject to impeachment for constitutionally defined causes. At the state level, selection procedures for judges are so varied as to be incapable of complete description in a brief essay. A general overview must suffice. At the beginning of the country, a common model was to have legislative bodies appoint judges. Thus, the Virginia’s constitution of 1776 declared, “The two Houses of Assembly shall, by joint ballot, appoint judges of the Supreme Court of Appeals, and General Court, Judges in Chancery, Judges of Admiralty…[to] continue in office during good behavior.” This “popular control” was, at least in part a response to the distrust that many Revolutionary War-era Americans had towards the king’s appointed judges as officers of the Crown. Virginia is one of two states that retain legislative appointment in some form.

By the 1780s, a reaction had set in against legislative dominance under the first wave of state constitutions. Many states revised their constitutions over the next couple of decades. The new mode of selection of judges often replicated the U.S. Constitution. Thus, the Massachusetts constitution of 1780 stated that “All judicial officers…shall be nominated by the Governour, by and with the advice and consent of the Council [a body of nine members chosen by the two houses of the legislature jointly with a mostly advisory role to the governor]….” On the other hand, while judges in Massachusetts ostensibly served during good behavior, “the Governour, with consent of the Council, may remove them upon the address of both houses of the Legislature.” This easy removal maintained indirect popular control over the judiciary without having to resort to accusations of bad conduct needed for impeachment. Today, three states, not including Massachusetts, select appellate courts by gubernatorial appointment with legislative confirmation.

One odd characteristic of that Massachusetts constitution was that it permitted the legislative chambers, as well as the governor, to compel the Supreme Judicial Court to render formal opinions on “important questions of law, and upon solemn occasions.” This provision still applies in Massachusetts and a dozen other states. It calls upon that court to issue an “advisory opinion” even in the absence of a concrete dispute. This approach is used in various foreign systems, as well, typically those that follow the German model of having one specialized constitutional court that exercises judicial review. It is rejected under the U.S. Constitution for federal courts and in most state constitutions, which require that the judicial power only functions in concrete “cases or controversies” brought by a plaintiff who has suffered an actual injury and, thus, has standing to sue.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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When the Constitution was submitted to the American people in conventions in the several states, many objected that the lack of a bill of rights made the general government a dangerous tool of oppression. They looked to English antecedents, such as the English Bill of Rights of 1689, their historical colonial charters, many of which had contained express reservations of rights, and their existing state constitutions, many of which–but not all–had bills of rights. Some supporters of the Constitution, such as Alexander Hamilton, considered bills of rights empty verbiage at best, and dangerous implications of general governmental powers at worst. Moreover, Hamilton pointed out–in some tension with his previous argument– that the Constitution already contained limitations on the general government, for example, in the important provision in Article I, Section 9, against ex post facto laws. However, the need to get favorable outcomes in some closely-divided conventions persuaded the Constitution’s supporters to agree to promote a bill of rights once the new government was successfully established.

The First Congress set to that task. The initial set of amendments drafted by Representative James Madison were distilled from those submitted by the various state ratifying conventions, with the author declaring to Congress “I shall not propose a single alteration but is likely to meet the concurrence required by the constitution.” While most of those changes dealt with the powers of the general government or with limits to be imposed on that body, one group did not. Hamilton had also criticized the fact that the New York constitution, like that of some other states, lacked an explicit bill of rights. If anything, he noted, states needed bills of rights more than the federal government did, because they were governments of general and inherent legislative power, while the federal government was one of limited and delegated powers. For the former, then, any restriction on its powers had to be express.

Madison proposed to amend Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution (which dealt with restrictions on state governments), to add, “No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.” The House Committee of Eleven, to whom Madison’s proposal was referred, modified his language somewhat and added a protection of the freedom of speech. The House of Representatives made several changes. First, it changed the basic approach. Rather than revise the text of the original Constitution by interlineation of these changes, the original text would remain, and the changes would be separated and formally styled “Amendments.” Second, it rephrased the proposal as “ARTICLE the FOURTEENTH,” which declared, “No State shall infringe the right of trial by Jury in criminal cases, nor the rights of conscience, nor the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

Two weeks later, the Senate passed its own version, which omitted all references to limitations on state governments. The Senate’s version of the proposed amendments was, in essence, what was finally submitted to the states for approval. It is not entirely clear why the Senate dropped the restriction on state governments, though their selection by the state legislatures may have made Senators reluctant to impose express limits on those bodies. As a result, the Bill of Rights (and the 27th Amendment, which was proposed then, but failed to get the requisite state support until 1992) is concerned entirely with powers of the general government and with limits thereon.

In 1833, Chief Justice John Marshall, in Barron v. Mayor of Baltimore, confirmed that neither the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment at issue there, nor any other provision of the Bill of Rights, applied to the states. Referring to the constitutional settlement of 1789 that resulted in the adoption of the Bill of Rights, Marshall noted that the amendments “demanded security against the apprehended encroachments of the general government–not against those of the local governments.” There matters remained, formally, for nearly a century. Any restrictions on state governments, other than those in Article I, Section 10, had to come from the respective states’ constitutions.

In a society as locally-focused as Jefferson’s “Yeoman Republic” of artisans and farmers, such an arrangement made sense. But with the growing industrialization and its accompanying commercial intercourse shaping stronger regional and–more gradually, national–bonds, a new constitutional settlement was needed. The social dislocations caused by the “Industrial Revolution” were increasingly the targets of state law. Direct federal regulation of peacetime commerce did not occur until near the end of the 19th century with the Interstate Commerce Act, directed at the railroads, and the Sherman Antitrust Act, directed at John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust and similar “malefactors of wealth.” The new entrepreneurial class that opposed state interference in their economic activities was frustrated by the variability of protections offered by the state constitutions and, if they were interstate companies, by the inconvenience and potential contradictions of state-by-state litigation to protect their interests.

There was the germ of another constitutional approach during this time, in the form of Corfield v. Coryell, a case in 1823 from the federal circuit court. Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington (George Washington’s nephew), as circuit judge, declared that the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV, Section 2, protected a citizen of one state travelling to another state against discriminatory legislation by the latter, at least as to the exercise of certain fundamental rights. The “P & I Clause” had its antecedent in the Articles of Confederation. Washington wrote, “We feel no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments; and which have, at all times, been enjoyed by the citizens of the several states which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign.” Washington’s opinion reflected the “higher law” reasoning, based on theories of natural law, natural rights, and broad principles of freedom reflected in the social contract, to which the courts of that time had frequent recourse to limit the actions of state governments.

The drawback of Corfield was that Washington correctly held that the P & I Clause only applied to state laws that targeted out-of-state visitors. It was an anti-discrimination protection, not a guarantee of basic rights to anyone. Since state laws typically restricted in-state businesses as well as interstate enterprises, Corfield was of limited use initially.

Further change came through the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. That amendment contains protections against laws by state and local governments that infringe the privileges or immunities of citizens, that deprive persons of life, liberty or property without due process of law or that deny a person the equal protection of the law. The first Supreme Court decision to address the application of the Fourteenth Amendment to safeguard property and economic liberty against state regulation came in the Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873. An association of butchers in New Orleans challenged a state-created slaughterhouse monopoly. The Court rejected their claims and held that the privileges and immunities clause only protected rights of national citizenship, that is, rights that arise directly from a citizen’s connection to the federal government, such as the right of access to federal instrumentalities, and certain rights protected in the Constitution itself, such as the right of assembly and petition. As to due process, that clause only protected rights of fair trial. The equal protection clause only protected Blacks against racially discriminatory state laws.

The dissent in the Slaughterhouse Cases envisioned much greater protections. Using remarks made during the congressional debates on the amendment, Justice Stephen Field claimed that the privileges and immunities protected were those listed in the Bill of Rights, as well as those that would be within Justice Washington’s expansive description in Corfield. This would include the right to pursue any lawful trade or profession without the restriction posed by a state-licensed monopoly. Justice Joseph Bradley proposed an alternate theory, that the Louisiana law’s substance was an unconstitutional deprivation of property and liberty without due process.

The Slaughterhouse justices generally agreed that the Fourteenth Amendment applied some or all of the Bill of Rights to the states. Moreover, the dissenters argued that broad conceptions of privileges and immunities, and of property and liberty also restricted the states. Both approaches subsequently were used by the Supreme Court to overturn state laws. While Justice Field’s broad reading of privileges and immunities did not catch on, Justice Bradley’s views became the majority’s in Allgeyer v. Louisiana in 1897 and Lochner v. New York in 1905. There, the Court overturned economic regulations as a violation of the “liberty of contract” protected under the Due Process Clause. This doctrine of “substantive due process” is no longer used to invalidate federal laws (under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause) or state laws (under the Fourteenth Amendment’s) that regulate economic liberty, but has been used to strike down laws that violate various ill-defined aspects of the “right of privacy,” including long-standing laws that defined traditional marriage, prohibited certain forms of sexual conduct, and restricted access to contraception and abortion.

In addition to such “unenumerated” rights, the Supreme Court gradually applied the specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights to the states. Scholars debate about which case first “incorporated” specific provisions of the Bill of Rights into the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. At the turn of the 20th Century, the Supreme Court began to acknowledge that some rights protected by that clause were similar to those in the Bill of Rights. In any event, beginning in the 1930s, the Court over the next three decades clearly moved to incorporate, first, the Free Speech and Free Press Clauses and, second, various criminal procedure protections.

Three factions developed among the Supreme Court justices. One group, led by Justice Benjamin Cardozo, argued that only certain “preferred freedoms” within the Bill of Rights are incorporated into the Due Process Clause. Under this process of “selective incorporation,” only those freedoms that are “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” would be applied against the states in the same manner that they applied to the federal government. Writing in Palko v. Connecticut in 1938, Cardozo defined these as the “fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions,” a vague and flexible formulation reminiscent of that by Bushrod Washington in Corfield a century earlier.

Justice Felix Frankfurter leaned towards Cardozo’s approach, but argued that the federal government and the states had different roles in our federal system. Particularly in the traditional state law domain of criminal law and procedure, the interests of the states must be balanced against the right at issue. As a result, the scope of the Bill of Rights protections when incorporated against the states should be similar to, but not necessarily identical with, those protections when they directly limit the federal government.

Justice Hugo Black urged “wholesale incorporation” of all of the first eight amendments of the Constitution. Black relied on his reading of the congressional debates over the Fourteenth Amendment, and on what he saw as the main purpose of that Amendment. The Court rejected Black’s approach as unsupported by the historical record. However, even though Black lost that battle, he effectively won the war. On recognition of the increased mobility and homogenization of our population across the country, the Court has come to incorporate almost all provisions of the first eight amendments. Only the Third, Seventh, and small parts of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments so far have avoided the process of the nationalizing of rights through their incorporation into the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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After the adoption of the Constitution, the next significant use of this compact theory occurred in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798/9, authored by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, respectively, and triggered by the Adams Administration’s Sedition Act. These resolutions held that Congress had only limited and delegated powers. If Congress legislated beyond those powers, it invaded the reserved powers of the states and threatened to consolidate power in itself. Division of powers existed to protect the people’s rights against tyranny. A state government could, perhaps even must, then declare the unconstitutional nature of the Congressional action. Beyond that, matters got murky. The means of redress were left to each state. For Virginia, this included interposition of state authority between its citizens and Congressional usurpation of their rights. Whether this went beyond seeking political change by pressuring Congress to repeal the law or petitioning that body to call a constitutional convention under Article V of the Constitution, to actively using state executive authority to prevent enforcement of the federal law, was not discussed. Though it was implied, there was no clear assertion that the state’s action (by itself or in concurrence with others) outright nullified the offensive law. The more radical Jefferson, however, did allow that a state could nullify the offending federal law within its territory.

The 1798/9 Resolutions and the earlier debates on the Constitution featured prominently in subsequent national controversies. Similar expositions of the federal structure were used to justify the actions of New England Federalist Party politicians at the Hartford Convention in 1814 and the more radical ideas–such as secession–that were proposed there for future consideration.

Calhoun proposed his doctrine of state nullification of unconstitutional federal laws in his Exposition and Protest against the Tariff of 1828. In subsequent writings, such as his 1831 Fort Hill Address, he further developed and refined the constitutional foundation for nullification. At the same time, he also undertook to provide a constitutional basis to protect the rights of political minorities through his doctrine of “concurrent majorities.” Acts of government whose burdens fell heavily on a particular (geographical) minority had to be approved both by the national majority and that minority.

While Calhoun began with the same assumptions about the “compact nature” of the Constitution and the political structure which it comprised, he added some important refinements. Each part, the Union and the States, had their assigned powers. Neither could invade the powers of the other, as delegated to the former and generally reserved to the latter. The difficulty lay in resolving conflicts that might arise over their relationship. Interposition, as accepted in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, and nullification, as asserted by Jefferson in the latter, were prerogatives retained by the States against constitutional usurpations by the general government. But those tools were forms of protest, not resolution of conflict. The general government, being a creature of the Constitution, could not, through its agents, sit as judge in its own cause.

Calhoun relied on that 18th-century American contribution to political theory, the constitutional convention, to supply the remedy. Sovereignty lay in the people, as both sides agreed. As shown by the process of the Constitution’s adoption in the 1780s, an ultimate act of political association–and, by analogy, disassociation–by the people of a state required their consent. Since nullification of a federal law placed the state on a path to secession, the people must approve that initial step.  It was not possible, as a practical matter, to gather the people as a whole to debate and decide the matter. Hence, the action had to be undertaken by a special body elected by them and assembled for only that purpose. Only if the convention voted to nullify the federal law might the state legislature enact an ordinance of nullification. If the proper process of nullification was completed, it was up to Congress to resolve the controversy by calling a convention under Article V of the Constitution. If that convention voted in agreement with the state, and the convention’s action was approved by three-fourths of the states, the federal law was nullified. If the nullification was not approved either by the convention or the other states, the original state might vote to rescind the nullification or move to secede.

Calhoun’s proposal was built on existing constitutional process in Article V. However, he cleverly extended its reach because Article V required two-thirds of the states to petition Congress for a convention, while Calhoun’s convention was precipitated by the action of a single state. On the other hand, Calhoun stopped well short of the most rigid states’ rights position that potentially would legitimize nullification of a federal law within a state by the action of that state alone. Enough other states still had to concur to satisfy Article V, which assured against frequent resort by states to such a destabilizing course. Calhoun struck a balance between the interests of “Liberty and Union” in a manner that sought to avoid the extreme confederationalism of the unconditional nullifiers and secessionists, on the one hand, and of the biased nationalism of Congress and the Supreme Court. The former, after all, had been rejected by the language of the Articles of Confederation, in the ratifying debates on the Constitution, and in the formal rejection by many states of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. At the same time, neither the Congress–despite the structure of the Senate–acting politically, nor the Supreme Court, acting judicially to balance Congress’s powers under the Constitution with the Tenth Amendment, could be relied on as fair arbiters of national-state disputes.

Today, Calhoun’s approach lacks constitutional legitimacy, as do more radical theories of nullification and secession. Yet, one can detect more than a faint connection between the broad claims of earlier nullifiers and secessionists and what has sometimes been called the “neo-Confederate” position of California and other “sanctuary” cities and states regarding the harboring of aliens living in the United States in violation of immigration laws. But, as Calhoun and the earlier Antifederalists worried, the other constitutional protections against “consolidation” have proven inadequate to the task. The states can go, hat in hand, to plead their case politically to Congress or in litigation to the Supreme Court. But the Senate is, as often as not, a happy collaborator in expanding federal power at the expense of state autonomy. The Supreme Court, in turn, has declared the Tenth Amendment a mere “truism” and, excepting a few timid anomalies, appears content to strain constitutional language ever-more to extend the reach of federal power. Perhaps it was inevitable due to human nature and the inbuilt structural imperfections of the system, as the Antifederalists charged, or perhaps it is the result of the complexities of a massive modern industrial society, but today’s “federalism” is patently not the Founders’ declared vision.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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A persistent controversy during the Founding Period was the nature of the union and its relationship to the states. The issue had its antecedents during the colonial period in Benjamin Franklin’s proposed Albany Plan of Union in 1754. That unsuccessful proposal for–mostly–a defensive alliance among the colonies sought to produce a federation, “by virtue of which one general government may be formed in America…within and under which government each colony may retain its present constitution, except in the particulars wherein a change may be directed by the said act.” Franklin’s proposal bore a striking resemblance to more far-reaching subsequent attempts at union, such as the unsuccessful plan by Joseph Galloway in the First Continental Congress and the even more ambitious Articles of Confederation in the Second Continental Congress.

Common to all of these constitutional efforts was the confederal nature of the structure, with power emanating from the constituent colonies (or states) and granted to the federal “head.” Thus, the colonial assemblies or state legislatures selected the members of the union’s policy-making body, the powers of that body were limited to enumerated objectives that affected the union as a whole, and all other powers were expressly reserved to the constituent colonies or states. The Articles of Confederation–the most important effort until then, in that they created a more sophisticated and consummated plan of government–struck a delicate balance between federal power and ultimate state sovereignty. While the Congress had fairly significant powers that could be exercised either by a majority of the assembled states or, sometimes, by nine out of thirteen in the potentially delicate areas of taxation, commerce, and military mobilization, the Congress acted on the constituent states, not on the residents directly. As well, while states were authorized by the Articles to send multiple delegates to represent them in Congress, each state could cast only one vote. Finally, each state was described as having acted in its corporate capacity to create the union, and, to be part of the union, each had to approve the Articles, thereby clearly anchoring the locus of sovereignty in the independent founding states.

Debate over the Constitution of 1787 in the Philadelphia drafting convention and in the subsequent state ratifying conventions also focused significantly on the nature of the union and the relationship of the state and federal sovereignties. Opponents of the Constitution claimed that the states’ sovereignty had been destroyed. They warned, loudly, frequently, and widely, that the states’ republican essence was threatened by this new “consolidated” government, a freely-hurled epithet that threw the Constitution’s proponents on the rhetorical and political defensive.

As evidence for alarm, the Constitution’s opponents pointed to the broad new powers through which Congress acted on individuals directly and by-passed the states; the supporters pointed out that those powers were few in number. The opponents raised the availability of further implied powers, especially as embodied in the “necessary and proper” clause; the supporters (eventually) agreed in the Tenth Amendment that the states retained all powers not given to the general government; the opponents charged that this assurance fell far short of the Articles which had declared that the states retained all powers not expressly conferred on the Congress. Opponents claimed that the Constitution shunted aside the state sovereignty by declaring that the “People of the United States” had established the Constitution; supporters responded that the original draft had been that the “People of the States of [named 13 states]” had established it, but that there was no assurance that all thirteen states would eventually approve it, so the language was changed as a matter of form, not substance. Opponents pointed out that state conventions, not legislatures as constituent part of the state sovereignties, would approve the Constitution, and that only nine were necessary to do so; supporters rejoined that this reflected the ultimate sovereignty of the people and that, in any event, each state that wanted to be part of this new arrangement had to approve the Constitution.

James Madison in Federalist 39 made an earnest, though not always convincing, effort to minimize the changes from the Articles, by explaining how some of the Constitution’s characteristics indeed were national but that in many fundamental ways the new system retained its federal essence. Both sides were deeply at odds in their perceptions about the nature of the new constitutional structure. The position of Madison and other supporters of the Constitution was that there existed a dual sovereignty in this new federalism undergirded by the ultimate sovereignty of the people acting in and through the several states. Their critics dismissed this as nonsensical. Ultimately, practical sovereignty had to lie either with the state governments acting on the people or with the national government doing so. To the critics, the answer was clear, that the national government would expand its reach and destroy the state governments, consolidating all power within itself. The republic would end, and tyranny would rule.

Once the Constitution was adopted, the struggle turned to the issue of how, as a practical matter, to preserve state sovereignty and self-government within this novus ordo seclorum. One tool lay in the structure of the government itself. The Senate not only was a political counterweight for the small states against the larger states’ general influence in the economic and political direction of the union and their numerical power in the House of Representatives. That argument had been the tool to broker the great compromise in the early summer of 1787 that prevented the looming break-up of the convention. As well, the Senate, with its equal votes for each state, and a selection process that tied the membership directly to the legislatures of their state governments, represented what remained of the constitutional idea of a federalism resting on the constituent states. At least until the fundamental constitutional change wrought by the 17th Amendment, the state governments’ control of the Senate would negate or, at least, blunt efforts by the “popular” branch, the House of Representatives, to accrete power in the federal government at the expense of the states.

The extent to which the Framers’ envisioned role for the Senate was realized is unclear. The emergence of organized programmatic political parties introduced a variable that might redirect the loyalty of a senator from his state to a party and its national policies. On the other hand, senators were remarkably able in matters of great national controversy to focus on their home state governments’ political preferences and oppose their same-party fellows from other states who entertained contrary political positions. Senators’ votes on great national issues in the first half of the 19th century on war policy, tariffs, slavery, and, indeed, the nature of the union itself typically reflected whatever benefitted those Senators’ states, even at the risk of tearing apart the parties with which they were affiliated. The respective positions of Senators Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina on these matters are examples, even as they switched positions as their states’ interests required.

Calhoun, especially, recognized the increasingly tenuous hold of Southern states on the Senate and sought to develop a systematic constitutional theory to protect particular state institutions from national control. His specific concerns were, initially, the matter of protective tariffs sought by Northern manufacturing interests and opposed by Southerners as economically ruinous and, subsequently, preservation of the “peculiar institution” of slavery. As a more fundamental objective, he sought to bolster the ability of states generally to resist the consolidation of government in an increasingly self-regarding and confident American “nation.”

The constitutional case for vigorous state sovereignty to counter the dangers from a consolidated general government had been made frequently by the Constitution’s critics during the ratification debates. Their claim rested on the principle that the union was a compact of States. They pointed to the fact that the Constitution’s legitimacy rested on approval by the states; that the Constitution’s proponents frequently had asserted that the plan was not a revolutionary new system but an improvement of the extant one, as expressed in the Preamble’s objective to “form a more perfect Union;” and that failure to adopt the new plan would not mean the creation of 13 fully independent entities, but, rather, continuation of the earlier plan that had established a “perpetual union.” The shift from approval by the state legislatures under the Articles of Confederation to approval by state conventions under the proposed document merely reflected a more refined understanding of republican theory that fundamental alterations must reflect as clearly as practicable the consent of the governed.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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At the time of the Revolution, Americans had shown that established churches could co-exist with free exercise of religious conscience. Still, religious restrictions on holding office, requirements to attend some religious service and financial support of the colony’s official church through taxes remained. Of those, as might be expected, the last was the most reviled by the public and, thereby, most easily attacked by willing politicians. It is on that ground that disestablishment of most colonial churches was initiated during the Revolutionary and Early Republican periods.

The Southern colonies, especially, moved to disestablish the official status of the Anglican Episcopal Church. North Carolina began the process in 1776, followed during the war by New York, Maryland, and South Carolina. There also began a decade-long struggle in Virginia towards that end. The Virginia constitution of 1776 declared, “THAT religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience ….” Thus was protected free exercise, but the established church yet survived. After the war, demands increased to disestablish the Episcopal Church, tainted by its connection to the Church of England. In 1784, the popular governor, Patrick Henry, proposed his “Bill Establishing a Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion.” This would have protected de facto the preferred position of the Episcopal Church even if formal disestablishment were to occur, because it had the majority of pastors. Madison helped defeat the bill with his “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments” when it came up for a vote in 1785. Madison was motivated in part by what he perceived as continuing persecution of religious dissent, despite the state constitution’s high-sounding declaration. He fulminated in 1784, “That diabolical, Hell conceived principle of persecution rages among some and, to their eternal infamy, the clergy can furnish their quota of imps for such business.” Finally, on January 16, 1786, the legislature adopted Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Liberty, to disestablish fully the Episcopal Church.

On the other hand, the deeply engrained theocratic tradition in New England prevented complete disestablishment of the Congregational Church. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 had a strongly pious Preamble, and in Article II of its Declaration of Rights asserted not only the right, but the duty, of everyone “publickly, and at stated seasons, to worship the SUPREME BEING, the Great Creator and Preserver of the Universe.” To be sure, no one would be punished for worshipping God according to the dictates of his conscience. But worship, one must. Article III emphasized the classic republican connection among good government, religion, and morality. This connection could only be maintained by the “publick worship of God, and…publick instructions in piety, religion and morality.” Accordingly, the legislature was directed to require the “towns…and other bodies politick, or religious societies” to provide financial support for such public worship and for “the support and maintenance of publick protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.” Moreover, the people, acting through their legislature, could compel attendance at these services.

These blunt commands were softened by allowing those paying the support to direct that the funds go to a religious teacher of their own denomination whose services the taxpayer attended. If there was none, the funds went to the support of teachers the parish selected. Most likely, those selected would belong to the Congregational Church, in light of its dominance among the populace. As well, the same article prohibited the formal legal subordination of one denomination to another. This partial disestablishment of the Congregational Church was largely undermined by the support provision. Adherence to proper religious doctrine was also enforced for state officials through their declaration before taking office that they “believe the christian [sic] religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth.”

By the time the Constitution was adopted, most states had fully disestablished their churches, though Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maryland, and North Carolina retained some provision for mandatory taxation for the religion of one’s choosing. At the state ratifying conventions, many delegates had expressed fear that Congress might establish a national religion. The first Congress in 1789 debated a proposed Bill of Rights. Madison included a provision that no one’s rights should be abridged by Congress on account of religion, and that no national religion shall be established. The right of conscience was also protected in another section against invasion by the states. Significantly, the draft said nothing about state religious establishments. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts objected to “national” as implying that the United States was a consolidated entity, rather than a confederation. In response, the Report of the House Committee altered the language to “no religion shall be established by law.” The sections protecting the rights of conscience against infringement by Congress and the states, respectively, were unchanged. There still was no language about state religious establishments.

The amendments adopted by the House once more changed the language. Congress was disabled from establishing religion or prohibiting its free exercise. The rights of conscience were expressly protected once more against infringement by either Congress or the states. Yet again, no such language addressed state religious establishments. The clear implication of the language, then, was that states were not prohibited from having official churches, as long as the rights of conscience were maintained, but that Congress could not establish a church for the United States.

The Senate adopted its own amendments. The relevant provision prohibited Congress from “establishing articles of faith, or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.” The House’s restriction on interference with the rights of conscience by the states was dropped. A conference between House and Senate developed the language submitted to the states for approval. The Senate’s establishment language was seen as too weak, as it opened the door for Congress to fund a religious body, thereby creating an established church through the back door of preferred financial support. In turn, the House’s language that restricted state legislative power was deemed contrary to the purpose of the Bill of Rights, namely, to limit the general government. The result was, as Supreme Court justice and professor of constitutional law at Harvard, Joseph Story, wrote later in his influential Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, “[The] whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions.” Further, Story wrote, “The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government…. [The] Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.”

However, simply adopting in isolation the House’s language that merely prohibited Congress from establishing religion would suggest that Congress could disestablish existing state churches.  That possibility ran counter to the federal nature of the union and endangered adoption of the amendments by undermining support in New England. That produced the awkward language that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Congress shall not establish formal religious orthodoxy through a national church, such as the overall still dominant Episcopal Church; at the same time, Congress, likely to be dominated by adherents of that church, shall not make it its business to disestablish existing state churches. The clause, one might say, incorporates a principle of antidisestablishmentarianism, too. Free exercise of religion (but not of non-religion) was fully embraced even in New England by the late 1780s, though it took several more decades of controversy to disestablish fully the Congregational Church in Connecticut (1819) and Massachusetts (1833).

Today, determining the scope and meaning of the establishment clause in controversies far removed from imprisonment for dissent, civil disabilities for attending prescribed religious services, or direct funding of specific ecclesiastical bodies has proved difficult for the Supreme Court. The clause retains both aspects of disestablishment and of its opposite. Religious test oaths are forbidden, which also means that one’s position even as a leader of a religious denomination is not a disqualifier from political office. The recent questioning by Senators Kamala Harris and Maizie Hirono of a nominee to the federal bench about his fitness for office due to his membership in the Catholic Knights of Columbus at least violates the principle behind the prohibition of such oaths.

As well, the Supreme Court has frequently reminded courts and legislatures that the establishment clause prohibits laws that demonstrate hostility to religion. Indeed, government may take a position of benevolent neutrality towards religion and may (and sometimes must) accommodate the actions of religious believers in otherwise neutral laws of general applicability. Certainly, contrary to some exaggerated assertions based on a hasty metaphor in a politically-charged letter by Thomas Jefferson, the clause does not represent a strict principle of an “impenetrable wall of separation” between church and state. Rather, the establishment clause originally represented a limit on the general government to interfere with institutions that represented the sovereign authority of the people of the states, either by displacing them with a superior national church or by prohibiting them (or, even worse, just some of them) directly. The free exercise clause (and its ubiquitous counterparts in the state constitutions) protected the individual rights of conscience and free exercise of religion, a distinction that Justice Clarence Thomas has emphasized. Today, the establishment clause attempts to strike a balance between, on the one hand, the importance to republican government of fostering the natural human inclination to religion and association in religious communities and, on the other, the social instability that historically has occurred when the realm of Caesar is fused to a particular conception of God, as well as the inevitable corruption of religious doctrine and institutions that results from dependence on government favors.

Let the unabashedly left-wing Justice William Douglas have the last word. He wrote in 1952 in Zorach v. Clausen, “The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State…. Otherwise the state and religion would be aliens to each other—hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly…. We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being…. When the State encourages religious instruction…, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe.”

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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In the history of human society, religion and politics have almost inevitably been intertwined. Those in control of the organs of government seek to harness for their own legitimacy and power the natural human longing to participate in a project that transcends one’s everyday life. Religious belief and participation in religious ceremonies satisfy that personal longing, while they are also useful tools to control the actions of the populace and sustain the social order. Because politics has those same objectives of control and order, the levers of religious and political power not infrequently have been held by the same hands. The normal outgrowth of this is an officially-recognized religious dogma with approved outward manifestations, along with suppression, to different extents, of those who would deviate from the true path. In similar vein, those who would dissent from religious orthodoxy often make common cause with those who would challenge the reigning political faction.

In the medieval Christian West, there was a formal separation between the religious and political spheres, represented by Pope and Emperor, which reflected Jesus’s teaching about the superior domain of God and the profane (in the classic meaning) temporal world. However, there, too, the reality was different, in that those entrusted with the care of the soul often participated in power politics. The Pope and his control over the Papal States, the various warrior-bishops in the Holy Roman Empire, the English House of Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Archbishop/Electors that chose the Holy Roman Emperor come to mind. As well, secular rulers frequently attempted to influence, by various means, the selection of the Pope and subordinate clergy, and to secure the endorsement of the administrators of the spiritual realm for immediate political goals. The “Babylonian Captivity” of the popes at Avignon under the control of the French king is a prime example.

The end of feudalism and the emergence of the modern State were marked by increased wealth of the political rulers and by centralization of power in the person and the office of the king. In that era of royal absolutism, competing centers of power which might dilute the king’s ability to lay sole claim on the subjects’ loyalties had to be made to submit. Thus, the nobility, stripped of its important ancient privileges, increasingly became courtiers residing at the monarch’s court, where they were more easily controlled. The clergy, too, had to be neutralized. Much is told about King Henry VIII’s project to reduce the Catholic Church to the Church in England and, later, the Church of England–with the monarch as its head. Henry was not alone. With the shattering of the Universal Christian Church by the Reformation, the Holy Roman Empire’s superficial political universality came under pressure. The constituent duchies, principalities, and other assorted noble enclaves aligned based on religion, often for reasons of the rulers’ political ambitions. The specter of religious warfare induced the various parties to adopt the principle of cuius regio, eius religio, that is, the religion of the ruler (Catholicism or Lutheranism) would be the religion of the ruled. Those who did not wish to follow their rulers’ lead could emigrate to a more sympathetic realm; otherwise they might be subject to persecution.

With the vessel of religious universality broken, the essentially anarchistic imperative of Protestantism (“sola scriptura”) led to the formation of various sects beyond the relatively conservative Lutherans and the even more traditional Anglicans. Despite the establishment of the Church of England, the struggle between Anglicanism and Catholicism continued during the 16th and 17th centuries, as various English monarchs favored one or the other. Calvinist Presbyterians, nominally dissenters in England, also had a brief turn in power, through the person of James I Stuart, who had become the head of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland during his tenure as King of Scotland. Excluded from political power were adherents of various dissenting sects, such as Anabaptists and Quakers, and, except during the Oliver Cromwell “Protectorate,” other Calvinists. Their radicalism was seen as subversive of the existing order. Those and other dissenters primarily belonged to the middle classes of artisans, farmers, and merchants.

The common denominator in most European polities was the formal establishment of a particular Christian denomination and the suppression of dissenting views. There were exceptions, however. For example, the 17th century United Provinces of the Netherlands established the Dutch Reformed Church as the official religious body, yet broadly tolerated free exercise of religion even by non-traditional Christians and by Jews. This policy of relative tolerance attracted many adherents of persecuted faiths to the Dutch Republic. It also presented an alternative model to that of most state churches at the time, namely, that officially established state churches need not result in suppression of dissent.

Among the English dissenters were two groups of Calvinists, the “Pilgrim Fathers” and the “Puritans.” While the former sought to separate themselves from the Church of England, the latter hoped to purify it from within by continuing to associate their congregations with the official church. They abandoned that policy after the Restoration and became the Congregational Church. Both groups established settlements in New England. Despite their geographic proximity, their theological differences–though perhaps trivial to an outsider–kept them distinct for several decades, until the Pilgrims’ Plymouth colony was absorbed by the much larger Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1690.

In popular myth, Europeans came to British North America in search of religious freedom, which they heartily extended to all who joined them. The truth is more complex. The Pilgrims and Puritans, for example, indeed came for religious freedom, but for themselves only. Conformity in community, not diversity or toleration of dissent, was the goal. God’s law controlled, and governance was put in the hands of those who could be trusted to be faithful to the ultimate objective, the realization of the City of God on Earth.

As the Pilgrims’ “Mayflower Compact” of November 11, 1620, stated, “Having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the christian [sic] faith, and the honour of our King and country, voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; [we] …combine ourselves…into a civil body politick, for furtherance of the ends aforesaid ….” Puritan colonies in New England similarly strived for their goal to “lead the New Testament life, yet make a living,” as the historian Samuel Eliot Morison summarized it. The “Fundamental Orders” of the Connecticut River towns in 1639, a basic written constitution, set as their purpose to “enter into…confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said gospel is now practiced among us ….” As in Massachusetts Bay, justice was to be administered according to the laws established by the new government, “and for want thereof according to the rule of the word of God.” The Governor must “be always a member of some approved congregation.”

The theocratic nature of the 17th century New England societies meant that they limited new settlers to those who belonged to their approved strain of Puritanism. Those numbered many thousands, however, as the Massachusetts Bay Colony grew to 10,000 within four years. Dissenters were expelled. Those who failed to get the message of conformity were subject to punishment, such as four Quakers who were publicly executed in 1659 after they repeatedly entered the colony and challenged the ruling authorities.

The religious congregationalism that was at the core of the Puritans’ anti-episcopalism and which justified their expulsion of dissenters from their religio-political commonwealth also caused those dissenters to form communities of like-minded believers. Some of them, such as the famous dissenters Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, founded settlements in what became Rhode Island. Unlike Massachusetts Bay, these new settlements allowed freedom of conscience and lacked the official religion of other New England settlements.

During the English rule, at least nine colonies had formally established churches, generally the Anglican Church, and all required office holders to be at least Christians. However, other colonies’ founding had lacked the theocratic imperative of New England. While the Anglican Church enjoyed economic and political benefits from its established position, freedom of conscience and practice was extended to other Protestant denominations. Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina were founded with the deliberate goal of protecting peaceable religious practice. Other colonies, seeking to attract as many settlers as possible for the financial gain of investors (Virginia, New York) or proprietors (New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia) had pragmatic reasons to tread softly on the issue of religious orthodoxy.

The position of Catholics and Jews to practice their faith was more tenuous. In England, the Bill of Rights adopted in 1689 officially declared the country a “protestant” realm and prohibited the monarch from being, or being married to, a Catholic, a prohibition reinforced in the Act of Settlement of 1701. Similarly, only Protestants were guaranteed the right to bear arms. Other statutory restrictions on Catholics, Jews, and non-trinitarian Christian sects remained in place well into the 19th century.

In North America, even enlightened charters demonstrated the limits of religious tolerance. Colonial Pennsylvania rightfully has had a reputation for religious liberality. Thus, its 1701 Charter of Privileges declares that no person “who shall Confess and acknowledge one Almighty God…shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced in his or their person or Estate because of his or their Conscientious perswasion [sic] or Practice” or to attend any religious worship or do anything else contrary to their religious beliefs. Nevertheless, that same charter, as well as Pennsylvania’s lengthy “Frame of the Government” in 1682, contained a ubiquitous feature of such constitutions, the religious test oath or affirmation, in this case that all government officials had to “profess faith in Jesus Christ.” Maryland’s Toleration Act of 1649 recognized freedom of worship for anyone “professing to believe in Jesus Christ. However, the Act also provided for the death penalty for blasphemy or “[denying] our Saviour Jesus Christ to bee the sonne of God, or shall deny the holy Trinity the father sonne and holy Ghost.”

The formal establishments remained during the 18th century. However, the enforcement of religious conformity and suppression of dissent was undermined by the growth of the populations from many different European countries, the diversity of their religious beliefs, the relative isolation of settlements due to the large size of the colonies outside New England, and the scarcity of Anglican clergy and absence of a strong hierarchy. True, local communities might be remarkably homogeneous. In the colony at large, Quakers might be attracted to Pennsylvania for shared religious values, Catholics to Maryland, and Congregationalists to New England. Anglicans might be the majority in most colonies. Yet, the variety of sects within a colony and, even more pronounced, across the several North American colonies, combined with the general desire for material success, made tolerance a pragmatic policy. Eventually, pragmatic necessity became aspirational virtue. It must not be overlooked, however, that even the most tolerant polities had no use for skeptics, agnostics, or atheists. There was no Inquisition; the reality was more akin to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Nevertheless, freedom of religion did not mean freedom from religion.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

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A recurrent theme during the debates in 1787 and 1788 over adoption of the Constitution was the structural incompatibility of “confederation” with “consolidation.” The latter was the feared absorption of the states into a unitary general government, so that they ceased to be sovereign members of a “union.” As counties or districts were consolidated within a state, so states would be in the United States.

The Articles of Confederation had guarded against that. In addition to laying out a number of substantive powers and the detailed means by which those powers were to be exercised, they carefully delineated the boundary between the states and the Congress: “Each state retains its sovereignty…, and every Power [sic]…, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” Moreover, under the Articles, Congress acted as a true “federal head” on the corpus of the states. Not only did the states have equal voting rights, but Congress acted on the states, not on the citizens directly. The last was the constitutional role of the state legislatures. Thus, under Article VIII of the Confederation, all charges assessed by Congress were to be paid by the states in prescribed proportion, and the “taxes for paying that proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the several states ….”

By contrast, the new Constitution allowed Congress to bypass the state legislatures and act directly on the people through the powers laid out in Article I, Section 8, including the power to control its own sources of revenue by taxation. More ominously, clause 18 of that section gave Congress the power to make all laws “necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.” If that were not enough, Article VI of that document declared that, among other types of law, the statutes of Congress would be the supreme law of the land, and thereby override any state laws that Congress might deem contrary to the exercise of its own powers.

Both the “sweeping” or “elastic” clause (the aforementioned “necessary and proper clause”) and the “supremacy clause” drew the alarm of the Constitution’s opponents. Jefferson, writing to Senator Edward Livingston in 1800, illustrated their concerns, which had not disappeared with the document’s adoption. Congress had recently chartered a mining company.  Jefferson sarcastically compared this action to a popular nursery rhyme: “Congress are authorized to defend the nation. Ships are necessary for defense; copper is necessary for ships; mines, necessary for copper; a company necessary to work the mines; and who can doubt this reasoning who has ever played at ‘This is the House that Jack Built’?”

Even the preamble of the Constitution drew criticism. In passionate speeches to the Virginia ratifying convention in June, 1788, Patrick Henry drew a stark distinction: Had the preamble spoken of “we [sic] the States,” it would have been a confederation. Rather, it spoke of “We, the people, instead of the States of America,” a clear designation of a consolidated government. Henry saw that type of government as a grave threat to basic liberty. He specifically cited the “relinquishment of the trial by jury, and the liberty of the press” as well as threats to the states’ maintenance of their militias.

Attacking from another direction, he denounced Congress’s new power to tax the people directly, another feature of consolidated government, which replaced the Confederation’s system of assessments collected by the states for the federal head. In colorful language, he described the pathology of the new system: “In this scheme of energetic Government, the people will find two sets of tax-gatherers–the State and the Federal Sheriffs….The Federal Sheriff may…ruin you with impunity….Have you any sufficient decided means of preventing him from sucking your blood by speculations, commissions, and fees? Thus thousands of your people will be most shamefully robbed: Our State Sheriffs, those unfeeling blood-suckers, have, under the watchful eye of our Legislature, committed the most horrid and barbarous ravages on our people ….If Sheriffs thus immediately under the eye of our State Legislature and Judiciary, have dared to commit these outrages, what would they not have done if their masters had been at Philadelphia or New York?”

Henry charged, the defenders of the Constitution also were mistaken when they asserted that the federal and state governments would exercise their respective powers as in a “parallel line,” with each confined to its proper objects. Rather, there was no clear line drawn generally in the Constitution between the two levels of government. Even when a specific line was drawn, no mechanism existed to prevent one sovereignty from encroaching on the other. Inevitably, Henry argued, the more powerful general government must necessarily subvert the state governments. Hence, the “necessity of a Bill of Rights appear [sic] to me to be greater in this Government, than ever it was in any Government before.” Indeed, Henry rhetorically preferred the English structure, with its Bill of Rights to limit the King, to the proposed American Constitution that lacked such a document.

The structure of checks and balances among the branches of government and the split sovereignty of the Constitution’s version of federalism were, as Madison and other supporters had insisted, the bulwark to constrain the general government and to protect the people’s rights against arbitrary power. Henry represented the views of many in the various state conventions and, indeed, in the Philadelphia drafting convention, that their plasticity and permeability made such political measures insufficient. Henry’s fellow-Virginian, George Mason, instrumental in forming the Constitution in Philadelphia, left that convention before the final vote, due to that body’s refusal to include a bill of rights. Several other delegates departed for similar reasons. These critics insisted that a firm and clear enumeration of limits on the general government was needed, just as Virginia and some other states had in their own constitutions.

The objections voiced by Henry and others in the several state conventions, caused many of those bodies to submit lists of proposed amendments to the Constitution along with their votes to approve the charter itself. Consistently, these proposals sought to establish a clear line between the two sovereignties’ legislative powers. However, a nuanced, but substantively essential, difference in the language emerged between submissions from states that approved the Constitution early, contrasted with actions by later conventions. Between December 12, 1787, and June 21, 1788, the proposals from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Hampshire, all contained variations on the following language: “That it be explicitly declared that all Powers not expressly delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several states to be by them exercised.” [Emphasis added.] (Massachusetts). That formulation approximated that in the Articles of Confederation. Thereafter, the three states that sent such proposals framed them without the word “expressly.”

The verbal difference illustrated a shift in the federal nature of the two sovereignties and was clearly understood. This shift was reflected in Madison’s language in what became the Tenth Amendment. His initial proposal in the First Congress read, “The powers not delegated by this constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively.” When an amendment to this language was proposed on the floor of the House to insert “expressly” [delegated], Madison referred to the extensive debate in the Virginia convention. There, he had opposed such an addition as inconsistent with the structural change in the respective constitutional positions of the states and the general government in the new Constitution. He saw the proposed change to his draft as returning the government to the Articles of Confederation. Madison prevailed; the eventual Tenth Amendment did not include this critical adverb. Years later, in McCulloch v. Maryland, Chief Justice Marshall used this textual difference between the two charters to demonstrate the shift in sovereignty and to sustain his broad reading of the general government’s legislative powers.

Still, it would be historically incorrect to say that the principal objective of the Bill of Rights was to protect the states’ power to legislate. Rather, as reflected in the first eight amendments, the objective was to protect expressly the rights of the people from intrusion by the general government into their liberty. Even Henry spent considerable oratory emphasizing the threat the general government posed directly to the rights of the people. If it was necessary for the people’s liberty to have clear limitations against the state government in the Virginia constitution, how much more were they required against the general government?

The Bill of Rights only applied to the general government, not the states, as the Supreme Court affirmed in 1833, in Barron v. City of Baltimore. Protection of state authority to legislate was, to be sure, an incidental aspect of the project. For example, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause sheltered the continued existence of established state churches. As well, the Second Amendment protected the states’ ability to sustain a militia in the event the federal government used its powers to frustrate the formal state governments’ control over that body. But that amendment did so by recognizing the right of the people, individually, to keep and bear arms, and to organize themselves into militias outside the corporate state governments, if needed.

Moreover, to the extent that the Bill of Rights protected the states’ legislative powers, this was not an unalloyed blessing for individuals. For example, Thomas Jefferson and other Republicans of the time denounced John Adams and the Federalist Party for passage of the Sedition Act of 1798. They claimed the statute violated the First Amendment and exceeded Congress’s legislative powers. At the same time, Jefferson encouraged his political allies in states that they controlled to prosecute Federalist editors under state anti-sedition laws. It was not until the Supreme Court in the 20th century began to incorporate Bill of Rights protections into the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and apply them to the states, that states were prevented from curtailing individual rights beyond what the federal government could do.

Unfortunately, the fears of Henry and other skeptics about the reach of federal power and the erosion of state sovereignty have come true. From a constitutional perspective, the Tenth Amendment is a shadow of what it represented at the time of the ratification debates. If Congress acts directly on individuals under the broad reach of the commerce power, the Tenth Amendment is no real barrier. Only if Congress, instead of legislating directly, seeks to “commandeer” the states into adopting federal policies or administering federal laws is there a violation of the states’ residual sovereignty. Even that obstacle is easily evaded, if Congress attaches the states’ compliance with prescribed federal policies as a condition of receiving federal funds. Yet, as the American people have come to experience, states and localities still legislate vigorously, much more than during the Republic’s early years despite the erosion of their constitutional sovereignty. However, their ability to do so is primarily a function of practicality. It is simply too inefficient to have most local matters administered by federal officers and bureaucrats.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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Republican government operates through voting and representation. In a geographically large polity, physical distance makes direct voting by its citizens impractical. In a populous polity, direct voting by citizens likewise becomes impractical, as it is difficult for a significant number of them to engage in proposing and debating public measures, or, as was the case even in ancient Athens, to find a place for all to gather. In both scenarios, the principle of consent of the governed as the ethical basis of the government is eroded as popular participation diminishes. Political participation must then be channeled into electing representatives who will vote on the citizens’ behalf in the law-making assembly. Setting the qualifications of those entrusted with the vote and defining the basis of the representational system thus become crucial endeavors for the polity. The focus in this essay is on the nature of representation.

As the writers of The Federalist Papers explained, a representational system based on population must address two conflicting pressures. The population in the relevant districts must be sufficiently small that the representative realistically may be said to reflect the concerns of his constituents, yet not so small as to increase the size of the assembly to the point of functional ineffectiveness. As James Madison observed in Federalist 52, “[I]t is particularly essential that the [House of Representatives] should have an … intimate sympathy with, the people.” At the same time, he wrote four essays later, “The truth is, that in all cases, a certain number at least seems to be necessary to secure the benefits of free consultation and discussion; and to guard against too easy a combination for improper purposes: as on the other hand, the number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude….Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” The Philadelphia Convention set the original apportionment among states at no more than one seat in the House of Representatives for each 40,000 residents. On the last day of the Convention, that was decreased without debate to 30,000, a number that James Madison in Federalist 56 noted to be the ratio in the British House of Commons, as well.

The concern about districts that are too populous ties into the broader question of what constitutes a political “community.” That concern is not new. In his book The Laws, Plato put the ideal size at 5,040 citizens. Reflecting his Pythagorean fascination with numbers and mathematical precision, that size is the product of multiplying numbers 1 through 7 by each other. Since “citizens” did not include women, children, metics (aliens), and slaves, the actual population of such a community likely would be between 30,000 and 50,000, with 40,320 being Plato’s citizen number multiplied by 8. In what is unlikely to be coincidental, James Madison in Federalist 57 notes that House members would be elected by 5000 to 6000 citizens each. Aristotle was less precise. He opined that the polis had to be large enough to be self-sufficient, yet not so large that people did not know each other and order could not be maintained. Although Athenian citizens voted directly in the democratic assembly, the same measures of community would apply in a republican system of representation by districts. To exercise wise judgment in political matters, either as a voter or representative, it helps to know your fellow citizens personally and their concerns and interests. As Madison agreed in Federalist 56, “It is a sound and important principle, that the representative ought to be acquainted with the interests and circumstances of his constituents.”

With the large population of the United States, representation in the House is now based on districts that each have, on average, about three-fourths of a million residents, roughly the size of the largest state in the Union in 1790, Virginia. This departs grotesquely from the traditional understanding of community and calls into question how “republican” the system of governance in the United States is today. The vast majority of voters cannot personally get to know the candidates, or they the voters. Voters cannot gage accurately the general community concerns and interests, as they cannot interact extensively with a sufficient number of their fellow-residents. Campaign flyers the month before the election, occasional forums before necessarily limited numbers of constituents, and, from only a few representatives, a brief message or constituent survey once or twice a year cannot establish the requisite relationship for truly republican self-government. Much “debate” of issues occurs either through mass distribution of brief collections of grossly distorted “facts” in campaign literature, unverifiable claims in “robocalls,” and maudlin appeals to emotions in televised ads, or through the musings of “talking heads” colored by personal ideology or financial interest. As a result, voter confusion and ignorance increases. Many are turned off by the process and, from this alienation, voter participation decreases. That, then, empties “consent of the governed” of its practical content and threatens to make it an entirely theoretical construct to hide the actions of an oligarchic government of the elite, by the elite, and for the elite.

Two factors might counteract the threat that populous districts pose to the republican principle of representation. One is the technological revolution that allows participation via one’s computer in virtual “town halls” with candidates and in debates among constituents through blogs or other websites. The second is that matters of national importance such as war, foreign relations, interstate commerce, immigration, and a sound currency affect all Americans. Therefore, there is less salience to the idea that a representative need be clearly cognizant of the particular sentiments of his district’s inhabitants.

As to the first, Madison addressed in Federalist 10 how the small number and physical proximity of local populations facilitates communication of ideas and conformity of interests. While he certainly did not consider this an unmixed blessing in either a democratic assembly or a legislative body, he accepted it as a traditional aspect of self-rule. However, the sheer number of potential participants and the necessarily limited time and frequency of virtual “town halls” still makes connection on a personal level among participants and with their representative unlikely.

Other versions of electronic communication have led to “virtual communities” that form apart from physical domiciles. There are several problems here. Those communities often are national, if not international. Their interests and concerns, and those of the blogger, may not reflect those of the district that elects the representative. Moreover, experience tells us that much debate on those blogs by commenters involves irrelevancies and digressions, as well as invective that, were it delivered in person rather than through the safety and anonymity of the computer keyboard in an undisclosed location, would be strongly curtailed. Such distractions would be much less likely to be tolerated in a physical meeting. The absence of an enforced agenda and the lack of civil discourse in such settings again alienates many, who then choose not to participate. Finally, there are intangible aspects to physical interactions that facilitate personal bonds and resolution of problems. Those aspects are lacking when discussion occurs through disconnected remarks among an atomized group of physically isolated commenters.

As to the second, the immediately obvious problem is that Congress no longer limits its legislation to truly national issues. Instead, the expansion of Congress’s substantive powers regarding interstate commerce, taxation, and spending, approved in Supreme Court opinions, brings personal decisions and policies that have predominantly local effect within Congress’s reach. For such issues, the particular needs and interests of local minorities are more likely to go unrepresented in larger, more homogenized districts. This is especially true since the Supreme Court has held that any population inequality in a state’s congressional districts will be closely scrutinized, thereby making it more difficult to adjust district boundaries to give such minorities a voice. As well, the problem of very large populations within legislative districts applies to many state and local bodies who are not dealing with national issues, but whose policies also are increasingly restrictive against personal actions. While it is admittedly an outlier, the five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors makes policy that potentially affects over 10 million residents. California State Senate districts have about a million residents apiece; each Assembly district has a half-million, larger than all but one state in 1790. Some states and most localities have smaller districts, but other populous states’ legislatures operate similarly.

Another aspect of republican doctrine about representation is the requirement that two legislative chambers must concur in legislation. Bicameralism is not an essential republican feature, but it is nevertheless common. Such division serves to control the passions and self-interest of the general citizenry and, therefore, of their representatives, that is, “the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies, to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions,” per Madison in Federalist 62. The typical form is that the “lower” chamber represents the interests of the numerically predominant social or economic class, and the “upper” house represents a different class, usually deemed wiser and more dispassionate in its deliberations for the common good.

There have been many forms of bicameralism. Even the ancient Athenian democracy did not place unrestricted power in the citizenry gathered in the popular Assembly. There was a Council of 500, apportioned equally among ten districts, whose members were chosen by lot (akin to a jury system). Each month of the ten-month “Conciliar Calendar” year, a district’s members would compose the 50-member steering committee that controlled the legislative agenda of the Assembly, especially in financial matters. In the Roman Republic, power was divided between the patrician Senate of the landed aristocracy and various assemblies of the plebeians. Those assemblies were further divided among six plebeian classes based on their wealth. That division maximized the power of the knights (“equites”), the wealthiest of the commoners, and minimized the influence of the poor.

Such wealth-based or status-based division has been a common form of bicameralism. When Britain controlled the American colonies, Parliament was composed of the House of Lords, whose members were certain high-level clergy of the Church of England (“Lords Spiritual”) and the hereditary landed high nobility (“Lords Temporal”), and the House of Commons, which represented the gentry and commercial classes. In the early United States, the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 specified that males meeting a set property qualification could vote. However, the two houses of the General Court (legislature) were based on different political principles and had different qualifications for the members. The state’s House of Representatives was apportioned on the basis of population (actually, qualified voters) in incorporated towns. The Senate was apportioned among districts based on their wealth, as measured by the taxes collected from that district. The members of the House had property qualifications significantly higher than the voters, and the members of the Senate had property qualifications twice as high as those for the House. Such tiered property qualifications were not uncommon for voters and representatives in state legislatures for several decades after independence. As well, distinct methods of apportionment between the chambers of the legislature, as in the Massachusetts model, were common.

The Articles of Confederation provided for only a single chamber, and representation was based on the equal status of the States as constituent members. When the Framers drafted the Constitution, the Great Compromise of 1787 resulted in a House of Representatives primarily based on population and a Senate based on the same principle of state equality as under the Articles. The division was not formally class-based. Instead, it reflected a practical accommodation of political minorities in a large and diverse political entity whose residents’ primary identity was with their local communities. From another perspective, the smaller number of Senators and their longer terms would provide the necessary independence from fleeting popular passions and foster the reflection and wisdom to restrain the feared reflexiveness and tempestuousness of the House. There were no property qualifications specified for legislators, so that the broadest pool of talent was available. As the Supreme Court found in Powell v. McCormack (1969), the Framers did not intend that Congress could add qualifications to age, citizenship, and state residency explicitly provided in the Constitution. In 1995, in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, the Court held, with less historical justification, that states were likewise restricted. Property qualifications for voters were left to the discretion of each state, as long as qualifications were not more restrictive than those the state had for voters for the lower house of its own legislature. By the mid-1960s, however, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment and the Supreme Court’s decision in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) made it unlikely that any wealth-based restriction on voting was constitutional.

In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment changed the method by which Senators were chosen. Henceforth, they would be elected directly by voters. Recent critics have called for repeal of that amendment, because they view it as having caused the decline of the states’ political influence relative to the general government. However, the change from the original method of selecting Senators was the product of a long trend, not a sudden upheaval. A proposal to amend the Constitution to provide for popular election of Senators was introduced as early as 1826. For a couple of decades before the Seventeenth Amendment was adopted, states had been moving to allow “preference elections” by the people that would recommend to the legislature the person to be selected, thereby putting political pressure on legislators to select the winner.

It is unlikely that such a repeal movement would succeed, given the current culture of activist government and the political inertia in favor of constantly expanding the totality of voters. It is also doubtful that the power of the federal government would be reduced, even if the movement were successful. It requires suspension of disbelief to think that the California legislature, whose members are increasingly drawn from the Democratic Party’s most radical factions, is suddenly going to select Senators who favor turning off the federal spigot of funds, combatting illegal immigration, or supporting a person’s right to bear arms. Politics is downstream from culture, and the majority of people favors getting government-directed largesse paid for by others. The problem for republicanism, in other words, is with the voters, not with the representatives they elect.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums,and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at:http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

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In June, 1765, through the work of Patrick Henry, the Virginia House of Burgesses resolved:

…That the Taxation of the People by themselves, or by Persons chosen by themselves to represent them…is the only Security against a burthensome Taxation, and the distinguishing Characteristick of British Freedom, without which the ancient Constitution cannot exist.

…That his Majesty’s liege People…have without Interruption enjoyed the inestimable Right of being governed by such Laws, respecting their internal Policy and Taxation, as are derived from their own Consent ….

Several months later, the Stamp Act Congress echoed those principles, which reflect several connected components of colonial constitutional theory, among them that government rests on consent of the governed and that taxes must come from those who pay them or through their representatives (“no taxation without representation”).

The struggle over revenue had long occupied the king and Parliament. Matters came to a head in the 17th century, an era that began with sovereignty in the former and ended with it in the latter. Parliamentary theory rested on the idea that, while the king has certain “prerogatives,” outside those he is subject to the law. A fundamental principle of law is that one cannot take from another what is the latter’s. Thus, the king cannot take the property of the people in the form of taxes. However, the people are free to make a gift to the king who is in need of funds to act for the common good. They might do so directly, but, as such a system would be difficult to administer, their political representatives might consent on their behalf. Less clear, however, was how those political representatives could give that consent on behalf of those who might object.

The same contentions arose in the colonies, long before the Stamp Act controversy. For effective governance, every political system seeks obedience to its edicts by convincing the people of their obligation to do so, i.e. not that they “must” obey or suffer the consequences, but that they “ought” to do so because it is ethically right. One way to establish the ethical basis of government is that it is essential to human society due to our nature as social beings. Another is to justify government as ordained by God for human flourishing. A third way, common in modernity, is to use voluntary human choice to institute government through a “social contract.”

Colonies in British North America were established through three mechanisms, each of which is grounded in some manner in social contract theory. First came the private, for-profit colony, represented by the Virginia Company of London, which founded Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Investors bought shares in a joint-stock company, a concept of pooling capital somewhat akin to a modern business corporation. Under its charter, the Company was managed by a council in London. Its operations in the New World were directed by a governor and council appointed by the Company. Until 1609, there was also a Royal Council appointed by the king to look after the crown’s interests in its domain.

After a period of military rule as the colony struggled to survive, the Company in 1619 ordered the creation of a representative body to attract more settlers. When the Company’s charter was revoked in 1624, Virginia became a royal colony. The king appointed the governor and council, but the locals (“burgesses”) chose the assembly. Though its status initially was somewhat precarious, by 1639, the king recognized the right of this House of Burgesses to meet permanently. Though there were local variations, this model of governor and council plus local assembly became the pattern for all English colonies, and the House of Burgesses (with its heir, the Virginia House of Delegates), became the longest-constituted legislative body in North America. The early history of the government of Massachusetts Bay was nearly identical, except that there the “General Court” was divided into two chambers in 1644, setting a precedent for bicameralism to represent different constituencies.

A second type of government, the compact colony, arose in New England, initially in the Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Having obtained a patent to settle on Virginia Company land, they landed too far north and lacked political authority for their settlement. As a result, the adult males formally chose “solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one another, [to] covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick …” This Mayflower Compact, augmented by customary practice, served as the form of government for the colony for its seventy-one years of existence.

Similar approaches were used in Puritan colonies founded thereafter at New Haven, in Rhode Island, and–through the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut–among several Connecticut River Valley towns. All were new settlements created out of primeval wilderness. These “compact colonies” most purely embodied the principle of voluntary consent as the basis of legitimate government. The idea of a social contract neatly meshed with Calvinist religious doctrine based on a covenant with God and on a congregational theory of members who came together to form their spiritual assembly based on each person’s free agency in his relationship with God. From there, it was but a small leap to argue that civil society and the political commonwealth, too, were created by individual consent. John Locke, writing a couple of generations later, could look to them as examples of his theory about the social contract made when man left the state of nature.

The third type was the proprietary colony, such as Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, the Carolinas, and Georgia. The king would grant a Lord Proprietor a patent to a large tract of land with the expectation that the proprietor would govern the area as it became settled. This semi-feudal arrangement usually repaid the proprietor for some favor, such as the grant of the Carolinas by Charles II to eight nobles who had helped him secure his return to the throne in the restoration following the Cromwell Directorate. The patent defined the political relationship between king and proprietor, while a further instrument drafted by the proprietor, such as the Charter of Liberties and Frame of Government of the Province of Pennsylvania (1682), delineated the relationship between the proprietor and the settlers.

While many of the early patents gave virtual independence to the proprietor, there were still some restrictions that protected the king’s political interest. For example, the grant to William Penn required him to submit all laws to the Privy Council (a body of advisors to the king) for approval and to recognize the king’s right to levy taxes. The proprietor made himself governor or appointed his agent to the office and was advised by a council. Under some patents, the proprietor need not call an assembly, but, due to the political pressures that the settlers inevitably exerted, proprietors of all colonies soon consented to elected legislative bodies.

No matter the type of colony, political instability in England caused changes in the formal constitutional relationship between various colonies and the mother country. Charters were revoked and re-granted. Eventually, all colonies formally became crown colonies and part of the king’s domain. By the end of the 17th century, a common pattern had emerged that lasted until the Revolutionary War. The colony had a governor, who, except in Connecticut and Rhode Island, was appointed by the crown. As the 18th century progressed, the governor often was a local leader. There was also a council of prominent locals, appointed by the crown, which advised the governor. Finally, there was a legislative body, elected by the local residents and acting with their consent. That body was typically unicameral, although Massachusetts Bay had a bicameral General Court. Qualifications of voters and representatives generally were tied to property ownership, most commonly land, and, sometimes, to religious affiliation.

On the surface, these arrangements reflected the British system of king, council (later to become the Cabinet), and Parliament. There was, however, nothing like the House of Lords, as the colonies lacked a hereditary nobility and the higher order of Anglican churchmen who composed that chamber. As well, colonial assemblies, such as the House of Burgesses, soon wrested from the governors, councils, and even the proprietors, the power to levy taxes, just as Parliament did from the king over the course of the 17th century.

Crucial for the colonial constitutional order was a significant characteristic. Both mother country and colonies had representative legislative bodies.  However, the systems operated differently, which eventually produced incompatible theoretical principles of representation through the catalyst of the events leading up to American independence. The British system was one of careful balance of interests between different important social estates in society (king, nobility, and commons dominated by merchants and gentry). It stressed stability. Loyalty was class-based, but, as in many republican systems, the lower classes were effectively denied participation. Members of the House of Commons were to protect the interest of the commons against the other estates and were expected to vote according to their own good faith perception of what best served the interests of the commons as a whole. They held their vote in trust for the whole commons–the “trustee theory” of representation.

In the colonies, distances were greater and settlements often more isolated. The approach was to allocate representation by geography, to towns and physical estates. Local communities elected representatives from their own residents. Moreover, the colonies lacked the more defined class structure of Britain. Finally, despite limitations on the electoral franchise in the colonies, a much higher proportion of adult (usually white) males could vote than in Britain. The loyalty of those elected was foremost to their geographical constituencies, and they were expected to look to those constituents’ interest, not to class affiliation, when voting. Many towns conducted their own affairs by periodic meeting of all residents, and they often carefully instructed “their” representatives how to vote on important issues–the “delegate theory” of representation.

Out of these practices developed rival theories, the British “virtual” representation and the American “direct” representation. During the controversies of the 1760s and 1770s over taxation and other internal legislation, the two sides talked past each other even as efforts were made to avoid a complete break. The British claimed that all were subjects of the king, and that the interests of the colonists were fully represented by the “commoners” in the House of Commons, even if Americans had not voted for them or had someone from their community as a representative. The Americans demurred. If they could not exercise their vote directly out of practical considerations, their franchise could be transferred only to those whom they had directly authorized to vote and over whose performance of this fiduciary duty they had actual control. Only their colonial assemblies, those closest to them in community, were authorized to legislate on their behalf, especially in the dangerous area of taxation. They had not consented to taxation by persons thousands of miles away whom they did not know and for whom they had not directly voted. To Americans, consent had lost all meaning, if the British were correct.

This much-fought-over distinction in representation was not, by itself, the catalyst for revolution. But it does portray the dissatisfaction of the Americans with laws that affected them in their personal lives and livelihoods being enacted by a body thousands of miles away and over which they had no effective control. Many currents were driving the societies apart: the large geographic size of the American possessions; the near-parity in population that was likely soon to favor the Americans; the comparative lack of class consciousness among the free population in the colonies; their greater ethnic and religious diversity; and the sense of self-identity and self-government that, while not yet complete or clearly expressed, had resulted from more than a century of benign neglect by the Crown between the 1630s and 1750s. Virtual representation works if there is a clear community of interest, and it must affect the interest of a clear “community.” In a preview of later federalism, Americans could accept Parliament’s sovereignty in matters that touched all, such as foreign relations and international trade, but not in primarily local matters.

The U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995) found that members of Congress do not represent the voters of their districts or states, but, instead, the people of the United States as a whole. Thus, a state cannot place term limits on “its” representatives. This sounds remarkably like virtual representation, especially since a state also cannot require the representative to be a resident of any particular district. If Congress concerned itself only with matters necessarily national or international in scope, this view need not raise concerns. But as Congress busies itself with more and greater intrusions into personal decisions, such as health insurance, one might ponder if the same alienation felt by Americans of the 1770s towards the far-away British government is not felt 250 years later by Americans towards their own. Do such laws still meaningfully reflect the consent of the governed so emphatically proclaimed by the House of Burgesses against the Stamp Act?

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at:http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

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Webster’s fame as a constitutional lawyer, orator, and political leader was enhanced by his arguments in other cases. In one, Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), Webster represented Thomas Gibbons, who operated a ferry boat under a federal license. Webster argued that Congress had exclusive power over interstate commerce. While Marshall stopped short of Webster’s position, he interpreted the federal power broadly and agreed that Congress could reach the internal commerce of states. Again, as in McCulloch, a state law was found unconstitutional as an infringement on federal power.

In Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), Webster represented his alma mater against the attempt by New Hampshire to revoke its charter as a private institution and turn it into a public entity. This time, there was no direct national government interest at stake. Still, Marshall’s opinion, that the state’s action violated the Contracts Clause of the Constitution by impairing the obligations and vested rights under the existing charter, was yet another restriction on state power. Webster’s impassioned advocacy for the protection of rights in property against legislative infringement fit his belief that political participation must be strongly tied to property ownership. Thus, in the Massachusetts constitutional convention of 1820, Webster argued, albeit unsuccessfully, against eliminating property qualifications for voters.

In yet another famous case, Luther v. Borden (1851), Webster represented Luther Borden, a state militia officer who had searched the house of Martin Luther, a leader of an abortive new government for Rhode Island. That state’s colonial charter operated as its constitution even after independence. Due to popular dissatisfaction in the 1840s with the charter’s restrictive property qualifications for voting and the malapportionment of the legislature, a movement under the leadership of Thomas Dorr sought to replace the charter by appeal to the people acting in convention. The movement was initially peaceful, and its new constitution was approved in a popular vote. However, eventually an armed clash occurred between forces allied with the rival “governments,” which the old charter militia won.

The Supreme Court was called on to decide which was the state’s legitimate government. Chief Justice Roger Taney demurred, opining that the Constitution’s command that the United States shall guarantee to each state a republican form of government presented a political question that could not be decided by a court. Of considerable public interest were the two sides’ lengthy arguments. Luther’s attorneys embraced the constitutional view of James Madison and others during the ratification debates over the Constitution that the sovereign people had an unrestricted right to change their constitution at any time, for any reason, and by any (peaceful) means. Webster agreed with this principle as a theoretical proposition only. Ever fearful of revolution, he insisted that such fundamental change could only come through the prescribed means in the state’s constitution or, if none existed, through action by the constituted state government, in this case the old charter government.

His argument in that case paralleled his position against nullification. A single state could not nullify federal law; certainly it could not secede. Therein lay revolution. A dissatisfied state’s recourse against federal power was to follow the procedures set out in the Constitution and persuade the other states to require Congress to call a constitutional convention. There remained, Webster acknowledged, the ultimate right to remove by whatever means a tyrannical government; but this was a right of the American people, not of a particular state government.

Near the end of Webster’s political career occurred yet another spasm in American politics over slavery. In the debate over the Compromise of 1850, crafted by Clay and pushed through the Senate by Stephen Douglas of Illinois, the ailing Calhoun had his speech in opposition to the Compromise read to his colleagues. Three days later, Webster spoke in support of the measure. He began, “I wish to speak today not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a northern man, but as an American ….” He dismissed the very notion of “peaceful secession” advocated by Calhoun. Secession was revolution, and revolution is violent. However, despite his personal opposition to slavery, he criticized the abolitionists and acknowledged the South’s right to have the federal fugitive slave law diligently enforced. This aroused a wave of opposition to him. He resigned his Senate seat within a few months to become, once more, Secretary of State.

During his two-year stint as Secretary of State, he vigorously enforced the new Fugitive Slave Law. His final campaign for President failed at the Whig Party convention. By then, he was also increasingly debilitated from cirrhosis of the liver. He never saw the result of the election, because he died in October, 1852, the immediate cause being head injury suffered from falling off a horse.

Webster’s legacy as a “Union” man is deserved. Still, as a successful politician, his positions changed dramatically over time and, unsurprisingly, tracked the material interests of his constituents. Technological innovations, structural changes in economic relations, settlement of new lands, and the need to assimilate diverse ethnic and religious immigrants all favored development of a national ethos. New England’s and the North’s commercial and industrial rise aligned with that development. Still, Webster’s speeches helped create the political framework for these amorphous forces, and his flair for oratory made this framework intellectually and emotionally accessible to the people. After the nullification debates, in particular, “Union” was no longer defended as just a useful arrangement to assure liberty from foreign domination and to promote harmonious interaction among state sovereignties. It became, instead, the idea of the American republic made real.

There is one more noteworthy point. Despite Webster’s inclination toward political order, his innate conservatism also made him cognizant of human fallibility and skeptical of those who would exercise political power. In a speech in 1837, he issued a warning free citizens must never forget, “There are men, in all ages, who mean to exercise power usefully; but who mean to exercise it. They mean to govern well; but they mean to govern. They promise to be kind masters; but they mean to be masters.”

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

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Daniel Webster, alongside Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, was a member of the “Great Triumvirate,” that remarkable group of speakers whose grand and widely-circulated speeches enlivened debates in the Senate and electrified the American people. Webster, the “Great Orator,” in the words of the historian Samuel Eliot Morison, “carried to perfection the dramatic, rotund style of oratory that America then loved.” Webster is primarily known for his role in the Senate during the tumultuous debates over the nullification controversy, the Texas annexation and resulting Mexican War, and the emerging crisis over slavery and the Compromise of 1850. However, he also served as Secretary of State under Presidents William Henry Harrison and John Tyler, and, subsequently, under President Millard Fillmore. He ran unsuccessfully for the Whig Party’s nomination for President in 1836, 1848, and 1852. Of more lasting practical effect even than his Senate speeches were Webster’s numerous appearances as an advocate in great constitutional cases before the Supreme Court.

Webster was born in 1782 in New Hampshire. Through his parents, his education at the Phillips Exeter Academy and Dartmouth College, and his association with the lawyers for whom he clerked, he was steeped in an upbringing that admired Federalist republicanism. That adherence to Federalist principles has often been used to portray Webster as a “nationalist,” a point that he himself used to political advantage, though he called himself a “Union” man. Yet, it is more illuminating to explain Webster as a politician dedicated to the political and economic interests of his section, New England. As those interests changed, so did the political program of the Federalist Party and its eventual successor, the Whigs. And so did Webster. He “evolved” from general skepticism about policies that strengthened national sovereignty against state powers in his tenures in the House of Representatives between 1813 and 1817 (for New Hampshire) and 1823 and 1827 (for Massachusetts) to ringing endorsements of such policies after entering the Senate in 1827. As in a mirror, one sees Webster’s frequent nemesis, Calhoun, move contemporaneously in the opposite direction, from ardent nationalist to foremost theoretician of state sovereignty.

Thus, in 1814, Webster could rail against the abortive proposal by Secretary of War James Monroe to draft 100,000 men to shore up the army during the militarily adverse and financially calamitous War of 1812:

“The operation of measures thus unconstitutional & illegal ought to be prevented, by a resort to other measures which are both constitutional & legal. It will be the solemn duty of the State Government to protect their own authority over their own Militia, & to interpose between their citizens and arbitrary power. These are among the objects for which the State Governments exist; & their highest obligation binds them to the preservation of their own rights & the liberties of their people….Both [my constituents] and myself live under a Constitution which teaches us, that ‘the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power & oppression, is absurd, slavish, & destructive of the good & happiness of mankind.’ With the same earnestness with which I now exhort you to forebear from these measures, I shall exhort them to exercise their unquestionable right of providing for the security of their own liberties.”

This is a far cry from his famous second reply to Senator Robert Hayne in 1830 on the occasion of the “Great Debate” over South Carolina’s nullification of the Tariff of 1828. There, Webster declared, “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” It was Hayne who on that later occasion appeared to recall the Webster of 1814, with “Liberty—the Constitution—Union.”

Six days after that 1814 speech, the Hartford Convention met. While its final product did not call for immediate secession by New England over the economic difficulties caused by “Mr. Madison’s War,” the topic was discussed and tabled for the future. Webster did not attend that gathering, but had raised secession in his Rockingham Memorial, a remonstrance against the War of 1812 sent to Madison by a state convention of Federalists. The Memorial did not directly urge secession but threatened, “If a separation of the states shall ever take place, it will be on some occasion, when one portion of the country undertakes to control, to regulate and to sacrifice the interest of another.” The Calhoun of the 1830s might have said this with more systematic theoretical grounding, but he would heartily concur with the message.

In similar manner, Webster opposed the tariff of 1816 as being not for the sound and constitutional purpose of raising revenue, but for the improper object of protection of industry. He likewise opposed the tariff of 1824. Yet, by 1828, with the national debt dwindling, he supported the “Tariff of Abominations,” because it protected New England’s textile industry. By 1833, he even opposed Henry Clay’s proposed tariff reduction, because to compromise was to embolden Southerners to threaten nullification and disunion. Perhaps in self-reflection, Webster declared, in another context, “Inconsistencies of opinion, arising from changes of circumstances, are often justifiable.” Calhoun, meanwhile, had supported the 1816 tariff because, he claimed, it was a constitutional revenue measure, not a protectionist one. By 1828, Calhoun opposed the tariff because it hurt the South economically.

The early Webster also opposed Henry Clay’s federally-financed “American System” of internal improvements to develop settlement of the West (which Calhoun initially supported). Once again, by 1828, Webster supported Clay’s plans, with Calhoun now opposed.

One area of great policy dispute during the first half-century of the Republic was the congressional chartering of the Bank of the United States. In contrast to his “flexibility” in other matters, Webster was steadfast regarding the Bank. He was a “sound money man,” who eulogized Alexander Hamilton for his vision about the First Bank, chartered in 1791, and the stability it brought to American finance and the public credit: “He smote the rock of the national resources, and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth. He touched the dead corpse of Public Credit, and it sprung upon its feet.”

To restore that stability after the humbling experience of the War of 1812, Webster supported Calhoun’s initiatives to charter the Second Bank in 1816 and Clay’s move to re-charter it in 1832. He also vigorously opposed Jackson’s anti-Bank policies, not just because they were Jackson’s as much as he feared the economic dangers from irresponsible issuance of paper money by undisciplined local banks. “Of all the contrivances for cheating the laboring classes of mankind, none has been more effective than that which deludes them with paper money,” he charged during the debate on re-chartering the Second Bank. Contemplating the demise of the Second Bank following Jackson’s veto of the re-charter bill, Webster mourned, “We are in danger of being overwhelmed with irredeemable paper, mere paper, representing not gold nor silver; no sir, representing nothing but broken promises, bad faith, bankrupt corporations, cheated creditors and a ruined people.” At times, he was branch director, legal counsel on retainer, and advocate in Congress for the Bank. His penchant for luxurious living beyond his means and his financial speculations and gambling habit caused him to be frequently in debt and led to conflicts of interest, not just with the Bank.

His political support for the Bank was felicitously aligned with his constitutional argument in one of the most significant cases about Congressional power, McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819. Webster represented James McCulloch, the branch cashier (a key officer) of the Bank. The Court held that a state tax on a federally-chartered instrumentality was unconstitutional. In a wide-ranging argument, almost entirely adopted point-for-point by Chief Justice John Marshall, Webster claimed broad federal power to enact laws that were useful or convenient to achieve the objectives expressly delegated to Congress in the Constitution. Webster’s argument tracked Hamilton’s in the debate over the constitutionality of the original Bank. It was startlingly different than the constitutional argument about federal power Webster had made five years earlier in his speech against military conscription, “To talk about the unlimited power of the Government over the means to execute its authority, is to hold a language which is true only in regard to despotism. The tyranny of Arbitrary Government consists as much in its means as in its ends … All the means & instruments which a free Government exercises, as well as the ends & objects which it pursues, are to partake of its own essential character, & to be conformed to its genuine spirit.”

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

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Relying primarily on the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions of 1798 and 1799 against the federal Sedition Act, Calhoun defended the right of a state to interpose itself between its citizens and federal authority and, as Thomas Jefferson had made plain, to nullify the law within its territory. Echoing sentiments that had been expressed by many others since the debates over the ratification of the Constitution, Calhoun posited that the charter was a compact among the states. Addressing the argument that the Constitution had been adopted by the people of the United States, Calhoun pointed out that it had been the people in conventions in their respective states, and that the ratification by the people in one state bound only them. The general government was not a party to the compact, but its creature. Therefore, it could not be the judge of its own powers, whether done through the agency of the Congress, the President, or the Supreme Court. The general government had the character of a joint commission that oversaw and administered the collective interests of the states.

Significantly, Calhoun incorporated the major contribution of 18th century Americans to political theory, the role of the constitutional convention. An act of such foundational character as nullification cannot proceed from mere legislative action. Sovereignty lies in the people, not the government, and an ultimate act of political association or disassociation requires action by them. Since it is not realistic for the people as a whole to gather, such action has to be undertaken by a special body elected and assembled for only that purpose. If the people’s convention votes to nullify the law, the legislature might enact an ordinance of nullification. It is then incumbent on the general government to resolve the conflict peaceably by referring the matter, “as in all similar cases of a contest between one or more of the principals and a joint commission or agency … to the principals themselves,” that is, to a constitutional convention as provided in Article V of the Constitution. If that convention and the subsequent vote of the states supports the nullifying state, fine; if not, that state then, on further reflection, can rescind its nullification or vote to secede from the Union.

It is important to note that a state has no right to secede simply because it changed its mind about belonging to the Union. The Union is more than a contract, it is a political partnership with an existence outside the individual partners. However, if there has been an alteration of the compact, to which the state has not consented, “constitutional secession” is permitted. That was the extent to which Calhoun justified secession. Beyond that lay revolution. As historian Marco Bassani has explained, at that point, “secession would not be impossible, but would amount to a Lockean appeal to Heaven; such cases would arise, not from the nature of the Union, but from the right of self-government of all communities of free human beings. In essence, a ‘pre-political’ right of secession exists, shading over into the right of revolution; there are no significant differences on this point between Webster, Calhoun, Jackson, and the entire American tradition. Institutionalization of power does not eliminate the people’s right to rebel against a despotic government.” Webster himself characterized the address as “the ablest and most plausible, and therefore the most dangerous vindication” of the nullifiers’ argument.

Ultimately, the political application of Calhoun’s nullification theory played itself out in the Henry Clay-crafted compromise over the tariff and the political theater between President Andrew Jackson and the South Carolina state government. The South Carolina convention’s nullification vote over the Tariff of Abominations was followed by Jackson’s threat to use the military to insure compliance with federal law as authorized in the Force Act, which was followed by the convention’s rescission of its tariff nullification after Clay’s compromise, which was followed by its nullification of the Force Act. The tariff issue was allayed, but many understood that to be merely palliation of a symptom, not cure of the ailment. Jackson wrote that the real issue was disunion and that the next symptom would be the struggle over slavery. Calhoun, the moderate, and Rhett, the fire-eater, concurred.

After service as Senator from 1832 to 1844, an abortive campaign for President in 1844, and an interlude as Secretary of State from 1844 to 1845, Calhoun returned to the Senate from 1845 until his death in 1850. He devoted considerable time to further systematic development of his political theory in the Disquisition on Government and the Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States. As other political theorists had done, Plato and Cicero coming to mind, Calhoun delved into theoretical exploration of the nature of man and society in the former and into more concrete and empirical application of his theory to American political experience in the latter.

As death approached, Calhoun roused himself once more to a defense of his culture and class. He wrote a blistering speech against Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850 and the admission of California. Too frail to deliver the speech himself, his friend Senator James Mason of Virginia read it for him. The valedictory’s topic was somber and brooding, a rhetorical reflection of Calhoun’s physical appearance portrayed in contemporary drawings and photos: The stronger (North) would not be deterred from its subjugation of the minority (South); compromise was no longer possible; secession was in the air. He assured the North, “[W]e shall know what to do, when you reduce the question to submission or resistance.” To a friend, he predicted that disunion would follow within twelve years.

Calhoun died shortly thereafter, on March 31, 1850. Because of his strong defense of slavery–he went so far as to describe it as a positive good–and the historical current of nationalism over the past two centuries, Calhoun’s works have not resonated in public debate. Still, his has been described as the only authentic and systematic American political theory, a sentiment that readers of Senator John Taylor of Caroline’s examination of American agrarian republicanism might challenge. It is fair to say, however, that Calhoun’s approach to consent of the governed, as expressed through concurrent majorities of the whole and of its affected constituent minorities, presents a relevant model for peaceful resolution of fundamental political questions that well preserves both “Liberty and Union” in a large, diverse, and divided country.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

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For nearly the first half of the nineteenth century, three men dominated the debates over the great issues of the day. They were the “Great Triumvirate,” Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Each joined the Congress between 1806 and 1813, each served in the Cabinet as Secretary of State, and each indulged his ambition to become President in at least three campaigns. Clay came closest, with three party nominations. Calhoun, however, gained the highest honor. He served as Vice-President for nearly eight years with two different Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, one of only two men to do so.

John C. Calhoun was born on March 18, 1782, in the South Carolina Piedmont. After preliminary schooling, he attended Yale University, graduating in 1802. He spent the following year studying law at the then-preeminent law school in the United States, the pioneering Litchfield Academy of Judge Tapping Reeve in Connecticut. Upon returning to South Carolina, Calhoun practiced law in Charleston. As were several other Southern states, South Carolina was divided politically between east and west, the Tidewater and the Piedmont, with the former inclined towards Federalism and the latter towards Jeffersonian Republicanism. Because of political manipulation, the eastern minority controlled the state in its early years, and South Carolina had approved the Constitution by a 2-1 margin, despite the losing side representing a majority of the state’s population. Charleston was as Federalist and nationalist as any city in the North. However, times were changing. Within a generation, the state would become the leader of Southern sectionalism and, after another generation, the first to secede from the Union in 1860.

The state’s political and constitutional metamorphosis is reflected in Calhoun’s own philosophic journey. Yet, despite his well-earned reputation as a leading intellectual figure of the “South Carolina Doctrine” regarding the nature of the Union and the rights of the states, Calhoun always seemed to lag behind his state’s political evolution. He was never the firebrand driving the train of revolution, but always the brakeman seeking to slow it down. He was never a committed political partisan, instead wandering from faction to faction and party to party and best described as he saw himself, an independent for whom broader principles were a better guide than fleeting political association. That said, he also used this willing flexibility in political affiliation to maximize his personal standing and that of his state and section.

Calhoun was influenced by the Federalism of Yale’s president, Timothy Dwight, and of Judge Reeve. While it is difficult to assess the extent to which any particular intellectual mentor or personal experience affected Calhoun’s later views, it was there that he first heard systematic defense of the states’ rights doctrine. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 against the Sedition Act clearly influenced his later doctrinal analysis. But those were events from his youth, whereas he lived the Federalism of his teachers who were reacting against the political revolution of the election of 1800 that saw Jefferson become President and consign the Federalist Party to a diminishing regional status.

Within a few years of his return to South Carolina, he was elected to the state legislature. In 1811 he entered the House of Representatives, where he became a “war hawk” who fervently backed the War of 1812 against Great Britain. That war saw the hardening of states’ rights views among the politically disaffected New England Federalists whose sea-faring and commercial communities were ravaged economically by the British naval blockade. Their politicians, including Daniel Webster, denounced the war and praised their states’ resistance to it. Eventually, their opposition coalesced into the Hartford Convention of 1814, which debated what forms of opposition states might undertake against unconstitutional federal laws. Secession, while not officially sanctioned, was put on the table for future discussion, should lesser measures fail. Calhoun and others later would use the Hartford Convention as a precedent to hurl at Northerners who attacked similar Southern sentiments.

In the meantime, chastened by the disastrous impact the war had on the financial stability of the country, Calhoun supported numerous measures that would have made Alexander Hamilton and other earlier Federalists proud. He introduced the bill to charter the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. He was a strong supporter of House Speaker Henry Clay’s “American System” of internal improvements directed by the federal government, which fit not only the South’s political alliance with the West, but also Calhoun’s (failed) dream to have South Carolina become a textile manufacturing center that would compete with Massachusetts. Most awkward for Calhoun and the South Carolinians for their anti-tariff posture a decade later, Calhoun led the move to enact the tariff of 1816 to pay off the government’s debts and reestablish solid public credit.

His political ambition was soon focused on executive office. Calhoun had been shocked by the generally poor performance of the militia during the War of 1812, as well as by what he perceived as the poor management of the War Department. In 1817, he began his tenure as Secretary of War, in which he supported a strong navy and, again in contrast to traditional republicans, a standing peace-time army. His success boosted his chances for the Presidency, and, in another ironic twist, a group of Northern congressmen placed his name in nomination for that office in 1821. He undertook a more concerted campaign in 1824, which was derailed in part because Southern support went to the more states’ rights oriented William Crawford of Georgia. Indeed, due to his perceived nationalism, Calhoun could not even get the support of his own state’s legislature, which, at that time, still selected presidential electors. Calhoun then turned his sights on the vice-presidency, and the Electoral College overwhelmingly selected him.

It was at that point that Calhoun’s determined nationalism began to give way over the next decade to an equally committed sectional loyalty. South Carolinians, who had suffered severely from the economic depression that followed the Panic of 1819, in increasingly radical sentiments opposed various tariffs enacted in the 1820s. Up-and-coming politicians such as Congressman George McDuffie and state representative Robert Barnwell Rhett (Calhoun’s successor as Senator in 1850 and the leader of what came to be known as the “Fire-Eaters”) campaigned not just for repeal of the tariffs, but for more active opposition to federal power.

The final blow was the massive “Tariff of Abominations” in 1828. Rebuked by other Southern states and unable to get a united front against the measure, South Carolina went on her own. Nullification became a respectable political topic. The most voluble among local politicians went further. Thus, Rhett, emulating Samuel Adams’s rhetoric during the struggle for independence from Britain, sounded the revolutionary clarion:

“But if you are doubtful of yourselves–if you are not prepared to follow up your principles wherever they may lead, to their very last consequence–if you love life better than honor,–prefer ease to perilous liberty and glory; awake not! Stir not!–Impotent resistance will add vengeance to your ruin. Live in smiling peace with your insatiable Oppressors, and die with the noble consolation that your submissive patience will survive triumphant your beggary and despair.”

Alarmed at such radicalism, Calhoun anonymously penned his Exposition and Protest against the Tariff of 1828, at the request of leaders of the state legislature. It accepted the constitutional power of the general government to enact tariffs to raise revenue–thereby glibly endorsing Calhoun’s support for the tariff of 1816–but not for protection of local industry. It further set down the basics of Calhoun’s theory of nullification, that a state retained its authority to veto unconstitutional federal laws. While the pamphlet’s authorship soon became known, Calhoun and the state’s senators, Robert Hayne and William Smith, publicly opposed or were non-committal about undertaking nullification. As a result, the movement stalled.

However, the radicals defeated the moderates in South Carolina’s elections in late 1830. Nullification leader James Hamilton was elected governor, and Smith was replaced by the more radical Stephen Miller. Calhoun, struggling to control the anti-tariff movement in the state, published his foundational Fort Hill Address on July 26, 1831. There, he systematically laid out the constitutional case for nullification. Calhoun acknowledged that within its delegated powers, properly exercised, the general government was immune from state interference. However, the same principle applied to the states’ reserved powers, reciprocally immune from ultra vires acts of the general government. The problem was what to do when a conflict arose.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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On January 26 and 27, Webster returned fire. In a speech equally aroused as Hayne’s, and laced with historical references, constitutional argument, and heavy doses of sarcasm, Webster rejected Hayne’s attacks and painted a picture of an optimistic nationalism that stood in stark contrast to Hayne’s defensiveness.

Relying on only a few notes, and using his sonorous voice to full effect, Webster spoke hour after hour. It was clear that the matter had become personal for Webster, as it earlier had for Hayne. He devoted considerable energy to chastising Hayne for alleged violations of decorum in Hayne’s speech. On substance, he listed numerous votes by the East in favor of the West. He extolled the South Carolinians’ support for tariffs and internal improvements during the 1810s, using their own votes and speeches to make his point about their opportunistic reversal and baseless objections to those policies in the 1820s.

However, most of his effort was directed at defending the Union and rejecting Hayne’s vision of the country:  the South Carolina Doctrine was an illegitimate form of revolution; the Constitution’s source was the people, not the States severally; the general government was one of limited powers, but the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution made that government’s laws immune from state interference; the Constitution placed in the Supreme Court the power to patrol the lines between the general government’s specified powers and the reserved powers of the several States; the States had lost crucial incidents of sovereignty, such as making war or coining money; the Constitution was a government, not a treaty, so Hayne’s analogy to judicial incompetence to decide cases between national sovereigns was inapt. Using language later popularized through Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Webster declared, “It is, Sir, the people’s Constitution, the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.” The remedy for unconstitutional action lay not with a single state, but with the people as a whole, through the legislative process, by appeal to the judiciary, or through a constitutional convention. Ultimately, in case of “intolerable oppression…the people might protect themselves, [even] without the aid of the State governments” (i.e. a right of revolution).

Reaching the oration’s climax, Webster implored,

“When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as ‘What is all this worth?’ nor those other words of delusion and folly, ‘Liberty first and Union afterwards’; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart,–Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!”

Hayne immediately rose once more to speak at length. In his second speech, Webster had accused the South of wanting to replicate the efforts of the discredited war-time Hartford Convention. Hayne contemptuously rejected the “advice.” “[W]hen South Carolina shall resort to such a measure for the redress of her grievances, let me tell the gentleman that, of all the assemblies that have ever been convened in this country, the Hartford Convention is the very last we shall consent to take as an example; nor will it find more favor in our eyes, from being recommended by the Senator from Massachusetts. Sir, we would scorn to take advantage of difficulties created by foreign war, to wring from the federal government redress even of our grievances.”

There followed a lengthy exposition of the “South Carolina Doctrine.” Hayne examined in fine detail the founding of the country, the basis of government under the Constitution, and the nature of dual sovereignty in our federal system. Revisiting contentions made numerous times in various forums over the previous half-century, Hayne insisted that the Union is a compact among the people of the states. Both–the Union and the States–retain their sovereignty, and neither can be the judge over the other. Congress cannot be a judge in its own cause over the extent of its own powers, and the federal Supreme Court can no more assert jurisdiction to act as umpire than it can in a dispute between sovereign nations. The Constitution was established to constrain the majority. Governing powers were separated and distributed. Congress was given only limited powers. If Congress ventures beyond those powers, their actions are void. States have the power to declare when such violations have occurred and, as the 10th Amendment confirms, have never surrendered their plenary power “to interpose for arresting the progress of evil.” Appealing to the respect given to James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, Hayne used their Virginia and (revised) Kentucky Resolutions against the Alien and Sedition Acts to justify also nullification.

What about resolving inevitable conflicts? Starting with a statement by Jefferson from 1821, Hayne placed the onus on Congress to call a convention and have the disputed matter addressed by constitutional amendment. The requirement that three-fourths of states must approve such an amendment provided enough protection to disaffected minorities without holding the country hostage to every whimsical objection one state might make.

Seizing on Webster’s ringing conclusion in the second speech, Hayne needled him, “The gentleman is for marching under a banner studded all over with stars, and bearing the inscription Liberty and Union. I had thought, sir, the gentleman would have borne a standard, displaying in its ample folds a brilliant sun, extending its golden rays from the centre to the extremities, in the brightness of whose beams, the ‘little stars hide their diminished heads.’ Ours, Sir, is the banner of the Constitution, the twenty-four stars are there in all their undiminished lustre, on it is inscribed, Liberty–the Constitution–Union….”

Webster then offered a brief rebuttal on the salient issue of the nature of the Union. He presented a summary of his earlier argument, but added that even Hayne’s compact theory would not permit unilateral action by one state. Instead, it would require decision by all, as under the Articles of Confederation. The debate had laid bare the fundamental contrast between the two conceptions of the Union, and its spectacle had driven the issue into the public consciousness.

Webster’s words are better known today than Hayne’s. Even had the armed conflict of the following generation over slavery and the nature of the Union turned out differently, that might yet be the case. Hayne argued on behalf of an aristocratic social and classic republican political order tied to the soil and local custom. That order could not survive the material dynamic of the Industrial Revolution, the economic rise of the capitalist class, and the influx of immigrants who lacked an intellectual tether to the Founding and who had loyalties to the nation to which they were drawn rather than to the particular states in which they happened to settle. Nationalism was on the rise, and it was Webster who extolled its benefits. Webster firmly tied Union to the Constitution itself, and evoked the imagery of its presumed majesty. Opposition to that Union by a single state was cleverly and clearly branded treason by Webster’s stark portrait of how nullification would inevitably result in armed conflict.

That said, Hayne’s exposition of states’ rights–or, more starkly, each state’s rights–may have lost its contest for constitutional dominance, but it has not been defeated as an idea. Even now, cities and states seek to limit traditional federal power over immigration and other aspects of national sovereignty by interposition and nullification. A pertinent example is California’s “sanctuary state” policy to frustrate federal enforcement of immigration laws. As the country’s sharp division into inflexible factions and identity groups continues to harden, the republicanism that rests on compromise and accommodation becomes increasingly difficult to sustain on a national scale. The ever-growing reach of the federal government and its metamorphosis into the “consolidated government” that Hayne feared and Webster dismissed is likely to renew interest in theories that–while they preserve union–might provide a political safety valve short of armed action against federal laws that counter strong local customs and deeply-held beliefs of a portion of the Union. The speculations of Hayne–and more fundamentally, John C. Calhoun, the great intellectual exponent of this constitutional vision–may well rise again to prominence. One doubts, however, that in an age when 140-letter “tweets,” sensationalist press releases, and “hashtags” count as substantive political discourse, we will soon see the likes of the Hayne-Webster debate.

Reference:

Webster-Hayne Speeches: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/webster-the-webster-hayne-debate-on-the-nature-of-the-constitution-selected-documents

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

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Over the course of approximately a week in late January, 1830, a debate occurred in the United States Senate that historians consider the greatest ever in that chamber. Before a gallery packed with listeners, under the animated gaze of Vice-President John C. Calhoun, Senators Robert Hayne of South Carolina and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts waged an oratorical battle. Astonishing is that it was precipitated by a skirmish over an intellectually rather dry, though politically charged, topic–the sale of public lands in the American West to settlers.

The previous month, Senator Samuel Foot of Connecticut had proposed that Congress investigate the desirability of curtailing the sale of public lands by the federal government. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, representing the Western interests, denounced the proposal as another attempt by Eastern economic interests to prevent the migration of workers from their states. From his perspective, keeping those workers tied down in their locales suppressed the cost of labor and increased the industrialists’ profits. The Westerners wanted free migration and federally-financed “internal improvements” and the economic and political benefits that would accrue from them.

The country was increasingly riven by sectional tension, not just the familiar one between North and South, but, as significantly, between Northeast and West. Gone, it was lamented, was the ethos of sectional compromise forged by the exigencies of the Revolutionary War. Western politicians, such as Benton, sought to increase their political importance by aligning themselves with one section’s interest against the other. On this particular matter, as comically described by the historian Samuel Eliot Morison, Benton “summoned the gallant South to the rescue of the Western Dulcinea, and Senator Hayne of South Carolina was the first to play Don Quixote.”

Hayne was an accomplished lawyer, speaker, and writer. He was well-educated, with handsome features, and unfailingly polite. He was elected to the Senate at 31, barely over the minimum age, a fitting champion for his Southern aristocratic class. His first speech in the debate, on January 19, chastised the Northeast for its protectionism of nascent industries and linked that policy to Benton’s claim about the industrialists’ obstruction of Western migration.

Hayne’s attack dovetailed with increasingly determined and desperate Southern opposition to the national tariff policy during the 1820s and 1830s. Import duties on European finished goods, such as textiles, protected the weavers of New England, but increased the price of such goods to consumers. Moreover, these duties invited British retaliation against American commodities, including cotton, by tariffs and by expanded reliance on alternative suppliers, such as cotton growers in Egypt and India.

Thus, the “Tariff of Abominations” of 1828, was so economically damaging and politically volatile, that a Member of Parliament, William Huskisson, delivered a speech that laid out clearly for the South the British policy. Huskisson predicted that the failure to lower the tariff would lead inevitably to Southern secession. Then-Congressman George McDuffie of South Carolina, popularized the “forty-bale theory.” Due to British retaliation, Southern cotton prices fell, and the South became a captive supplier for Northern mills. As well, consumer goods prices were artificially high. In such combination, the tariff so decreased Southern purchasing power that, McDuffie claimed, of every hundred bales of cotton produced, forty went into the pockets of Northeastern industrialists. Many Southerners saw themselves as the victims of a “colonial” policy by Northeastern financial, industrial, and political interests. As Western grievances complemented theirs, it is no wonder that Benton’s charge resonated with Southerners.

In a historical irony, the protective tariff of 1816, which got protectionism rolling, was the work of two South Carolinians, one of them then-Congressman John C. Calhoun. But by 1830, with the Tariff of Abominations in full force, Calhoun was Vice-President and was crafting his theories of nullification and concurrent majorities, from his 1828 Exposition and Protest to his 1831 Fort Hill Address. Historians have debated the extent to which Hayne’s speeches were merely the words of Calhoun, who, by virtue of his role as the Senate’s president, was debarred from speaking. Clearly the two men, bound by state residency, party affiliation, intellectual prowess, and cultural and class affinity, saw eye-to-eye. Most likely, Calhoun’s philosophical depth and systematic mind helped Hayne craft his argument. But, ultimately, Hayne was his own man.

The next day, Senator Daniel Webster rose to respond. At age 48, he was ten years older than Hayne. Though not as pleasing of looks as his opponent, Webster had his own advantages, physical and intellectual. Morison described him as “the most commanding figure in the Senate…with a crag-like face, and eyes that seemed to glow like dull coals under a precipice of brows….His magnificent presence and deep, melodious voice gave distinction to the most common platitudes; but his orations were seldom commonplace.” Webster was possessed of a powerful intellect, one that, combined with his oratorical talents, had made him a successful lawyer, Supreme Court advocate, and politician. He argued well over 200 cases before the Supreme Court, litigating some of the most important constitutional disputes, such as McCulloch v. Maryland, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, Gibbons v. Ogden, and Luther v. Borden.

Webster rejected Hayne’s attacks on New England’s alleged selfishness and its placing of sectional self-interest over the common national good. Not content merely to parry Hayne’s political attacks and to reject emphatically any suggestion that the Northeast opposed Western development, he broadened the debate to criticize Southern states’ rights doctrines. He charged the South with insufficient gratitude for, and pride in, the Union and denounced recent political movements in South Carolina calling for a state convention to nullify the tariffs. Webster also injected slavery into the debate to play on the discomfort of many Westerners (though not of Senator Benton) over the expansion of the South’s “peculiar institution.” He praised the swift growth of Ohio over the past generation and goaded Hayne about the inferiority of Kentucky, a distinction he attributed to the latter’s protection of slavery. Webster sought to tar Hayne with the spirit of disunion, scolding Hayne’s apparent willingness to “preserve the Union while it suits local and temporary purposes” and to “dissolve it whenever it shall be found to thwart such purposes.” This was particularly galling because Calhoun and Hayne had restrained the nullification efforts of more radical elements in South Carolina led by McDuffie and state leaders, such as Robert Barnwell Rhett.

Hayne was not about to let the gauntlet lie. On January 21 and 25, the South Carolinian went on offense. In a blistering, often sarcastic, and impassioned speech delivered in a tone of “scarcely contained bitterness and rage,” he extolled the South’s patriotism and contrasted it with New England’s conduct during the War of 1812. In the Federalist Party-controlled Hartford Convention of 1814, the (then) five New England states had challenged the constitutionality of federal war policy that harmed them and had pledged to interpose themselves between the federal authority and their people. Webster had not taken part in that gathering, but he was a long-time Federalist Party member and had made anti-war speeches. Hayne launched into a long and detailed indictment of Massachusetts’s perfidies against the United States during that war.

Hayne also vigorously defended the practical aspects of Southern slavery. He urged those, like Webster, who did not understand the conditions in which the system operated, to heed the South’s desire simply to be left alone. Taking the argument to slavery’s opponents, Hayne described the miserable conditions under which free Blacks often lived in Northern cities.

Hayne explained, analyzed, taunted, and exhorted relentlessly over portions of two days. He struck rhetorical and analytical blow after blow. Through it all, Webster sat impassively. To his friends, concerned that Webster had but one night to prepare his response, Webster grimly offered the assurance that he would “grind [Hayne] as fine as a pinch of snuff.”

Reference:

Webster-Hayne Speeches: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/webster-the-webster-hayne-debate-on-the-nature-of-the-constitution-selected-documents

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

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In July, 1790, Congress approved removal of the national capital ten years hence from New York City to an as-yet undetermined location on the Potomac River. The vote was the result of a political maneuver to accommodate a matter of much more immediate impact, the realization of Alexander Hamilton’s economic salvage blueprint for the new nation. That blueprint proved crucial to the country’s economic and political fortunes. At the same time, it opened fissures of sectional conflict, constitutional theory, and political partisanship that had remained below the surface, if barely, during the preceding decade.

The impact of the first Secretary of the Treasury can hardly be overstated. His figure loomed so large over the country’s political and economic affairs even after he left office in 1795 that some historians have dubbed the era “Hamilton’s Republic.” It was a felicitous combination of man and office. The evolution of Anglo-American constitutional doctrine that emphatically placed the power over the purse in the legislature put the head of the treasury in a category distinct from the rest of the executive cabinet. Alone among those officers, he was required by law to issue reports directly to Congress. At the time, the Treasury Department had by far more officials in the capital and functionaries in the field than other civilian departments had.

Hamilton played into this role by treating the position as a sort of prime ministership, through which he would oversee the other cabinet heads under the reign and guidance of the president, as well as act as a liaison between the executive and legislative branches. The childless President George Washington, for whom Hamilton had become a surrogate son, abetted this stance. Washington not only typically took Hamilton’s side in political disputes, but also gave him tasks and requested his opinions in matters outside the Treasury Department’s domain.

Following a meteoric rise that saw him form his own New York militia artillery company at age 19, become adjutant to General Washington with the rank of lieutenant colonel at 20, command a critical assault at the Battle of Yorktown at 24, and found the Bank of New York at 27, Hamilton became Secretary of the Treasury at 32. In September, 1789, Congress requested that he prepare a series of reports on the credit of the United States. Hamilton delivered his recommendations to Congress in January, 1790.

The “Report on the Public Debt” proposed three broad policies: to fund the national debt (including interest payments in arrears) at par through 6% bonds, to assume payment of the remaining state war debts, and, in a separate report in January, 1791, to create a central banking institution akin to the Bank of England. Each policy engendered vocal opposition. As to the first, the debt was owed about one-third to European creditors. The rest was owed to Americans, typically merchants who had supplied goods and individuals who had supplied service, typically military, and been paid with these debt certificates. The value of the debt instruments had decreased significantly due to currency devaluation and the long-running uncertainty about the government’s ability to repay them at all. As a result, wealthy individuals had purchased much of the outstanding debt at deep discount from those holders who, over the years, needed cash. Many denounced Hamilton’s plan as a wealth transfer from the middle and lower classes, who would have to pay taxes needed to retire the debt, to the upper-class “speculators.” Their criticisms were not entirely unfounded, as Hamilton made clear in various statements. He believed that the success of the United States ultimately lay in tying the self-interest of the leading members of the community to the nation rather than their states. Nothing would do so more than to align their economic future with that of the general government and to direct their energy to expanding the country’s commerce and manufacturing. Repaying their financial bonds at par would, in turn, create personal and class bonds that would transcend state loyalties.

As to the second, Virginia and some other states objected because they had paid down, or even eliminated, their war debts through prudent financial policies. Those states saw the debt assumption by the federal government as rewarding profligacy and irresponsibility by debtor states and balked at the idea that their own citizens would now be taxed to cure the results of that mismanagement. Others viewed the assumption as creating a perception of a “bail-out” of abject states by a benevolent and efficient general government. Thus, they rejected the policy as a dangerous surrender of state power.

The establishment of the proposed central bank proved to be the most controversial of all, both as to the particular policy and the more general constitutional questions it raised. The Bank of the United States would be funded through the sale of stock, with 80% of the initial shares bought by private investors and the rest by the general government. Directors of the Bank would be selected in like proportion by the private and government interests. The Bank would act as a depository for government funds, and the government would draw on its account to pay its bills. Operating in various cities, the Bank’s prestige would attract private deposits and stock purchases throughout the nation. Foreigners also could buy stock but could not vote. Further, the Bank would extend credit to state banks under terms that would allow it eventually to control the national money supply as needed for economic stability. Through loans for large commercial or productive undertakings, the Bank could promote economic growth and internal improvements. Finally, its notes, backed by a reserve of gold and silver and circulated nationally, would provide a safe and effective medium of exchange.

Profits from its loans would be paid in dividends as a return on investment for the stockholders. The government’s share would be used to help pay interest and principal of all outstanding public debt. The Bank’s charter would expire after twenty years unless renewed.

The project was not novel. Hamilton had proposed such a system to the Confederation’s powerful Superintendent of Finance, Robert Morris, in 1781. Morris, who entertained similar ideas, set up the Bank of North America, chartered by the Congress under the Articles of Confederation. However, doubts were raised about that bank’s charter, because the Articles did not expressly confer such a power on Congress, and all powers not expressly given to Congress under that charter were reserved to the states. Hence, Morris also obtained a state charter for that bank from Pennsylvania. Four years later, the Pennsylvania legislature repealed that charter. Although the state reversed itself again in 1787, the damage was done. The vagaries of state legislatures undermined the very concept of a central bank. At the same time, the salutary effects on national finance demonstrated by that bank in its first several years affirmed Hamilton’s beliefs in the project. Hamilton himself had written about the issue of the public debt and generally admired Morris’s management of the matter. The admiration was reciprocated. President Washington first offered the Treasury position under the new government to Morris, who declined and recommended Hamilton–not that Washington needed much persuasion.

As with the Bank of North America, arguments quickly arose that Congress lacked the power to charter the Bank of the United States. After all, the Philadelphia Convention had rejected James Madison’s proposal to allow Congress to charter banks and corporations. Some had opposed this as a dangerous grant that would lead to a “consolidation” of the government in Congress. Others, looking at traditional English chartering of corporations, opposed it as unnecessary, because such a power already was inherent in sovereignty.

Faced with the controversy, Washington asked Madison, who served as a close adviser to the President even as he became a leader in the House of Representatives, to draft a veto message against the Bank Bill. In two speeches before the House, Madison opposed the proposal. He asserted that Congress could only exercise powers expressly granted or those that were a mere incident “evidently and necessarily involved in an express power.” Washington also submitted the issue to Attorney General Edmund Randolph and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. All three of his fellow-Virginians assured the President that the bill was unconstitutional in that Congress lacked the express authority to charter the Bank. Further, Congress could not rely on “implied” powers.

Jefferson delivered his opinion on February 15, 1791. He rejected arguments that the proposal could be upheld under Congress’s powers to tax, borrow, or regulate commerce. More significantly, he read both the “general welfare” language and the “necessary and proper” clause narrowly. The former was not a separate grant, but one tied to the taxing and spending power for Congress to spend only for the objectives listed in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution. As to the latter, “necessary” did not mean mere “convenience,” but only “those means without which the grant of the [express] power would be nugatory.” Otherwise, “there is not one [non-enumerated power] which ingenuity may not torture into a convenience in some instance or other, to some one of so long a list of enumerated powers. It would swallow up all the delegated powers, and reduce the whole to one phrase,” namely, to give Congress “power to do whatever would be for the good of the U.S. … or whatever evil they pleased.”

Hamilton quickly drafted a 15,000-word response, which he delivered on February 23, 1791. He urged a flexible interpretation of Congress’s powers because of the “general principle [that] is inherent in the very definition of government … [t]hat every power vested in a government is in its nature sovereign, and includes, by force of the term, a right to employ all the means requisite and fairly applicable to the attainment of the ends of such power, and which are not precluded by restrictions and exceptions specified in the Constitution ….”

As to the “necessary and proper” clause, it was but a restatement of the “implied powers” principle and defined the means the government might choose to achieve its constitutionally authorized objectives. He rejected Jefferson’s restrictive interpretation as unprecedented and radical. The proper constitutional test, he wrote, was, “If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, and if the measure have an obvious relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provision of the Constitution, it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority.” Within those broad boundaries, all discussions were about expediency, not right.

Jefferson, Madison, and Randolph lost the argument when Washington signed the Bank Bill. Jefferson sarcastically characterized Hamilton’s views in a letter to Senator Edward Livingston in 1800, after Congress chartered a mining company.  He derided the exercise by comparing the constitutional claims of the law’s supporters to a popular nursery rhyme: “Congress are authorized to defend the nation. Ships are necessary for defense; copper is necessary for ships; mines, necessary for copper; a company necessary to work the mines; and who can doubt this reasoning who has ever played at ‘This is the House that Jack Built’? Under such a process of filiation of necessities the sweeping clause makes clean work.”

It was clear to all that the debate was not just about the Bank, but about the extent of Congressional power and, indeed, about the nature of the Union itself. That debate would continue, although the forum shifted from the Congress and cabinet to the Supreme Court. The Bank’s charter expired in 1811, just in time for the War of 1812 to begin. The straightened financial situation in which the essentially bankrupt Madison administration eventually found itself stood in sharp contrast to the order that the Bank of North America had produced in the latter years of the Revolutionary War. Calls went out to charter the Second Bank of the United States. Even President Madison had once more changed his mind and, after one veto over practical objections, signed the bill to charter a new bank in 1816. Madison conceded that he repeated actions of the different branches of the government in support of the authority of the federal government to charter corporations had mooted his constitutional scruples over the matter, especially since those actions were supported “by indications…of a concurrence of the general will of the nation.” Jefferson never overcame his suspicion of the Bank, but, once retired from public office, agreed with Madison’s reasoning.

The Bank law was eventually challenged in McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819 and Osborn v. Bank of the United States in 1824. Chief Justice John Marshall, as was his wont in other important cases, once more borrowed extensively from Hamilton’s constitutional reasoning in upholding Congress’s power to charter the Bank. There the matter stood until the last round, between the Whig-controlled Senate and President Andrew Jackson in 1832. Jackson’s veto message was a ringing indictment of the financial interests that the Bank’s opponents since at least Jefferson had seen as the malevolent invisible hand directing the Bank’s actions. His economic provincialism favored hard money over paper. Moreover, Jackson dismissed the Supreme Court’s view on the constitutional issue as non-binding on him as the head of a co-equal branch. Finally, Jackson’s general inclination in favor of states’ rights and limited and defined powers of the central government made a central bank suspect.

The Jeffersonian strict constructionists of federal power thus won the battle over the central bank, a result not reversed until 1913 through the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank system. Of more significance and permanence, however, has been the across-the-board triumph of the Hamiltonian view of Congress’s powers. This is manifested not just in the broad reading of “implied” powers and the necessary-and-proper clause, but in the expansive reach of Congress’s express powers to tax and spend for the general welfare and to regulate interstate commerce. Add to that the general acceptance of broad implied powers for the executive branch, and it becomes obvious how thoroughly Hamilton’s nationalism has overwhelmed Jefferson’s romanticism about a republic of yeoman farmers and artisans governed by their state and local bodies and by a national Congress with strictly limited powers.

An expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

Click Here to have the NEWEST essay in this study emailed to your inbox every day at 12:30 pm Eastern!

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Federalist 51 is part of a series of essays in which James Madison addressed the principle of separation of powers and its relation to the preservation of liberty and prevention of tyranny. Federalist 53 discusses the significance of the length of service of the House of Representatives to competent republican government.

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Under Article IV, Section 4, of the Constitution, the United States shall guarantee to each state a republican form of government. That raises the question of what was understood not only by a “republican form” of government, but by the substance of republicanism.

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In 2011, the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA). A California law prohibited the sale of violent video games to minors and required labelling of content and designation of suitable users. Parents would still have the choice to buy video games deemed violent and give them to their children. The law was challenged as violating the free speech rights of minors. Without getting into the raw details, as described in the state’s brief and acknowledged by some of the justices, these games invited the players to torture, murder, and humiliate characters. The attorneys for the purveyors of this entertainment assured the justices that such displays of violence were a traditional teaching tool for America’s youth, and that, unless children have unrestricted opportunity to purchase these materials, freedom of speech would be devastated.

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During the Senate hearings on his nomination to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch commented, “Justice [Antonin] Scalia’s legacy will live on a lot longer than mine.” Whether or not this is a prophetic remark is too early to tell. However, Judge Gorsuch’s statement recognizes the enormous impact that Scalia has had–and will have–on American constitutional law.

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In June, 1961, the Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of an 1879 Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptive devices for the purpose of preventing pregnancy, as well as the counseling of such use. The law applied to married and unmarried couples. However, the law had apparently only been enforced once, in 1940, in a test case, where the charges were dismissed after the state supreme court upheld the law. In the more recent challenge, Poe v. Ullman, two couples and their doctor from the Yale University Medical School sought a declaratory judgment that the statute was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court noted that there had been no threat of prosecution by the state, the statute had not been enforced in the past, and contraceptives were freely sold in Connecticut drugstores, so that the case lacked the genuine dispute required by the Constitution for federal court action. Several justices dissented, one of whom, Justice John Marshall Harlan II, would pave the way for the next challenger.

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“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ….” Though there is some debate over its original meaning, the First Amendment is commonly thought to have prohibited administrative prior restraint on public speaking or writing. Still, a speaker or publisher was responsible for the consequences of his words. If the words were, broadly speaking, directed to incite people against the established authority of the government, it was common to punish such spoken words as sedition and printed words as seditious libel.

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A large mural in the Capitol Building in Washington is titled “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way.” It was painted by Emanuel Leutze in 1861 as a representation of Manifest Destiny, the optimistic world view of 19th century Americans that the country inevitably would be settled from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Manifest destiny was not a strategy or even a policy, but a slogan that represented an aspiration. It was the emergence of an American Empire. It might be a republic in form, but it would be an empire in expanse, wealth, and glory. The term was frequently used even by good American republicans, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Marshall, when discussing their political philosophy.

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It is an understatement to describe Stephen Johnson Field as a giant among Supreme Court justices. He served more than 34 years on the Court, longer than any but Justice William Douglas. He authored 544 opinions, exceeded only by Justice Samuel Miller. He and his fellow justices during the 1880s, including Miller, Joseph Bradley, and John Marshall Harlan composed what, collectively, was likely the most intellectual bench in Supreme Court history.

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Presiding over a trial in the federal Circuit Court in Corfield v. Coryell (1825) to recover a seized vessel, Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington took the occasion to ponder the expansive scope of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV of the Constitution. Because the clause is to facilitate interstate comity and harmony, it protects citizens traveling from one state to another against having the host state abridge their rights compared to those enjoyed by its own citizens, simply on account of the visitors’ out-of-state status. Not all rights are equally important, so Washington attempted a definition. The rights were those “which are, in their nature, fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments.”

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In The Republic, Plato designed his ideal society as one in which the wives and children of the Guardians (the ruling elite) would be held in common. This would prevent the corrosive societal effects of nepotism that result when parents raise their children and, due to their natural affinity, seek to secure wealth and status for their offspring at the expense of the common welfare. The children would be reared by officials of the State: “The proper officers will take the offspring of the good parents to the pen or fold, and there they will deposit them with certain nurses who dwell in a separate quarter.” There was also the eugenicist angle: “[B]ut the offspring of the inferior, or of the better when they chance to be deformed, will be put away in some mysterious, unknown place, as they should be.” The “children of gold,” though, would undergo rigorous, State-controlled training to prepare them for their leadership role.

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In 1976, Americans celebrated a bicentennial, the anniversary of a revolution against an intrusive, heavy-handed, and unresponsive national government. Repeated petitions and remonstrances by the people’s elected local representatives had been dismissed and ignored by the political elite who controlled that far-away national government, and who considered the people ignorant bumpkins. Among the causes of revolution listed in the published indictment of that elite in 1776 had been the chief executive’s use of his quill to veto beneficial laws; his failure to enforce laws properly enacted; his actions and obstructions that clashed with pressing immigration issues; his expansion of uncontrolled bureaucracies, when he “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance”; his policies that failed to secure the frontier and protect the inhabitants there against violence by marauders; and his encouragement of “domestic insurrections” that threatened social peace. Yet that chief executive had not acted alone. The legislature of that distant government had passed unconstitutional laws, such as those that overrode the people’s own local laws and altered fundamentally the constitutional relationship between the national government and theirs.

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After his landslide reelection victory in 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered a message to Congress on February 5, 1937, that decried the alleged, but fictional, congestion of judicial dockets due in part, he explained, to the incapacity of aged or infirm judges. He proposed a law that would allow him to appoint up to six new Supreme Court justices in addition to the current number, one for each justice over age 70. He repeated the gist of what came to be known as his Court-packing plan in a “Fireside Chat” to the American people on March 9, 1937.

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The Industrial Revolution created theretofore unimaginable wealth, some of which trickled down as wages to workers in the mills and factories of the 19th century. Though substandard by today’s measure, those wages were sufficiently high and working conditions sufficiently appealing to attract people from farms to the growing cities. Waves of immigrants, mostly impoverished Europeans, flooded the labor pool, as well. That labor surplus depressed wages, which, in turn, kept low-skilled workers poor, at least in relation to the growing middle and upper classes. Churches and other private relief societies undertook the increasingly urgent efforts to ameliorate the poverty of the working class.

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In 1962, the Supreme Court embarked on what has been described by one scholar as “the most significant reformist activism in which the Warren Court engaged,” other than civil rights cases involving blacks. The constitutional arena was the apportionment of legislative districts, and the case was Baker v. Carr. Chief Justice Earl Warren called Baker “the most important case of [his] tenure on the Court.” Apportionment is the periodic drawing of lines by a state for its congressional districts and for its state legislative districts. Until Baker, federal courts had stayed out of what Justice Felix Frankfurter in a prior case had called a “political thicket,” because it was a “non-justiciable political question.” Such questions could not be resolved by courts for reasons that Justice William Brennan addressed in Baker.

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Unlike many of his decisions, Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the foundational case Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), which upheld the right of Gibbons to operate a ferry between Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and New York City in competition with his former partner, Ogden, was well-received by the public. It negated a New York State monopoly grant and struck a blow in favor of restive younger entrepreneurs who hoped to prosper by providing technological innovation and expanding infrastructure as the country’s population and commerce grew.

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In 1785, Boston’s population was around 18,000; across the Charles River, Charlestown counted 1,200. Forty years later, Boston’s population had more than tripled, to 60,000; that of Charlestown to 8,000. The need to accommodate the increased travel and commerce between Boston and points inland resulted in protracted litigation before the Supreme Court in the 1830s in the Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge case.

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At the Peace of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War, the United States (defined, as in the Declaration of Independence, as the individual states) were recognized by the British as free and independent. While the British relinquished to those United States territory from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, the several states did not thereby relinquish their own, sometimes conflicting, claims to that land. The Articles of Confederation provided procedures for the settlement of boundary disputes between states under the aegis of Congress and also anticipated that there might be disputes between grantees of land from two different states. Yet, no state was to be deprived of land for the benefit of the United States, so the Confederation Congress could not force the states to cede their western land. Still, a number of states released their claims, so that Congress gained de facto control over those lands and organized the Old Northwest under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

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Ex parte McCardle was forged in the superheated atmosphere of Southern reconstruction after the Civil War. The struggle to shape that reconstruction pitted the “Radical” Republicans (representing the pre-war abolitionist wing) against moderates within the party. Democrats, reduced to a rump faction, could do little more than get out of the way and, if palatable, delicately offer support to the Republican moderates. The political and constitutional fault line cut between the restrained Lincoln-Johnson presidential reconstruction based on maintaining the existing federalism, but with abolition of slavery, and the program of congressional radicals to treat the South as a conquered province reduced to territorial status, prostrate before Northern arms and to be cleansed of the twin stains of slavery and secession by stripping the erstwhile states of their old constitutional privileges.

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On June 19, 1846, the Rochester, New York, Democrat newspaper reported that over 4,000 people assembled to witness the launch of a new steamship (then often called a “propeller” due to the novel screw propulsion mechanism), the Genesee Chief. She was described as “faultless in her model and appointments.” At 144 feet long, with 20 state rooms, and berths for 75 cabin and 100 steerage passengers, with room for more, she was to be the start of regular steamship service between Rochester and Chicago.

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Over the years, the Supreme Court has addressed several constitutional topics in cases involving lotteries. Perhaps none is as significant as Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in Cohens v. Virginia. The case was the third major act in a decades-long contest over the nature of the Union and, more specifically, over the constitutional relationship between federal and state laws and between the federal and state judiciaries. On the last point the contest directly involved repeated clashes between the United States Supreme Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals (the state supreme court), and between two dominant jurists, Marshall and the chief judge of Virginia, Spencer Roane. Cohens v. Virginia is the climax in the story of those two rivals.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt, running for re-election in 1936, received 60.8% of the popular vote, second-highest popular vote percentage since that method of selecting presidential electors became dominant in the 1830s. Only Lyndon Johnson’s 61.1% over Barry Goldwater in 1964, Richard Nixon’s 60.7% over George McGovern in 1972, and Warren Harding’s 60.3% over James Cox in 1920 are on a similar scale. The electoral vote was even more lopsided, as Roosevelt defeated Kansas Governor Alf Landon 523 votes to 8 (46 states to 2). Only Ronald Reagan in 1984 (525 votes to 13; 49 states to 1 plus D.C.) and Richard Nixon in 1972 (520 votes to 17; 49 states to 1 plus D.C.) enjoyed similarly impressive margins since the modern two-party system emerged.

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Dissenting from the Supreme Court’s 1905 opinion in Lochner v. New York that found unconstitutional a maximum-hour law for bakery employees, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., declared, “[A] constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizen to the State or of laissez faire.” Holmes’s point is valid at least to the extent that the Framers–most of whom adhered to the then-dominant mercantilism–did not encrypt the grand contours of a particular system of political economy in the Constitution’s provisions aligning and balancing individual liberties and governmental powers. Yet, the Constitution also protects personal rights whose exercise is more likely to be realized in a political system premised on fundamentally liberal (in the classic meaning) conceptions of the role of the government and the individual’s relationship to the State than in a system that rests on a different view of such essential matters.

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When asked what might derail his agenda for his new Conservative Party government, former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan is said to have responded, “Events, dear boy. Events.” That aptly describes how the political fortunes of war-time Presidents play out. It is surprisingly difficult for incumbent commanders-in-chief to win even if military campaigns are successful. True, Franklin Roosevelt won in 1944. But, even as the Allies were defeating the Axis powers, the popular Roosevelt won with the lowest percentage margin of victory of his campaigns. When elections occurred while the war effort appeared to be flagging, incumbents have fared badly. In 1952, as a result of the Korean War stalemate, President Harry Truman could not even win re-nomination by his own party, and the Democrats lost decisively. In a similar vein, in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson declined to pursue the Democratic Party nomination for re-election after the newscaster Walter Cronkite and other elements of the media turned the disastrous and strategic military defeat of the Viet Cong during the Tet offensive into a prevailing popular tale of American defeat.

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Election of 1860

John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky entered the year 1860 as Vice President, having been elected to that office in 1856 as a Democrat from the Stephen Douglas wing of the party. Taking the oath of office when barely 36 years old, one year above the constitutional minimum, he remains the youngest man elected to that office. When the Whig party collapsed because its intrinsic identity as a national party was ground up between the sectional millstones over slavery, the Republican Party emerged as, initially, a staunch anti-slavery movement. Buoyed by its success in the 1858 congressional elections, the party expanded its political agenda. It strongly supported the Union, and moderated, but did not abandon, its official opposition on slavery. By 1860, it was the party of the North, which former Northern Whigs joined enthusiastically.

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The 1850s was, for the American political party system, a decade of “creative destruction,” to borrow a concept from the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. This process of collapse and rebirth, sometimes referred to as a political “realignment,” was triggered by the internal contradictions of a constitutional order resting simultaneously on the animating principle of liberty and the continued protection of slavery. The catalyst was the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Lewis Cass-Henry Clay-Stephen Douglas “popular sovereignty” approach to slavery in the territories, and the resultant spectacle of “Bleeding Kansas” as the preface to the Civil War.

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The Missouri Compromise of 1820, it has been said often, delayed the Civil War for a generation. The act could not, however, eliminate the reality of slavery and the inherent contradiction of such an institution existing in a society founded on the idea of freedom. The Compromise had loaded the dice in favor of at least a gradual erosion of the slave states’ power, thereby also virtually guaranteeing a serious clash, if those states eventually found themselves in an existential political trap.

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“The Bank, Mr. Van Buren, is trying to kill me, but I shall kill it,” President Andrew Jackson ominously declared on July 4, 1832, to his political confidante and future vice-president, Martin Van Buren, during the apex of his struggle with the Second Bank of the United States.

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Rufus King: delegate from Massachusetts to both the Confederation Congress and the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (where, he was one of five members of the influential Committee of Style), long-time U.S. Senator from New York, unsuccessful candidate for governor of New York, two-time American ambassador to Great Britain (where his first successor was James Monroe), and three times unsuccessful Federalist Party candidate for high executive office in the general government—twice for vice-president and once for president. It was this patriot’s lot to lead the disgraced and disintegrating rump of the Federalist Party in its last national campaign.

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Today, having the House of Representatives elect the president seems strange, almost freakish. But to the Framers, the participation of the House in this process was expected to be common-place. The problem arises out of the practical need for at least a two-step procedure. There first must be a mechanism to nominate a number of candidates for the office and, second, a process to select the winner from those nominees.

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Six months before his retirement from the presidency, George Washington gave a farewell address to the nation. Among several memorable passages is his warning about the evils of the spirit of party, particularly as it manifests itself in republican forms of government. “This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature having its roots in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments…; but in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.” Read more

 

In early 1790, in just the second year of the general government under the new constitution, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton delivered on the charge made to him by the first Congress in 1789 to prepare a plan for the “adequate support of public credit.” This First Report on the Public Credit proposed to pay off the foreign and domestic debt at par through new U.S. bonds, which, in turn, were to be paid off through import duties and excise taxes, such as those on whiskey. To help tie disparate creditors of the states to the national program, the general government also would assume the Revolutionary War debts of the states. Later that year, he submitted the related Report on the Bank of the United States. This analogue to the Bank of England, but owned principally by private investors and with branches set up in various states, was to provide the core of a nascent banking system necessary for the country’s commercial development.

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A t-shirt I saw recently embodies the ultimate justification for parental authority, “I’m the Dad, That’s Why.” Of course, substituting “Mom” works, as well. President Obama’s claims of executive authority to act when Congress fails to enact his vision about immigration matters, Obamacare, or the environment, similarly appears to be, “I’m the President, that’s why.” As a t-shirt slogan, it works; as constitutional doctrine, not so much.

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When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, much was made in the press of the perception that this event reflected voters’ fatigue with foreign entanglements and a turning inward to domestic issues. While there is truth to that, events are not controlled by voters’ sentiments and have a way of upsetting comfortable delusions. It might be said, with apology to Leon Trotsky, “You may not be interested in international conflict, but international conflict is interested in you.” Thus, by 2012, Russia rising, Iraq fracturing, Syria boiling, China blustering once again placed foreign relations on the political radar. Still, Mitt Romney’s warnings about, for example, Russia as the preeminent geopolitical threat, fell on insufficient numbers of listening voters’ ears, and Barack Obama was re-elected.

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One of the most controversial recent presidential actions is the Obama administration’s desire to enter a “nuclear deal” with Iran. To prod Iran into an agreement that he appears desperately to want, President Obama intends to waive sanctions imposed under earlier legislation and executive action. As shown by an open letter to the Iranian government authored by Senator Tom Cotton and signed by 47 Republican senators, a hotly-debated aspect of the deal is which role, if any, Congress would play in this spectacle.

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As introduced in the previous post, the 1952 Steel Seizure Case is a cornerstone of the Court’s separation of powers jurisprudence. The case arose out of President Harry Truman’s decision to seize the steel mills to prevent a labor strike that, he claimed, threatened steel production for the war effort in Korea. The Court was presented with the difficult problem of resolving, in a legal setting, the essentially political wrangling between Congress and the President, with the latter pressing his constitutional power claims to the maximum. At another level, the case exposed the fault lines between the American view of the Constitution as both the source and the basic formal law of government, and the classical view of constitutions as mere reflections of formal and informal political accommodations already made otherwise. Read more

Separation Of Powers Case: Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (Part 1)

When the Supreme Court addresses constitutional aspects of executive “overreach,” it often does so in the context of a clash between the President relying on a broad reading of his constitutional powers and the Congress attempting to limit those powers through the use of its own. The controversy that raises the issue is usually said to involve the Court in the delicate, but vital, role of “policing the boundaries established by the Constitution.” To decide just where the boundaries relating to the separation of powers lie, the Court typically looks to the framework established in the foundational case, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952). Read more

Herbert Croly was perhaps the most important intellectual of Progressivism, which seems odd, given the tortuous language and convoluted emotive passages that characterize his work. Progressive Democracy was not Croly’s most significant book. That was his earlier work, The Promise of American Life, a book that supposedly so influenced Theodore Roosevelt it is said to have provided the catalyst for Roosevelt’s return to politics as a third-party “Bull Moose” presidential candidate in the 1912 election.

Progressive Democracy is of the same style and substance as Croly’s other writings. It rests on the usual Progressive premises, such as the omnipotent, all-caring, and morally perfect Hegelian God-state that is the inevitable evolutionary end of Progressive politics. It reflects the notion—so common in Progressive and other leftist theory—of stages of human social and political development that have been left behind and whose outdated institutions are an impediment to ultimate progress into the promised land. Hence, Croly’s insistence that the Constitution’s structure of representative government and separation and division of powers needed to be, and would be, changed. Read more

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was dour, humorless, and convinced of the fallen nature of all but the elect few and of the need for strong leaders with proper principles who would provide the discipline and vision for the moral guidance of the weak at home and abroad. Calvinist in appearance, outlook, and family background, he perfectly matched the caricature of a Puritan. Those traits also made him a perfect Progressive.

Wilson was strongly influenced by 19th century German intellectual thought, especially Hegel’s views of the State as the evolutionary path of an Idea through history, and by contemporary adaptations of Darwinian theories to social science. He enthusiastically embraced the nascent ideology of the State. Read more

In 1830, at a dinner on the anniversary of Jefferson’s birthday, an exchange of toasts occurred between President Andrew Jackson and Vice-President John Calhoun. Jackson’s challenge, “Our Federal Union—it must be preserved!” was returned with another from Calhoun, “The Union—next to our liberty, the most dear.” The rhetorical volleys crystallized the fundamentally different views of the combatants during the later secession crisis, not only on the nature of the Union, but on the very values each thought paramount. Read more

American politics in the 1850s were dominated by the polarization over slavery, which was reflected in the increasingly menacing tone of the national political “conversation” and the retreat into starker sectionalism of political allegiances. Attempts at political compromise over this national sickness initially appeared promising, but ultimately provided only bandages, not cures. When politics failed, the doctors of the law on the Supreme Court stepped in with a massive dose of controversial and untried constitutional medicine in the Dred Scott decision. When that, too, failed, the only means left to stop the spread of the poison was through the extreme surgery of military conflict that cost the blood of over 600,000 Americans. The South wanted amputation of what it saw as the source of the poison—the North’s crusade of political domination. The North rejected amputation and wanted to save the whole patient through radical surgery to cut out the evil—Southern slavery. Read more

Abraham Lincoln’s speech on the Dred Scott Case reveals the complex nature of his views on slavery and racial equality, complexity that reflected the divided national psyche. Many Americans in the broad middle rejected the Southern defense of slavery and believed that the “peculiar institution” violated basic human rights and the fundamental equality of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness promised to all in the Declaration of Independence. Read more

With the certitude of wisdom and the patronizing tone one might recall from one’s own youth, the precocious young Alexander Hamilton offers to teach the Loyalist Samuel Seabury the true meaning of the rights of man. The pointed words used and Hamilton’s sarcastic references to the “Farmer’s” ignorance of the God-given nature of those rights are put in even greater relief when one is reminded that Seabury was one of a long line of bishops, rectors, and professors in the American Episcopal Church and extremely influential in the development of the American church’s doctrine after the Revolution. “If you will follow my advice, there still may be hopes of your reformation,” takes on more layers of meaning, when addressed to a Protestant Read more

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress, after months of preparation and weeks of political wrangling, announced that it had adopted an independence declaration. That document was written by Thomas Jefferson and substantially revised (“mangled,” according to Jefferson) by the Congress. Due to his other obligations, Jefferson had little time to spend on this task. Fortunately, he had composed his Summary View of the Rights of British America just two years earlier, from which he could draw much of the substance of the new document.

The Summary View resonates quite differently from the petitions, remonstrances, and declarations of a decade earlier. Read more

Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved-James Otis

The Declaration of Rights of the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 set forth the fundamental principle that no taxes could be imposed on them, “but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives.” This principle was reduced to the aphorism “taxation without representation is tyranny” and, eventually, “no taxation without representation.” One cannot assign this idea to any individual or movement, as it reflects a long historical struggle between King and Parliament that culminated in the Glorious Revolution and the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Read more

Algernon Sidney, the author of the Discourses, was a man of the 17th century’s Age of Reason. He was skeptical of organized religion though not by that measure doubting of God. He was firmly convinced of the inherent rationality of the human will and the essential equality of all humans as children of God, from which he deduced the ultimate sovereignty of individuals and the basis of the ethical state in the consent of the governed. That made him a foundational figure in the emerging English Whig republicanism, but one about whom history has given a divided verdict.

He was executed in 1683 for plotting to instigate rebellion against Charles II. Many historians believe that the evidence for that particular charge was procured. It is clear, however, that for many years he was supported in his machinations and plotting against the English government by generous support from the French king, Louis XIV. Read more

http://vimeo.com/43382879

Amendment XXIV:

1:  The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

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

A poll tax is an ancient device to collect money. It is a tax on persons rather than property or activity. As a regressive tax from the standpoint of wealth, it is often unpopular if the amount at issue is steep. But it can also be unpopular for other reasons.

In the United States, such a capitation tax was assessed in many states on the privilege of voting. Amounts and methods varied. One of the last poll taxes of this type, that of Virginia, was just $1.50 per person at the time it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1966. That is not more than $10.00 in current money, hardly an exorbitant price, except for the truly destitute. But the problem was more than the amount. It was the manner of administration.

The common practice was to require that the tax be paid at each election, and that a potential voter demonstrate that he had paid the tax for a specified number of previous elections. If not, those arrearages had to be paid to register to vote in the ongoing election. The effect of the tax was to hit many lower income groups, but primarily Southern blacks, whose participation in elections dropped to less than 5% during the first part of the 20th century. To be sure, that low rate of participation was not entirely due to the poll tax, but that tax was a particular manifestation of a regime of suppression of political participation by blacks.

The 15th Amendment had been adopted to prohibit overt racial discrimination in qualifying to vote. However, the poll tax and other restrictive measures, such as literacy tests, were not, strictly speaking, race-based, so they did not come within the 15th Amendment. A different solution was needed, according to those who saw the poll tax as intolerable. Literacy tests, if fairly administered (though often they were not), had a clear connection to the responsible exercise of the voting franchise that poll taxes lacked. After all, especially in those years before the electronic media, having a literate electorate was a significant community interest. Republican theory has traditionally looked to having those with the most interest and highest stake take the leading role in the community. Literacy provided a foundation to acquire the knowledge needed for a wise and effective participation in res publica. Poll taxes, on the other hand, are just revenue-raising devices, and, since they are applied equally per capita, they are removed from republican considerations of having those with the highest economic stake in society direct the political affairs of that society.

Opposition to the poll tax increased during the 1930s and President Roosevelt briefly attacked it in 1938. But FDR had to be mindful of the powerful influence of Southern Democratic barons in the Senate and the crucial role that the Southern states played in the politically dominant Democratic coalition. By the 1940s, the House of Representatives passed legislation to outlaw poll taxes but a Southern-led filibuster in the Senate killed the effort. By 1944, the Republican Party platform and President Roosevelt (though not his party’s platform) called for the tax’s abolition.

Eventually, qualms arose about using ordinary legislation to block the tax. Article I of the Constitution places principal control over voter qualification in the hands of the states. The 15th Amendment (race) and the 19th Amendment (sex) had limited the states’ discretion. To many—even opponents of the poll tax—the message from those amendments was that limitations on state power had to proceed through specific constitutional amendment. The opinions issued by the Supreme Court seemed to echo those sentiments, as the Court had accepted the predominant role of the states in that area even when it struck down the racially-discriminatory “white primaries” in the South in the 1940s and 1950s. The debate allowed Southern supporters of the poll tax to characterize the controversy as a states’ rights issue.

The effort to adopt a constitutional amendment to ban poll taxes dragged on through the 1950s into the 1960s, even as support for the tax grew weaker. Literacy tests remained widespread, even in the North. But Southern states, too, abandoned poll taxes until, in 1960, only 5 states retained them. Finally, in March, 1962, the Senate approved what would become the 24th Amendment. This time, no Southern filibuster occurred. In August of that year, the House concurred. The concerns over state sovereignty remained, in that the amendment proposed to abolish poll taxes only in federal elections, leaving states and municipalities free to continue the practice for their internal affairs.

When the amendment was sent out to the states, every state of the old Confederacy, but two, refused to participate, still portraying the matter as a states’ rights issue. The two exceptions were Mississippi, which formally rejected the amendment, and Tennessee, which approved it. Outside the South, every state adopted the amendment between November, 1962, and March, 1964, except Arizona and Wyoming.

But, as mentioned, states were still free to adopt poll taxes for local elections. This apparently was a call to action for the Supreme Court. Casting constitutional caution to the wind, the Court in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections in 1966 struck down the Virginia poll tax for state and local elections. Creating an odd alloy of different constitutional concepts, due process and equal protection, Justice William Douglas announced for the majority that poll taxes impermissibly discriminated on the basis of wealth and/or improperly burdened a fundamental right to vote. In any event, the opinion announced, the Virginia tax violated the 14th Amendment.

The Court obviously was aware of the 24th Amendment, so recently adopted. But the learned justices must have found the effort to amend the Constitution through the proper Article V process unsatisfying. It appears that the 24th Amendment, having been limited to federal elections to avoid further intrusion into state sovereignty over voting qualifications, was not constitutionally rigorous enough. The Constitution, as it thus stood, was unconstitutional in the eyes of the Supreme Solomons. If the Court was right in Harper, members of Congress and of the state legislatures could have saved themselves much trouble and just used the 14th Amendment to declare all poll taxes unconstitutional. Congress could have accomplished the goals of the 24th Amendment, and more, just by passing a law to enforce these supposed rights protected under the 14th Amendment.

Of course, traditionally the 14th Amendment was not understood to provide direct restrictions on state control of voting qualifications. Otherwise, the 15th Amendment, as it applies to states, would have been unnecessary. The Court had used the 15th Amendment to strike down certain voting restrictions on race earlier in the 20th century, and did not even begin to take gingerly steps towards the 14th Amendment until striking down the “white primaries.”

Not much significance, other than as a symbol and a constitutional curiosity remains of Harper. The Court since then has repudiated the notion of wealth as a constitutionally “suspect” classification entitled to strict judicial scrutiny under the equal protection clause. As well, the notion of voting as a fundamental right protected under the due process clause, has had a checkered history.

Rights conceptually are “fundamental” if they do not depend on a political system for their existence; they are “pre-political” in the sense of the Anglo-American social contract construct that the Framers accepted. Freedom of speech and the right to carry arms for self-defense come to mind. Voting is an inherently political concept that does not exist outside a political commonwealth, and the scope of the voting privilege (that is the meaning of “franchise”) is, necessarily, a political accommodation. Even republics, never mind monarchies, have no uniform understanding of who may be qualified to vote. The great historical variety of arrangements of republican forms of government, and the inherently political nature of defining them, is one reason the Supreme Court has not officially involved itself in defining what is a republican form of government guaranteed under the Constitution.

A final word about the 24th Amendment: Historically, many republics, including the states in our system, required voters to meet designated property qualifications, as a reflection of having a sufficient stake in the community to vote responsibly (and to pay for the cost of government). Strictly speaking, the 24th Amendment does not forbid those. The Supreme Court has upheld property qualifications for voting for special governmental units, such as water districts. One wonders, whether the abolition of such qualifications, if they were required in all elections, would need a constitutional amendment today, or whether the Supreme Court would just wave the magic wand of the 14th Amendment, as it did in Harper.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Amendment XV:

Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

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

As do its older companions among the three Reconstruction Amendments, the Fifteenth Amendment authorizes Congress to make laws to enforce its provisions. Congress acted almost immediately after the amendment’s adoption to protect the voting rights of black citizens through the Enforcement Act of 1870. Just six years later, however, the Supreme Court blunted that statute’s use as a practical tool to prevent Southern interference with the voting rights of blacks.

For the next eighty years, the focus of 15th Amendment law shifted to the Supreme Court as it struck down various ingenious ways, such as “grandfather clauses” and literacy tests, that states developed to continue the disenfranchisement of blacks. Not until 1957 did Congress involve itself again. Finally, in 1965, Congress used Section 2 to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That statute is the most significant law passed under this section, and its constitutionality was quickly upheld in two major Supreme Court rulings in 1966.

The statute prohibits the use of any procedure or test that has the purpose or effect of abridging a citizen’s right to vote on account of race. Moreover, it requires that certain states and other political units that seek to change voting procedures must obtain pre-clearance from the Justice Department. These mechanisms, direct prohibition and pre-clearance from federal authorities, are key features of this potentially far-reaching statute. The latter requirement especially is controversial. Justice Hugo Black noted, a “federal law which assumes the power to compel the States to submit in advance any proposed legislation they have for approval by federal agents” threatens the system of structural federalism because it “approaches dangerously near to wiping the States out as useful and effective units in the government of our country.”

Section 2 is a remedial provision, similar to Section 2 of the 13th Amendment and Section 5 of the 14th Amendment. As to the last of these, the Supreme Court has held that any Congressional act must solely remedy violations by the states of the 14th Amendment and must not simply create new statutory rights to sue. Congress must show that the action by the states that the law prohibits is a violation of the 14th Amendment, as determined by Supreme Court precedent. Once such a violation is established, the law must seek to remedy that violation. The characteristics of a remedy are that it targets only the wrongdoers and the offending behavior, and is in place only as long as is needed to cure the problem. Under the 14th Amendment, that test would be met if the law targeted governmental bodies or government officials for sanction, was limited to states that engaged in the unconstitutional conduct, and applied only as long as the violation continued. The Court has coined a fancy and sonorous phrase for this requirement, calling it one of “congruence and proportionality.”

While the Court has not formally adopted the same test for Section 2 of the 15th Amendment, language from the lower courts and from the Supreme Court in the 2009 decision in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder suggests that this is the likely test that will be applied to laws under this section. The provisions of the Voting Rights Act originally met this test. The most controversial section of the Act, the pre-clearance provision, only applies to states or other political units, and only to those that engaged in violations of the 15th Amendment and abridged the right to vote of various racial or ethnic groups (usually blacks or citizens of Mexican ancestry). The statute was in effect only for five years and allowed a “bail-out” if a political subdivision could show that the reason it was covered by the statute (determined through a voting participation formula) was not due to any unlawful discriminatory practice.

Since then, however, the Act’s constitutionality has become more problematic. It has been re-adopted four times, the latest extension, in 2007, for 25 years. Entire states, such as Texas, continue to be subject to its restrictions. Bail-outs were rare, if they occurred at all, before 1982. Between 1982 and 2009, only 17 political units (e.g. towns or cities) out of 12,000 that are covered by the law successfully bailed out. The Justice Department consistently opposed and blocked bail-out suits.

Conditions in the states have changed since 1965. Indeed, the evils of unbalanced voting rates between whites and others are greater today in some states that are not subject to the Act’s coverage formula. All changes in election law are covered by the statute and must be shown not to have a racially discriminatory effect on voting and must receive Justice Department approval. As one frustrated Georgia Congressman tartly remarked, “If you move a polling place from the Baptist church to the Methodist church, you’ve got to go through the Justice Department.”

This was precisely the problem faced by a small water district in Texas that wanted to move the voting place for election of its board from a private house to a public school. The district was formed in 1987 and never engaged in voting discrimination in violation of the 15th Amendment. But, since Texas was covered by the Act, the district was covered, and the Justice Department opposed the district’s suit to bail out of coverage.

The Supreme Court heard the Northwest Austin case in 2009. While the justices did not reach the constitutionality of the Act, the oral argument and the opinion served strong notice that the Court was skeptical that current social and political conditions warranted a “remedy” based on a formula reflecting nearly 50-year-old evidence. At argument, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito wondered why the Act had not been extended to other states where there were greater voting disparities between whites and racial and ethnic minorities than in the covered states. Such unequal treatment goes against the basic constitutional presumption of equality among the states and can only be avoided in unusual cases. The opinion noted the “federalism cost” of interference with the fundamental political decisions of states, the same concern that Justice Black had raised 40 years earlier.

Since Northwest Austin, several additional political subdivisions have been able to extricate themselves from the Act’s preclearance requirement, including the first outside the state of Virginia. Local politicians, the Justice Department, and the lower courts may have received the Court’s signal and are facilitating bail-outs as a way to avoid having the Court declare the Act unconstitutional.

The Act is an object lesson of how a problem begets a law that remains long after the events that gave rise to it are past. The Act was to be “temporary,” but such measures rarely are. It is in truth a remedy without an ill and becomes thereby part of a political spoils system.

Constituencies develop whose economic livelihood or political influence depends on the continued existence of the law and the perpetuation of the appearance of need for it. Those constituencies include the bureaucrats and lawyers in the Justice Department, but also the politicians—federal, state, and local—who can use their support for the Act as evidence of political virtue to further their own power. The political system may be unable to reform itself under such circumstances, and it remains for the courts to declare that the emperor lacks clothes.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.org/.

 

http://vimeo.com/41276250

Amendment XIV, Section 1:

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

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once dismissively declared the equal protection clause to be the “usual last resort of constitutional arguments.” At the time, 1927 in the notorious case of Buck v. Bell, Holmes could not have foreseen the explosion in the use of the equal protection clause that would occur a generation later.

The Declaration of Independence had famously asserted the proposition, self-evident to the Founders, that “all Men are created equal.” But this was a metaphysical proposition in that there was to be no aristocracy by birthright, a moral one in that we are all (with allowance for the truly insane) equally imbued with free will, and a religious one in that we are all children of God. The Founders were hardly so naïve to believe that all people are physically, intellectually, and emotionally equal, never mind that they are alike. Aristotle had written in the Politics, “Democracy arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.” Aristotle viewed this as a fatal flaw of democracy, a theme echoed in Madison’s Federalist 10. In a trenchant dissection of the instability of democracies, Madison sarcastically observed, “Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that, by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.”

Moreover, the very real presence of slavery in the great majority of the states demonstrated the limitations of the concrete application of the Declaration’s sentiments. While Thomas Jefferson, agonizing over the institution of slavery from which he personally benefitted, might write, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” it was also the case, as the historian Forrest McDonald observed, “Few of his countrymen trembled with him.”

In practice, then, both simple human differences as well as more profound human inequalities have to be taken into account in a successful social order. Regarding the former, the law routinely discriminates by drawing lines that target some in the community for unfavorable treatment. The tax code, for example, is a mass of discriminations. As to the latter, attempts to equalize conditions that arise from the human inequalities about which Madison wrote is a prescription for totalitarian government. That is the dark side of egalitarianism and exposes the tension between equality and liberty.

Moving from a manifesto for independence to a plan for governing the Union, the Framers did not imbed either a general principle of non-discrimination or one of equality of condition in the Constitution. There are only specific limited instantiations of non-discrimination, such as the protection offered under the privileges and immunities clause of Article IV to persons coming into a state from another and under the commerce clause to out-of-staters competing with local businesses.

There is, however, no equal protection clause. That had to await the adoption of the 14th Amendment. However, as was the case with the 13th and 15th Amendments, that provision had to do solely with race discrimination and, more directly, the conditions that resulted from institutionalized slavery based on the black man’s race. The 14th Amendment was the immediate product of concern over the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a law passed under the 13th Amendment. That statute was an anti-discrimination law. Since it prohibited race discrimination in various matters and did not limit itself to slavery as such or apply only in former slave states, there were doubts about the ability of the 13th Amendment to support this law. To cure that defect, a movement for another constitutional amendment, the eventual 14th, arose in Congress under the auspices of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction and the leadership of Congressman John Bingham of Ohio and Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan.

The equal protection clause was only intended to insure formal equality before the law and only regarding race discrimination. That its reach did not extend further was made clear by the Supreme Court in 1872 in the Slaughterhouse Cases, in which a claim by butchers that a Louisiana law violated, among others, their right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment was rejected almost summarily. As Justice Samuel Miller declared, “We doubt very much whether any action of a State not directed by way of discrimination against the negroes as a class, or on account of their race, will ever be held to come within the purview of this provision.” In a companion case decided on the same day, Bradwell v. Illinois, a claim by a woman that the state’s refusal to allow women to practice law violated the 14th Amendment did not even produce an argument by her attorneys or a discussion by the Court of a violation of the equal protection clause. The singularly race-focused nature of the equal protection clause was reiterated by the Court of that era in the Civil Rights Cases and Plessy v. Ferguson.

Leaving aside a few odd cases involving unenumerated fundamental rights, it was not until the 1950s that the Supreme Court began to consider non-race-related equal protection claims, and it was not until Reed v. Reed in 1971 that a claim of unconstitutional sex discrimination was successful. In the last several decades, the Court has used the equal protection clause to strike down state laws that discriminate against various classes of aliens, illegitimate children, and homosexuals. Race, ethnicity, religion, national origin and (many) alienage classifications are considered constitutionally “suspect,” meaning that they are presumptively unconstitutional and subject to “strict judicial scrutiny.” Sex and illegitimacy are “quasi-suspect” classifications subject to “intermediate” scrutiny. In either case, the government must show greater need for such discrimination than would be required for ordinary discriminations by government, such as age, wealth, disability, or other classifications. This means effectively that racial and other such differences must not be formally recognized in laws.

The expansion of non-discrimination protection has made obsolete Justice Holmes’ comment about the futility of equal protection clause claims. The Constitution now protects more broadly against discrimination by government than was the case in the 1920s, and certainly than in the 1790s. Still, there is generally no obligation by government to eliminate inequalities that result from human nature and capabilities or from what might be called expansively the human condition. President Obama, speaking years ago at an academic gathering, bemoaned the Supreme Court’s failure to use the equal protection clause to equalize economic and social conditions of inequality, but the Court has generally avoided such judicial legislation. The only exceptions have been in matters related to access to courts, such as the right of an indigent defendant to a paid attorney.

Beyond those few cases, the justices have declined numerous invitations to turn the Constitution from one of rights against the community (a “negative” constitution) to one of rights from the community (a “positive” constitution). Human experience shows that the latter always becomes one of obligations to the community, as government grows and individual liberty shrinks. Certain justices would be happy to move in the direction of the European model to enact their ideal egalitarian world. Justice Ruth Ginsburg’s admonition to the Egyptians that they follow the South African constitution rather than the American in establishing their new system comes to mind. But the increasingly precarious economic status of the welfare state shows the wisdom of the Court in not amending the Constitution to remake the equal protection clause into a constitutional forge of egalitarianism.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Amendment XIV, Section 1:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment is one of four amendments to the Constitution that were intended to overturn or clarify Supreme Court rulings (the 11th, 16th, and 26th were the others). Prior to 1857, there had been much scholarly discussion and political debate, but no resolution or consensus, whether the basis of American citizenship was dependent or independent of state citizenship. Many supported the view expressed by South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun in his famous Senate speech on the Force Bill in 1833, “[Every] citizen is a citizen of some State or Territory, and as such, under an express provision of the Constitution, is entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and it is in this and no other sense that we are citizens of the United States.” On the other hand, James Madison, discussing the need for Congress to provide uniformity in naturalization in Federalist 42, appears to assume that American citizenship cannot be left to the vagaries of state definitions.

The Supreme Court thoroughly examined the issue in the Dred Scott case in 1857. Chief Justice Roger Taney’s majority opinion addressed the interplay between state citizenship and American citizenship. He reasoned that “people of the United States” in the preamble and “citizens” in other parts were synonymous. The people of the United States were composed of the people of the States, as it was they who were the parties to the Constitution in light of the adoption process by state conventions. The “people” of those states were the “free” inhabitants. This was a concept of specific meaning, referring to whites only, not people brought to the colonies as slaves or their descendants, even if thereafter they had been freed. Accordingly, only those descended from white inhabitants and those people naturalized under federal law (since the first statute in 1790, only whites) could be American citizens. This fundamental principle overrode later decisions by individual states to recognize additional classes of state citizens. Scott had no basis claiming citizenship as that term was used in the Constitution. Therefore, he had no power to sue in federal court as a “citizen” of Missouri.

Taney’s argument had a weak link in that there were freed blacks, some of whom could vote in 5 of the 13 states at the adoption of the Constitution. Moreover, the privileges and immunities clause of the Articles of Confederation (the pre-cursor to its counterpart in the Constitution of 1787) had discussed the body of the states’ citizens in terms of their “free inhabitants.” An amendment proposed by South Carolina to insert “white” after “free” was overwhelmingly rejected in 1778. If that was correct, slaves could not claim citizenship, but free blacks could. Just in case, Taney cut off that argument by stating that Scott’s residence with his master in Wisconsin territory could not transmute his status from slave to free.

The main dissenting opinion, by Justice Benjamin Curtis, exploited that weakness, insisting that the Constitution established an understanding of American citizenship that plausibly could extend to all free persons born in the United States. Curtis agreed, however, that the states determined the basic parameters of citizenship, and that American citizenship was derived from the scope of citizenship recognized by the state of birth. The laws of Scott’s state of birth, Virginia, treated him as a slave; therefore he was not at that time a citizen of the United States. Nor would a slave who was temporarily taken into a free state thereby be made free. But when his master took him to reside in a free territory, Wisconsin, that action made Scott a free man and a citizen of the United States. When taken back to live in Missouri, he returned as a free man and became a citizen of that state.

Curtis accepted a unitary basis of citizenship for those born in the United States, one that was determined basically by state law. Taney, on the other hand, accepted a duality: United States citizenship was established by the understanding of the Framers of what made someone part of the “people of the United States.” While states could define state citizenship for themselves, they (or the Congress) could not go against this fundamental principle. Hence, even after the Civil War, freed blacks could not be citizens of the United States, short of a constitutional amendment.

Accepting Taney’s constitutional argument, Congress took that path with the 14th Amendment. United States citizenship was de-coupled from state citizenship, and the latter was made subordinate to the former. National citizenship appears based on place of birth (“jus soli”), the English common law principle going back to feudal antecedents when one’s station was connected to the soil where one was born. However, the amendment also adds that the person must be “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. This clearly excludes those children born in the United States to foreign diplomats. Does it also exclude those who are born in the United States to parents who happen to be here temporarily or illegally?

The Supreme Court addressed that clause in 1898 in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark. The majority ruled very broadly that anyone (other than the children of foreign diplomats) born on U.S. soil was a U.S. citizen. The dissent argued that the competing international law doctrine of blood relationship (“jus sanguinis”) applied, which required not only birth in the U.S. but that the child’s father did not owe allegiance to a foreign power. This was an old principle of Roman law and ancient Greek practice still used in many countries today. It would keep the native-born children at least of those who are here merely as visitors from claiming birthright citizenship.

How does this affect the current debate about “anchor babies” in connection with illegal entrants into the United States? Proponents of unrestricted citizenship argue for the broad language of Wong Kim Ark that generally has prevailed in the courts. However, there are several weaknesses. First, the issue of illegal entrants, or even of temporary visitors, was not addressed there. Mr. Wong himself had lived in the U.S. all of his life. Wong’s parents had been duly admitted as immigrants to the U.S. with a permanent domicile and were engaged in a business. They were not mere passers-through. Nor were they here illegally, a concept that was not an issue in American immigration law until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, years after the Wongs arrived. It was unnecessary for the Court to give such a broad reading to the 14th Amendment, and the justices simply may not have been aware of the ramifications of their language.

Second, the law-of-the-soil tradition carried with it “indelible allegiance.” Thus, a British subject could not renounce British citizenship, which led the British navy, after American independence, to search American vessels and “impress” into British service naturalized American citizens of British ancestry. Americans have roundly rejected that principle.

Third, the debates over the 14th Amendment included remarks by Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan, the amendment’s sponsor, that seem to say that the amendment does not apply to children of any foreigners or aliens, even if those children are born in the United States.

Fourth, Congress on several occasions throughout American history has employed jus sanguinis, for example, in legislation to recognize as citizens by birth the children born abroad to American citizens. This suggests that the 14th Amendment’s jus soli principle applies, unless Congress, as part of the sovereign powers of the national government, passes a law that rests on a different principle.

Overturning a century-old precedent is difficult, but distinguishing it due to changed social circumstances unanticipated at the time is more persuasive. Still, eroding the jus soli interpretation of the citizenship clause is a longshot, but the public debate likely will intensify the pressure for some political or constitutional accommodation.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

http://vimeo.com/40522514

Amendment XI:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

“The prince is not bound by the laws.” Thus wrote the lawyer-scribes who compiled the early-6th century compendium of Roman law known as the Code of Justinian. This aphorism defined a fundamental attribute of sovereignty. The sovereign has ultimate authority to make law. Therefore, he cannot be subject to a superior power that could adjudicate a claim that he has violated the law, since that would deny his ultimate authority.

In English constitutional theory, this principle became, “The King can do no wrong.” It was a mainstay of the early modern state and the Tudor and Stuart kings. In somewhat more circumscribed manner, it survived the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and became sufficiently tame as a political construct to be acceptable to English republicans and, through a later formulation, to their counterparts in the American states.

Few, if any, took this point literally, any more than Catholics deem the Pope literally infallible. As William Blackstone explained, the principle was simply that, “whatever may be amiss in the conduct of public affairs is not chargeable personally on the king.” In addition, the law “feels itself incapable of furnishing any adequate remedy, without infringing the dignity and destroying the sovereignty of the royal person.” For Blackstone, as for Justinian’s lawyers and for jurists before and since, the principle was driven by practicality, of not subjecting the ultimate political decision makers to suit over every injury, grave or slight, arising from making and executing public policy. Blackstone allows, however, that the king’s officials and ministers could be called to account for the wrongs that they did in erroneously carrying out public affairs to the injury of someone’s person or property.

Under American theory, constitutional sovereignty shifted from the king to the people. The “people” are incorporated into the states and the United States. In ordinary matters of public policy, practical sovereignty lies in the legislatures. Despite the unfortunate tendency of some political groups towards deification of the State, a fiction that “the people can do no wrong” sounds alien to our ears. Still, the Supreme Court has broadly recognized the principle of “sovereign immunity” as having been carried over from English common law to the states when they declared independence in 1776. Moreover, the Court has underscored the universal nature of sovereign immunity by endorsing it for the United States, as well. One justification the Court has given sounds positively Blackstonian, namely, that a power to haul a state into court without its consent would be an affront to the state’s “dignity.”

The justices have also expressed particular opposition to money claims against a state. Their position may reflect the constitutional reticence of an unelected body to order funds to be appropriated when such funds would have to be raised by taxing or borrowing (“No taxation without representation”). More likely, it recognizes the political reality that courts have no real means to enforce such an order against an unwilling legislature.

Yet, Article III of the Constitution explicitly permits suits in federal court between states and various opponents, from the United States to foreign countries and their citizens, to other states and their citizens. It was argued that, by approving the Constitution, the states to that extent surrendered their sovereign immunity. So, too, thought Alexander Chisholm, the executor for one Robert Farquhar of South Carolina, when he attempted in 1793 to collect on a debt owed to the deceased by the State of Georgia for goods supplied to that state during the Revolutionary War. Georgia had refused to pay for the supplies on the convenient excuse that Farquhar was a British loyalist, though apparently a not-too-principled one.

Chisholm sued Georgia in the Supreme Court. Indeed, he was able to get the attorney general of the United States, Edmund Randolph, to argue the case for him. Georgia, relying on its sovereignty, deigned not even to appear so as not to give legitimacy to this judicial affront to its dignity, though it sent the justices a letter of protest denying their jurisdiction to hear the case. The justices ruled 4-1 against the state, on the aforementioned ground that the states had surrendered aspects of their sovereignty as the text of Article III makes clear, and, in Justice James Wilson’s scholarly opinion, on the ground that states as such were not sovereigns at all.

However, the majority may have got it wrong. The Constitution permits suits “between a State and Citizens of another State.” The Chisholm justices suggested that “between” meant the suit could be brought by the state or by the citizen. But the order of parties in the text could also mean that only the state could bring the suit, especially in light of the common law prohibition of suits against unwilling sovereigns.

Significantly, the wording of Article III alarmed Antifederalists during the ratification debates. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 81, responded by imagining a hypothetical dispute brought by a citizen of one state against another state over public securities, such as bonds, issued by the latter. This almost exactly foretold Chisholm. Hamilton strongly defended the states’ immunity from suit as natural to sovereignty and reflecting general practice. He belittled the reasoning later advanced by the Chisholm justices as arising from mere implication and a “forced and unwarrantable” construction of the Constitution’s language.

The virulent reaction in the states against the Chisholm case supports Hamilton’s reading of the Constitution. States-rights supporters saw the decision as confirming their suspicion that the new constitution’s federal structure was a smokescreen to deprive the states of their sovereignty and reduce them to “tributary corporations” to the national government. A more concrete and immediate concern was that the decision opened the door for states to be sued over many unresolved war claims, a course that threatened their financial solvency.

In response, Congress proposed the Eleventh Amendment in 1794, which the states approved in less than one year, a record speed. While the Amendment prohibits only suits in federal court and only against a state by citizens of other states or foreign countries, the Supreme Court has held that the Amendment is just a particular example of the broader principle of sovereign immunity. The Court has ruled that a state also cannot be sued by its own citizens or in its own courts without its consent.

Does that mean that citizens are unable to have their rights vindicated against injurious government conduct? Not at all. Similar to what Blackstone opined was English practice, the Supreme Court has recognized a significant exception that allows suits against state officials, if such suits do not, in effect, seek money damages to be pried out of the state treasury. Thus, a state official can be sued to order him to refrain from engaging in violations of the petitioner’s constitutional rights. State sovereign immunity also does not prevent suits against cities and other local bodies. In limited cases, Congress can restrict the states’ sovereign immunity by statute. The United States in some instances can sue states to challenge violations of individual rights created under federal statutes. If a state initiates an action against a defendant, he can bring claims and defenses against the state arising out of the state’s suit.

Finally, the states can consent to be sued for injuries committed by their officials. It may seem counter-intuitive that governments would agree to be sued, but they generally have done so by laws that wholly waive their immunity (California) or that waive it in specified instances (the United States). Such consent meets political demands for compensation of injured parties, and it is more efficient than the previous alternative of having legislators laboriously introduce private bills of relief to be passed as ordinary laws.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

http://vimeo.com/39239148
Amendment VI:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of counsel for his defence.

The due process clause of the Fifth Amendment embodies the principle that those vested with the power to govern must not act arbitrarily towards the citizenry. This principle has been a long-established and deeply-held value in Western Civilization, dating back to Stoic (and, subsequently, Judeo-Christian) conceptions of individual dignity. It was incorporated into the canon law of the medieval Catholic Church on the argument that, before banishing Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, God gave them a hearing. In Anglo-American constitutional history, it found expression in a provision of the Magna Charta extracted from King John by the nobles that “No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed, or banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor send upon him, except by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” Closer in time to the Constitution, that protection was included in substantially similar language, in the paradigmatic Massachusetts constitution of 1780.

It is self-evident that among the most fundamental protections against governmental caprice is the requirement that, before one is tried and subject to losing life, liberty, or property, one must be notified of the reasons by grand jury indictment or criminal information. Languishing in jail, or living under a cloud of unspecified suspicion, with the overbearing power of the State poised to strike at his life, liberty, or property for a reason not made known, exacts an emotional toll and prevents the targeted individual from preparing his defense. In the more modern context provided by the movie “Animal House,” operating under “double secret probation” puts the recipient at the whim of a vindictive governing bureaucracy.

Then why did the Framers not simply limit themselves to a due process protection, but provide various more precise protections for the accused? Individual clauses in the Fifth (the protection against compelled self-incrimination), Sixth, and Eighth Amendments (no excessive bail) Amendments are specifications of the broader contours of the due process guarantee in the Fifth Amendment. Many of these specifications arose out of the particular experiences of the Americans with British rule. The specific requirement of notification of criminal charges began to appear frequently in early state constitutions, but, unlike other specific protections such as jury trials, had been rare in earlier colonial charters and declarations of privileges and liberties. The Massachusetts constitution of 1780 again provides a model, “No subject shall be held to answer for any crime or offence until the same is plainly, substantially and formally, described to him….” Thus, an indictment must not only be clear, but must “contain the elements of the offense intended to be charged and sufficiently apprise the defendant of what he must be prepared to meet,” as the Supreme Court has opined.

The requirement of notice of charges applies not only to procedural steps that must be taken in regard to the accused. There is also a substantive component that the law under which he is charged be written in a way that furnishes him a reasonably definite standard of guilt. Again, this ties into more general due process notions that a law is unconstitutionally vague if the “average person is left to guess at its meaning,” or if, “based on common understanding and practices, the language of the law reasonably could be construed in several ways, one of which would make the conduct legal.” The old saw that “ignorance of the law is no defense” loses all force if the language of the law is unduly vague.

One historical example of the dangerous malleability of law, especially in the hands of crafty and overbearing prosecutors, was the application of English treason law. Before the Statute of Treason was adopted in 1352, it included various crimes other than warring against the king or aiding his enemies. The contours changed as the king saw fit and extended to ordinary crimes against the “peace of the realm,” such as the murder of the king’s messengers and armed robbery Even after the statute, it included counterfeiting and listed such oddities as “imagining the death of the king, his consort, or his eldest son; violating his consort, or eldest unmarried daughter, or the wife of his eldest son” even before the text discussed levying war against the king. That statute itself was frequently altered and applied in unpredictable ways until a series of reforms by, curiously, the 17th century court of Star Chamber and later Parliaments. Due to this history, as well as the harsh, even brutal, consequences that could result from conviction for treason, colonial charters and state constitutions sought to tighten the definition and reign in the consequences. The Framers of the Constitution followed suit and made treason the only clearly defined crime in the Constitution.

More recently, the Supreme Court has addressed the “notice” issue in striking down vagrancy laws and laws based on certain personal “characteristics.” For example, an ordinance from Jacksonville, Florida, was declared unconstitutional that punished, among others, “persons who use juggling or unlawful games or plays…persons wandering or strolling around from place to place without any lawful purpose or object, habitual loafers…persons neglecting all lawful business and habitually spending their time by frequenting houses of ill fame, gaming houses, or places where alcoholic beverages are sold or served, persons able to work but habitually living upon the earnings of their wives or minor children” as vagrants. To the Court, this law cast too wide a net and left too much unpredictable discretion to the police to provide a suitable (and constitutional) rule of law. Punishing (defined) aggressive begging is one thing; punishing people “hanging out” is another.

In similar vein, a New Jersey statute that penalized “gangsters” was struck down because it did not provide a usable definition. More recent anti-gang statutes and injunctions have survived constitutional scrutiny because they prohibit defined gang activities, rather than mere status as a gangster. Led by California’s Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act and the state’s pioneering use of anti-gang injunctions, a majority of states have enacted this type of legislation. The federal government also targets gangs through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which punishes gangster-focused conduct. The latter example also shows the dangers of broadly-worded laws, as the statute for a couple of decades was used against targets, such as financial institutions and other businesses, well beyond the intent of the statute’s drafters. One critic claimed that the only groups not targeted under the law were actual racketeers.

The courts recognize, however, that statutes are inherently vague. Language has its limits. Indeed, requiring too much definition would likely make a statute more ambiguous by increasing its complexity and verbosity. Moreover, statutes look forward and are intended to address actions still undone by persons still unknown. There has to be play in the joints. Conspiracy laws, and statutes that prohibit mail and wire fraud, “unreasonable” restraints of trade, or conduct that the “reasonable person knows would annoy another by creating an unreasonable noise” provide sufficiently precise notice. Insufficiency of notice of the charges based on the purported vagueness of a law is almost invariably a futile argument. A defendant whose only hope for avoiding conviction is based on such a tactic is well advised to seek a plea bargain.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

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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 offense 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.

The 1999 movie Double Jeopardy, starring Ashley Judd and Tommie Lee Jones, focused on a wife who was wrongfully convicted of murdering her husband who had staged his own killing. One theme suggested by the title and by some scenes of prison lawyering is that, having once been convicted of murder, the wife could not be tried again if she now murdered her husband. Hardly.

The protection against double jeopardy is deemed a fundamental human right with a tradition well-entrenched in Western Civilization going back at least to ancient Roman law. The doctrine was part of the English common law long before the Constitution, although, curiously, express double jeopardy protections were not well-represented in the early state constitutions or in the proposals for amendments submitted by the state conventions that ratified the Constitution. Incidentally, the phrase “life or limb” today is read as “life or [physical] liberty,” since drawing-and-quartering and other punishments that produce corporal maiming have gone out of style and would likely constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the 8th Amendment.

In Green v. U.S. in 1957, the Supreme Court justified the doctrine as reflecting

“the underlying idea…that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense, and ordeal compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent he may be found guilty.”

On that last point, if the state gets numerous turns at bat, it only needs to be successful once, which produces significant incentive to try repeatedly. At the very least, such tactics will cause more defendants, emotionally and financially exhausted and faced with the deeper resources of taxpayer-funded prosecutors, to enter factually dubious guilty pleas.

The clause raises several questions. First, when does jeopardy “attach”? Second, what exactly can the government not do? Third, what exceptions are there?

Jeopardy attaches when a jury is empanelled and sworn. If the trial is to a judge only, it attaches when the first witness is sworn. If there is a guilty plea, it attaches when the court accepts the plea. An acquittal by the judge or jury bars the government from appeal because a retrial for that offense would violate the double jeopardy rule.

Notice that the government cannot retry the offender for the same offense. What if a defendant is acquitted of robbery, which combines larceny (taking and carrying away another’s personal property without consent and with the intent to deprive him of the property permanently) and assault (intentionally creating a reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily injury)? Can the prosecutor now seek to try the defendant for larceny and/or assault arising out of the same criminal act? The common sense reaction is “no.” That is also the legal stance, because two crimes constitute the “same offense,” unless each of them has at least one additional element that is different from the other. Here, while robbery has a different element than either larceny or assault (since it is a combination of the two), neither larceny nor assault has any additional element from robbery. A prosecutor who has failed in a prior trial cannot proceed against the same defendant for a “lesser-and-included” offense.

Likewise, a prosecutor who, for example, successfully prosecuted a defendant for larceny and has that conviction under his belt subsequently cannot roll the dice again and seek to try that defendant for the greater crime of robbery out of the same transaction. The lone exception to that rule is that a prosecution for battery (unlawfully using force against another that causes bodily injury) does not bar a subsequent trial for murder if the victim eventually succumbs to his wounds from the attack.

While the rule gives defendants some basic and significant protections, it is also riddled with exceptions and qualifications. In that vein, a hung jury is no bar to retrial. Neither are certain motions for mistrial by the defendant where the mistrial is not caused by prosecutorial misconduct. For example, conditions arise that make a continuing fair trial impossible in that location. There is also generally no violation of double jeopardy for a retrial if the defendant appealed and was successful in overturning the earlier verdict, or if the prosecution successfully appealed a trial court dismissal of the case when there was no acquittal but the trial court based its decision on a legal motion.

Significantly, double jeopardy does not apply to non-criminal proceedings. A public official who is impeached and removed from office for a crime can also be prosecuted for that act under the criminal law. In similar vein, a defendant who is convicted or acquitted in a criminal trial can be sued by the victim for a civil wrong. A notorious example of that is the former football star and advertising pitchman O.J. Simpson. Despite his acquittal of murder charges for the killing of his estranged wife and another victim, he was subsequently found liable for civil damages for “wrongful death.”

Returning to our movie, yet another exception shows the lack of reliability of jailhouse lawyering (or of Hollywood screenwriters). The double jeopardy clause does not apply to different sovereigns. Conviction or acquittal under the laws of one sovereign does not bar a different sovereign from prosecuting the defendant under its law for the same charge arising out of the same conduct if the conduct affected that sovereign. Although they usually avoid duplication, the state of California could prosecute a drug dealer for violation of its drug laws and then turn the perpetrator over to the federal government for prosecution under federal drug laws. A version of that was the 1993 federal prosecution of four Los Angeles police officers for violation of federal civil rights laws arising out of the use of excessive force in arresting Rodney King in 1991. The officers had mostly been acquitted in a 1992 state prosecution arising out of the same incident.

The legal assumptions of the movie are flawed. Being wrongfully convicted of murder may entitle the defendant to civil damages from the government. But it does not create a dispensation from prosecution for a subsequent murder. The Constitution has no “get-out-of-jail-free-for-murder” coupons to be redeemed as the occasion demands. More pertinent, had Louisiana prosecuted the movie’s protagonist for the murder of her husband, the prior prosecution by the state of Washington would not have placed her twice in jeopardy of life or limb for the same offense.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Amendment II:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

 

Amendment II: A Well Regulated Militia Being Necessary to the Security of a Free State

When Paul Revere and his companions alerted the Massachusetts countryside of the movement of British troops, he warned his fellow-British subjects, “The Regulars are coming out.” In contrast to those troops, with their standard drill, formations, equipment, and armament, the Patriot combatants at Lexington and Concord (as well as Revere himself) were “Minutemen,” a lightly-armed, organized rapid-response component of the colonial militia. As all such militias at the time, they were “irregulars,” though the quality of the Minutemen’s equipment and training was superior to that of the militia as a whole. The distinction between such organized parts and the general militia was continued by the states, and, beginning in 1792, in the second federal Militia Act. It is a distinction that, despite changes in the nature of the militia concept, is preserved in current law.

Militia service in the colonies/states extended to all men able to bear arms, subject to some variations as to age and race. Universal service was both a practical necessity—the need to deal with insurrections and with Indian raids—and a reflection of the ancient republican idea that military service was a necessary, though not sufficient, qualification for participation in the community’s governance. Laws also typically required that individuals keep arms sufficient to serve in the militia. In fact, the armament of individual militiamen varied widely, from military-style smooth-bore muskets (e.g. the “Brown Bess”), to—more rarely—longer-range but slower-to-reload rifles, to fowling pieces and other less useful weaponry. Due to these and other limitations, militia units were found ineffective and unsuitable for pitched battle. In the field, they were used mainly for irregular, partisan-style warfare and, as adjuncts to regular units, for sniping and for harassment from the flanks of the line of battle.

There were frequent complaints about the militia’s performance. In a letter to the Continental Congress, General George Washington acidly passed judgment:

To place any dependence on the Militia, is, assuredly, resting upon a broken staff. Men just dragged from the tender Scenes of domestic life; unaccustomed to the din of Arms; totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill, which being followed by a want of confidence in themselves, when opposed to Troops regularly trained, disciplined, and appointed, superior in knowledge and superior in Arms, makes them timid, and ready to fly from their own shadows….

Alexander Hamilton, who made the jump from a New York militia artillery unit to the Continental Army, was more conciliatory, magnanimously softening his criticism with praise in Federalist 25:

The American militia, in the course of the late war, have, by their valour on numerous occasions, erected eternal monuments to their fame; but the bravest of them know and feel, that the liberty of their country could not have been established by their efforts alone, however great and valuable they were. War, like most other things, is a science to be acquired and perfected by diligence, by perseverance, by time, and by practice.

Hamilton supported a standing army. But, as Elbridge Gerry and other anti-federalists argued, the militia was a necessary bulwark against the dangers from a national standing army. Still, the war-time experience described above could not be ignored. To be effective, such a militia had to be “well-regulated.” To “regulate” was to standardize, to conform to a norm, here, standard weaponry, equipment, and drill. The word did not have today’s principal connotation, to “control”; the early American word for the latter was the government’s power to “police.”

The Constitution’s critics were alarmed that Congress was given the power under the Constitution to “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia….” In the minds of suspicious republicans, this afforded Congress the means to establish only a “select militia” under national control, in effect creating a national standing army by another name and laying the states prostrate at the feet of the national Leviathan. Moreover, like the 17-th century Stuart kings, Congress could complete the tyranny by passing laws to disarm individual Americans.

To lessen that potentiality, the Second Amendment was adopted for what has been described today as, figuratively speaking, a “nuclear option.” To the extent that Congress does not regulate the militia, the states are free to do so under general principles of federalism, as the Supreme Court recognized in 1820 in Houston v. Moore. The Second Amendment is not needed for that possibility. But if the Congress seeks to disarm the citizenry that composes the militia, recourse has to exist to first causes, here, the ultimate right of the people to defend their liberties, their “unalienable rights” with which they are “endowed by their Creator.” As the Minutemen did in opposition to King George, the people have the right to organize themselves into militias if the states are impotent to oppose a national tyrant. That right belongs to each individual, though it would be exercised collectively, just as the First Amendment’s right to assemble to petition the government for a redress of grievances would be. It is crucial to an understanding of the Second Amendment to keep this point in focus.

Then why did the Framers not just write that there is a personal right to own guns? Describing the Second Amendment, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story wrote in his influential 1833 treatise on the Constitution, “The militia is the natural defence of a free country….” He then famously continued, “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers….”

Notice the division and simultaneous relation between the reason for the policy and the definition of the right itself. It mirrors the division in the Second Amendment, both in the original draft version presented by James Madison to the First Congress and in the restyled final version. The pattern for the Second Amendment, as for much of the rest of the Bill of Rights, was the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which, too, set up a similar textual division between concerns over the threat from standing armies and the right of the people to have arms. With some internal variations, early state constitutions maintained that distinction. Within the states, the danger from standing armies would come from their own governments, which would also be the ones to organize their militias. If the right to keep and bear arms in those constitutions applied only within the state-organized militia, rather than as an individual right, it would hardly present an obstacle to a potentially tyrannical state government. Continuing the trend, petitions for a bill of rights submitted by the state conventions ratifying the Constitution again contained this familiar distinction.

Nor is the existence of a prefatory clause in the Second Amendment unusual. While the structure is different from that of the other amendments, the Second Amendment’s style was quite ordinary at the time, as a quick review of the English Bill of Rights, colonial charters, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, state constitutions, state convention petitions, and other foundational documents amply shows. During the early Republic, such bills of rights were often viewed, as Hamilton dismissively argued in Federalist 84, as mere “aphorisms…which would sound much better in a treatise of ethics, than in a constitution of government.” Such explanatory clauses allowed for ringing philosophical declarations. Today, such clauses have no legal effect but can shed light on the ratifiers’ motivation for mentioning the provision and can help clarify ambiguities. Still, as Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his extensive analysis in the 2008 gun rights case, D.C. v. Heller, a prefatory clause cannot limit a well-understood right.

If it is said that a vigorous First Amendment makes possible a healthy republic, a vigorous Second Amendment is needed to ensure it.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

 

Amendment XXIV

1:  The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

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

A poll tax is an ancient device to collect money. It is a tax on persons rather than property or activity. As a regressive tax from the standpoint of wealth, it is often unpopular if the amount at issue is steep. But it can also be unpopular for other reasons.

In the United States, such a capitation tax was assessed in many states on the privilege of voting. Amounts and methods varied. One of the last poll taxes of this type, that of Virginia, was just $1.50 per person at the time it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1966. That is not more than $10.00 in current money, hardly an exorbitant price, except for the truly destitute. But the problem was more than the amount. It was the manner of administration.

The common practice was to require that the tax be paid at each election, and that a potential voter demonstrate that he had paid the tax for a specified number of previous elections. If not, those arrearages had to be paid to register to vote in the ongoing election. The effect of the tax was to hit many lower income groups, but primarily Southern blacks, whose participation in elections dropped to less than 5% during the first part of the 20th century. To be sure, that low rate of participation was not entirely due to the poll tax, but that tax was a particular manifestation of a regime of suppression of political participation by blacks.

The 15th Amendment had been adopted to prohibit overt racial discrimination in qualifying to vote. However, the poll tax and other restrictive measures, such as literacy tests, were not, strictly speaking, race-based, so they did not come within the 15th Amendment. A different solution was needed, according to those who saw the poll tax as intolerable. Literacy tests, if fairly administered (though often they were not), had a clear connection to the responsible exercise of the voting franchise that poll taxes lacked. After all, especially in those years before the electronic media, having a literate electorate was a significant community interest. Republican theory has traditionally looked to having those with the most interest and highest stake take the leading role in the community. Literacy provided a foundation to acquire the knowledge needed for a wise and effective participation in res publica. Poll taxes, on the other hand, are just revenue-raising devices, and, since they are applied equally per capita, they are removed from republican considerations of having those with the highest economic stake in society direct the political affairs of that society.

Opposition to the poll tax increased during the 1930s and President Roosevelt briefly attacked it in 1938. But FDR had to be mindful of the powerful influence of Southern Democratic barons in the Senate and the crucial role that the Southern states played in the politically dominant Democratic coalition. By the 1940s, the House of Representatives passed legislation to outlaw poll taxes but a Southern-led filibuster in the Senate killed the effort. By 1944, the Republican Party platform and President Roosevelt (though not his party’s platform) called for the tax’s abolition.

Eventually, qualms arose about using ordinary legislation to block the tax. Article I of the Constitution places principal control over voter qualification in the hands of the states. The 15th Amendment (race) and the 19th Amendment (sex) had limited the states’ discretion. To many—even opponents of the poll tax—the message from those amendments was that limitations on state power had to proceed through specific constitutional amendment. The opinions issued by the Supreme Court seemed to echo those sentiments, as the Court had accepted the predominant role of the states in that area even when it struck down the racially-discriminatory “white primaries” in the South in the 1940s and 1950s. The debate allowed Southern supporters of the poll tax to characterize the controversy as a states’ rights issue.

The effort to adopt a constitutional amendment to ban poll taxes dragged on through the 1950s into the 1960s, even as support for the tax grew weaker. Literacy tests remained widespread, even in the North. But Southern states, too, abandoned poll taxes until, in 1960, only 5 states retained them. Finally, in March, 1962, the Senate approved what would become the 24th Amendment. This time, no Southern filibuster occurred. In August of that year, the House concurred. The concerns over state sovereignty remained, in that the amendment proposed to abolish poll taxes only in federal elections, leaving states and municipalities free to continue the practice for their internal affairs.

When the amendment was sent out to the states, every state of the old Confederacy, but two, refused to participate, still portraying the matter as a states’ rights issue. The two exceptions were Mississippi, which formally rejected the amendment, and Tennessee, which approved it. Outside the South, every state adopted the amendment between November, 1962, and March, 1964, except Arizona and Wyoming.

But, as mentioned, states were still free to adopt poll taxes for local elections. This apparently was a call to action for the Supreme Court. Casting constitutional caution to the wind, the Court in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections in 1966 struck down the Virginia poll tax for state and local elections. Creating an odd alloy of different constitutional concepts, due process and equal protection, Justice William Douglas announced for the majority that poll taxes impermissibly discriminated on the basis of wealth and/or improperly burdened a fundamental right to vote. In any event, the opinion announced, the Virginia tax violated the 14th Amendment.

The Court obviously was aware of the 24th Amendment, so recently adopted. But the learned justices must have found the effort to amend the Constitution through the proper Article V process unsatisfying. It appears that the 24th Amendment, having been limited to federal elections to avoid further intrusion into state sovereignty over voting qualifications, was not constitutionally rigorous enough. The Constitution, as it thus stood, was unconstitutional in the eyes of the Supreme Solomons. If the Court was right in Harper, members of Congress and of the state legislatures could have saved themselves much trouble and just used the 14th Amendment to declare all poll taxes unconstitutional. Congress could have accomplished the goals of the 24th Amendment, and more, just by passing a law to enforce these supposed rights protected under the 14th Amendment.

Of course, traditionally the 14th Amendment was not understood to provide direct restrictions on state control of voting qualifications. Otherwise, the 15th Amendment, as it applies to states, would have been unnecessary. The Court had used the 15th Amendment to strike down certain voting restrictions on race earlier in the 20th century, and did not even begin to take gingerly steps towards the 14th Amendment until striking down the “white primaries.”

Not much significance, other than as a symbol and a constitutional curiosity remains of Harper. The Court since then has repudiated the notion of wealth as a constitutionally “suspect” classification entitled to strict judicial scrutiny under the equal protection clause. As well, the notion of voting as a fundamental right protected under the due process clause, has had a checkered history.

Rights conceptually are “fundamental” if they do not depend on a political system for their existence; they are “pre-political” in the sense of the Anglo-American social contract construct that the Framers accepted. Freedom of speech and the right to carry arms for self-defense come to mind. Voting is an inherently political concept that does not exist outside a political commonwealth, and the scope of the voting privilege (that is the meaning of “franchise”) is, necessarily, a political accommodation. Even republics, never mind monarchies, have no uniform understanding of who may be qualified to vote. The great historical variety of arrangements of republican forms of government, and the inherently political nature of defining them, is one reason the Supreme Court has not officially involved itself in defining what is a republican form of government guaranteed under the Constitution.

A final word about the 24th Amendment: Historically, many republics, including the states in our system, required voters to meet designated property qualifications, as a reflection of having a sufficient stake in the community to vote responsibly (and to pay for the cost of government). Strictly speaking, the 24th Amendment does not forbid those. The Supreme Court has upheld property qualifications for voting for special governmental units, such as water districts. One wonders, whether the abolition of such qualifications, if they were required in all elections, would need a constitutional amendment today, or whether the Supreme Court would just wave the magic wand of the 14th Amendment, as it did in Harper.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Amendment XVIII

 

1:  After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

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

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

Prohibition was not a novel idea in 1919. It was part of a social reform movement, the first waves of which had lapped American shores during the middle of the 19th century. It was a movement different from the ecclesiastical Great Awakenings that had surged periodically through the American colonies, though it shared some connection with those movements. Still, these reforms were sufficiently novel and widespread to lead Ralph Waldo Emerson to characterize them as a “war between intellect and affection” and its adherents as “young men…born with knives in their brain.”

Thirteen states had passed laws that prohibited the sale of alcohol by 1857, including, incredibly from a 20th-century perspective, New York. Following the Civil War and abolition of slavery, the enthusiasm for social reforms in general was exhausted in favor of a general yearning for a return to normalcy. But it returned with a vengeance towards the end of the century, with prohibitionists joining women’s rights groups to combat “demon rum.” That urge fed into a broader social movement to better the human condition and, indeed, human nature. While reformation of the human soul previously had been mainly the province of religion, the remaking of human nature had become, by the 20th century, as much a secular as a religious project. The growing middle class, “social science” movements in the study of human institutions, modern psychology, and old-style political power calculations combined in the Progressive Movement. Its adherents sought to improve human beings, as well as institutions, whether or not those human beings or institutions wanted to be improved.

The Progressives looked to the power of the state, not to individuals or private groups, to get things done efficiently. For many of their leaders, such as Princeton professor (and eventual U.S. President) Woodrow Wilson and his later advisers, such as Herbert Croly, the old institutions, such as the Constitution and the courts, were anachronisms that prevented the emergence of a better order, led by an enlightened and [P]rogressive elite. To achieve what critics then and now have characterized as totalitarianism of more or less soft type, these Progressives looked to the law as the tool to forge the new order. Law was no longer a series of constructs that reflected an inherent reason and that was useful to provide some rules to maintain a basic order in society. For the Progressives, the law was nothing less than an extension of social policy.

Alcohol prohibition also reflected the Progressive impulse to national mobilization to address issues, and the desire for a strong national government led by a strong and charismatic leader. It is not coincidental that these traits were also found in various continental European mass movements that sought to establish the new man, freed of traditional human weaknesses. The American version may have lacked some of the more pugnacious aspects of its European counterparts in Italy, Spain, Germany, and the Soviet Union, but it was close enough. As the National Review writer Jonah Goldberg has written, the period was one episode of America’s “Liberal Fascism.”

Prohibition previously had primarily been the project of the states, with Congress and the Supreme Court assisting “dry” states by declaring that their prohibitions did not violate federal control over interstate commerce. By 1913, in the Webb-Kenyon Act, Congress went further, by affirmatively forbidding the shipment of liquor in interstate commerce into dry states. Thus, prohibition became a national matter, a development also reflected in federal criminalization of drug trafficking, gambling, and prostitution. All of those were vices that the Progressives (just like their reformist ancestors) saw as products of a craven humanity that needed to be—and could be—reformed, while their critics saw such activities as necessary social safety valves, inevitable for societies composed of humans that could, at most, be nudged towards slight and gradual enlightenment at the cost of great personal effort of which most people were incapable. For the critics, laws against such behavior had the same effect as telling the tides not to come in (or commanding the sea levels not to rise).

By 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment completed the process by prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquors within the United States. Later that year, Congress acted on the authority it had under that amendment and enforced national prohibition through the Volstead Act. That law set the maximum permissible alcohol content at 0.5%, an amount that outlawed anything stronger than juice from stored oranges.

In light of the negative historical reputation that has developed around Prohibition, it bears remembering that the concept was hugely popular initially. It took barely one year for the needed 36 states to approve the 18th Amendment. However, that support turned to opposition within a very brief time, in the process raising a number of constitutional questions about that amendment specifically, and about the constitutional amendment process more generally.

A novel attribute of the 18th Amendment was a clause that required the amendment to be adopted within 7 years. When the issue was presented to the Supreme Court in Dillon v. Gloss in 1921, Justice Willis Van Devanter upheld this limitation for a unanimous court. Van Devanter concluded this clause was not part of the amendment, but part of Congress’s resolution of submission of the amendment to the states. Therefore, such a clause did not violate Article V, which deals with amendment of the Constitution.

Van Devanter’s opinion was important for the proposed Equal Rights Amendment of the 1970s. When that amendment failed to gain passage during the time (7 years) set, Congress by a majority vote—but not two-thirds—added three years to the timetable for adoption. While this action arguably was constitutional in light of Dillon, it came at a political price. Opponents made an effective case that the extension was political overreaching, at best, and unconstitutional, at worst.

The Dillon court had also declared that it was a good idea that constitutional amendments be adopted within a certain time-frame, to reflect a dominant political consensus at a particular time. Van Devanter noted that there were still several proposed amendments that had not been ratified, including two from the original twelve in the Bill of Rights. He questioned whether such an amendment would be legitimate, if adopted after such long dormancy. That hypothetical became concrete when the 27th Amendment (dealing with Congressional pay changes) was adopted by the requisite number of states in 1992, after two centuries of constitutional purgatory.

Interestingly, Van Devanter may have had a point because the practice has been not to allow states to rescind their approval of an amendment even though the amendment may not have been adopted on the date of the attempted rescission. Of course, states are free to approve after having previously refused to adopt the proposal. This one-way ratchet in favor of approval has little to recommend it jurisprudentially over the opposite view. It was simply the product of political necessity, when Congress refused to allow states to rescind approval of the 14th Amendment because the unpopular and controversial amendment’s congressional supporters needed every state they could to get it past the constitutional finish line.

Another curiosity of the 18th Amendment was that, as disillusion set in, many of the new opponents were Progressives and elites of all political stripes. Due to the perceived difficulty of repealing the amendment, they urged nullification by having the states refuse to enforce the federal laws and decline to make their own. The irony of their position was not lost on them, as they openly appealed to the success that Southerners had enjoyed with their refusal to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments. Sounding like John C. Calhoun and other 19th-century Southern apostles of nullification, these good liberals distinguished between lawbreaking and orderly, principled, majoritarian nullification.

Another question involved whether the Ohio legislature could approve the 18th Amendment when a non-binding popular referendum had resoundingly rejected it. In Hawke v. Smith in 1920, Justice William Day’s opinion for a unanimous Supreme Court held that the legislature, voting on a constitutional amendment was performing a federal function under Article V, not a state function. Since Article V did not provide for popular referenda, the voters of Ohio had nothing to say about the matter, a proposition of some delicacy, since state legislative elections rarely turn on how a legislator proposes to vote on a federal constitutional amendment that, typically, is not submitted until after such election.

Finally, a number of opponents urged that any amendment, such as the 18th, that curtailed individual rights, must be adopted by state constitutional conventions, not state legislatures. Though it was not expressly required by Article V, such had been the approach for the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court rejected that argument unanimously in U.S. v. Sprague in 1931, but the argument had such political appeal that Congress directed that the repeal of prohibition through the 21st Amendment be decided by state constitutional conventions.

 

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The text of the Eighth Amendment, concise and plain, masks the fluidity that the Supreme Court has assigned to its words. The more intensely scrutinized portion, by far, is the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. There are two applications that have been particularly significant in recent years, the constitutionality of the death penalty and the application of the amendment to “enhanced interrogations.”

It would be fatuous for opponents of the death penalty to claim that the Framers understood the death penalty to be unconstitutional. The Constitution’s text belies such an assertion, because the Fifth Amendment three times makes it plain that the death penalty is a proper punishment for crime: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital…crime, unless on…indictment of a Grand Jury…; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Moreover, the common law at various times recognized capital punishment for a couple of hundred criminal offense.  Given the additional availability of whipping, branding, ear cropping, and other such forms of corporal chastisement, the Framers’ understanding of “cruel and unusual punishment” was restricted to those torturous punishments that stood out for their infliction of extended periods of particularly gruesome pain for no end other than the infliction of that pain, and that were applied with such extreme rarity as to undercut any realistic claim that they served a moral purpose such as retributive justice or moral reformation. An example would be the rarely-used, but then still available, punishment of drawing and quartering applied in exceptional treason cases in Britain.

To further the cause of modern death penalty abolitionists, the Court was obliged to impress upon the Eighth Amendment an interpretive mechanism that could supersede the specific textual recognition of the death penalty’s legitimacy. That mechanism is the judicial matrix of “evolving standards of societal decency” that would “guide” the Court’s interpretation of the Eighth Amendment.  Using “cruel” in a qualitative sense and “unusual” in a quantitative sense, this approach allows for a judicial finding that punishments that fall into comparative disuse, either by change in legislation or even through failure of prosecutors to seek the death penalty or of juries to impose it on a regular basis for certain crimes, become violations of the Eighth Amendment. Particularly galling to the opponents of this approach, such as Justice Scalia, is that the procedural hurdles created for the imposition of the penalty in past cases themselves are much to blame for the (comparatively) infrequent use of the death penalty.

Although the Court has not finally found the death penalty to violate the Eighth Amendment, the end is clear. Death penalty jurisprudence has been one instance of ad hoc judicial law-making after another.  Capital punishment, the Court once opined, is applied too haphazardly.  When states responded with mandatory death penalty laws and other restrictions on jury discretion, the Court found those wanting in that juries must be able to exercise discretion to impose the death penalty or not.  However, further decisions then determined that the jury discretion must be subject to specific guidance. Moreover, the judge must have the power to override a jury’s imposition of the death sentence, but not the other way around.  Juries must be able to hear any and all mitigating personal evidence for the defendant, dredging up every aspect of the defendant’s life that would place some blame for the crime, somehow, on some person other than the defendant.  On the other hand, aggravating evidence, such as about the victim whose life was snuffed out, had to be very carefully limited.

As to the “evolving standards of decency” test, the Court once declared that the Eighth Amendment must not cut off the normal democratic process. Yet, more recently, the Court, led by Justice Kennedy, has taken great pains to do just that, overturning laws that provided the death penalty for older juveniles who commit particularly heinous murders and for non-homicide crimes. Kennedy, in particular, while dutifully declaring the contrary, seems intent on imposing through the Constitution his own vision of the moral and “decent” society. The Court earlier pronounced that the “Eighth Amendment is not a ratchet, whereby a temporary consensus on leniency for a particular crime fixes a permanent constitutional maximum, disabling States from giving effect to altered beliefs and responding to changed social conditions.” Once more assuming the role of philosopher-king, Kennedy in the last capital punishment case, Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008), rejected the idea that the death penalty could be expanded (though, in fact, the law at issue there, capital punishment for aggravated child rape, did not “expand” the death penalty).  After all, that would not fit Kennedy’s Hegelian march of “evolving standards of decency…on the way to full progress and mature judgment.” So, there is only one direction of evolution, regardless of what the people might enact, one that leads, Kennedy all but assured the abolitionists, to the eventual demise of the death penalty.

In Roper v. Illinois (2005), the juvenile death penalty case, Justice Kennedy resorted to comparing the United States unfavorably with European systems, as well as with other, even less savory, exemplars of justice, and, as he has done in some other areas of constitutional law, invoked the decisions of his fellow Platonic guardians on tribunals overseas.  Due to the rebukes launched by Justice Scalia in his dissents, the Court is less inclined these days to feature that line of internationalist argumentation as a basis for guidance of the American Constitution in a direction Justice Kennedy finds to be more civilized.

International standards have also been used in attempts to limit the use of techniques to interrogate suspected terrorists. Leaving aside specific anti-torture statutes or treaty obligations, note that the Eighth Amendment itself only prohibits cruel and unusual “punishment.” Not only is this limited to torture and other extreme actions; the Court in past cases repeatedly has held that it applies only to punishment, not to other actions by the government. Hence the challenged behavior must be directed at “punishing” the individual. This distinction between punishment and other objectives in the use of force against prisoners is one long established in many Western systems of law, and one that the Framers clearly understood.

If a prisoner brings a claim that excessive force was used in violation of the Eighth Amendment, he must show that this was for the purpose of punishment. If the force or condition of confinement was for another purpose, the Eighth Amendment is not implicated.  Thus, the state of mind of the persons conducting the interrogation becomes important. Did they do so for purpose of discipline, security, or information gathering, or did they do so simply to punish? That state of mind can be demonstrated circumstantially by a number of factors, such as the asserted purpose of the treatment and the degree of force used in relation to the many varied circumstances that triggered the interrogation, an evaluation that implicates the proportionality principle that lurks in Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. Only if the actions go beyond the asserted disciplinary or investigatory needs, might the treatment amount to cruel and unusual punishment. As the Court has said in several cases, the prisoner must show that the government agent acted “maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.”

The prisoner might assert claims that the government violated Fourth Amendment standards against unreasonable searches and seizures, or, more likely, nebulous Fifth Amendment due process standards against treatment that “shocks the conscience.” Even if a foreign terror suspect kept overseas is entitled to those constitutional protections as a matter of right (an issue not resolved even by the Court’s Boumediene decision that, for the first time, granted such detainees access to the writ of habeas corpus), they might not help him.  The “shocks-the-conscience” test is particularly difficult to confine, and the Court employs a utilitarian approach. The Justices have made it clear that it is not just the severity of the method, but the degree of necessity for the challenged action, that will determine whether the consciences of at least five of them are shocked.  In any event, whether or not the justices are suitably shocked under the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment does not apply to careful methods used demonstrably for the purpose of extracting information.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Article V

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.

Article V, which provides the methods for formal amendment is, arguably, the most important provision in the Constitution outside the creation of the structure of government.  That article embodies a compromise over a very contentious issue that was grounded in conflicting doctrines of republicanism and higher law theory swirling during the Revolutionary War period.

On the one hand, 17th and 18th century republican theory called for decisions by majority vote, albeit under a restricted franchise.  This was a proposition that manifested itself in the post-Glorious Revolution English constitutional system in which a majority of the Parliament (effectively, the House of Commons) not only enacted “ordinary” legislation but controlled constitutional change, as well. Under the English system, there was no categorical distinction between ordinary laws and those of a foundational, i.e., constitutional, nature.  For example, the Charter of Rights did not become politically binding until passed in 1689 as a parliamentary bill. This was a manifestation of a “constitution” that, being unwritten, was considered solely a fundamental political ordering, rather than also a fundamental law.  Hence, there was no formal constitutional amendment process outside an appeal to Parliament to pass or repeal laws that were “constitutional” in the operative sense.

This English Whig republicanism had many adherents in the United States among leaders of the Revolution. For them, the problem was not the theory but the practitioners.  Not surprising, then, some early state constitutions, too, placed the amending power with the legislatures.  Even if a state constitution contained a bill of rights that was immune from legislative tinkering, any violation of that command was to be resolved through political action.  Moreover, anything outside that bill of rights was left to legislative change.

Yet, by the 1780s, an entirely different conception became dominant. To be sure, reaction against the entrenched constitutional order arose from the experience of Americans with the militant republicanism of the day embodied in legislative majorities that, in too many states, contributed to political and economic turmoil exacerbated by class warfare rumblings and the trampling of rights in property. Experience may have sufficed to cause disenchantment with the existing constitutional structure, but it was not enough to explain the emergence of the alternative.

Enter the “higher law” conception of constitutions. Americans had lived in colonies governed, directly or indirectly, by royal charters. By their thinking, Americans were in a contractual, and therefore “legal,” relationship with their proprietors and the Crown through these charters and patents, and Parliament simply had no control over them. Local laws were valid, as long as they conformed to the charter.

This emergent “higher law” constitutionalism also had religious and political roots. Focusing on the latter, it was a component of social contract theory. The republican version of the legitimacy of governmental action under the social contract focused on the political mechanism to be used after the commonwealth was formed, namely, legislative majorities. The higher law doctrine focused on the relationship of the majority’s act to the qualitatively superior action of creating the commonwealth. In a strict version of that view, unanimous consent was required to form the social contract.  In the American experience, the Mayflower Compact provided one such example. At the same time, looking at disparate social contract theorists, such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, one finds much ambiguity and question-begging assumptions about how exactly the social contract’s obligations arise.

The colonial experience with royal charters fairly early suggested that such documents were first, law; second, fundamental; and third, not amendable as ordinary legislation. They were law because written and, being in the nature of contracts, binding on all signatories (and, perhaps, their successors). They were fundamental because they dealt with matters that went to the very organization of the political commonwealth. They were not amendable as ordinary laws because each free person had to consent to the changing of the deal that created the basis of political obligation and made the acts of government different from those of a brigand. If unanimity was impractical, at least a supermajority ought to be required. Thus, the charter for Pennsylvania as early as 1701 called for amendments to be adopted only upon 6/7 vote of the assembly.

A pure form of this approach was found in the Articles of Confederation. As the Articles can be considered the formal basis for the formation of a political commonwealth, the United States of America, and in light of the fact that the document repeatedly refers to that commonwealth as a “perpetual union,” it is a social contract.  As such, it could only be amended by the consent of all signatories to the compact, though, of course, a state might provide that a majority within its legislature sufficed to bind the state.

That unanimity requirement was quickly perceived as a parlyzing defect of the Articles.  When the Framers of the Constitution considered the matter, they believed that they had to find a way that avoided the potential for constitutional turbulence from radical republican majoritarianism as well as for constitutional sclerosis from rigid social contract-based unanimity. They urged that the supermajority requirements of Article V appropriately split the difference. This is not a matter readily settled.  The procedure has only been invoked successfully 18 times (the original ten amendments having been adopted at one time). What is clear, though, is that the relative difficulty of the procedure has allowed the unelected judiciary to take on the role of de facto constitutional amendment to a much greater extent than the Framers likely anticipated and than what is consistent with classic republican ideals.

Judging by early state experimentation, constitutional change was to occur, if anything, more directly through the people than Article V allows. Constitutions were typically the job of special conventions whose work would be ratified by popular vote.  Actions by such special bodies and by the people themselves were more immediate realizations of popular sovereignty than actions by legislatures, even by legislative supermajorities. George Washington characterized them as “explicit and authentic acts of the whole people.” It was impractical, however, at the national level, to have all people gather at town halls. Nor was it deemed practical — or wise — to have a national vote on amendments.

In Article V, the mechanism of popular participation is the convention. That mechanism is available for the proposal of amendments emanating from the states and the adoption of the amendments by the states. It is interesting, and perhaps disappointing from the republican perspective, that the first has never been used and the second has been used only to repeal another constitutional amendment, regarding alcohol prohibition. Instead, Congress typically proposes, and state legislatures dispose.

There is, however, an institutional reason why no constitutional convention has been called to draft amendments. Plainly put, Congress and the political elites fear that a convention could ignore any specific charge from Congress and draft a whole new constitution. That is, after all, what happened in Philadelphia in 1787. If a matter came close to receiving the requisite number of petitions from states, it is likely that the Congress would itself adopt an amendment and submit it to the states. That is precisely how Congress got around to proposing the 17th Amendment for the direct election of Senators after enough states submitted petitions to put them one short of the required 2/3. Currently, the proposed balanced budget amendment is just two states short.

More troubling to some is whether the people could go outside Article V to form a convention.  That was an issue raised, but not resolved, before the Supreme Court in 1849 in a case involving an insurrection in Rhode Island under the guise of adoption of a “popular constitution.”  Traditionalists point to Article V as providing the means the people have chosen to limit themselves, lest constitutional instability be the order of the day.  In response, republicans assert that American bedrock principles of popular sovereignty (found, among other places in the Federalist Papers) do not admit of so limiting the people’s power. The people ultimately control their constitution, not vice versa. James Wilson, no wide-eyed radical, speaking in the Pennsylvania ratifying convention, defended the Framers’ alleged departure from their charge by the Confederation Congress by declaring what was a self-evident truth to most Americans at the time, that “the people may change the constitutions whenever and however they please.”

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1-3

1: The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.
2: A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.
3: No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

Of these clauses in Article IV, Section 2, the last, the Fugitive Slave Clause, similar to one adopted by the Confederation Congress in the Northwest Ordinance contemporaneous with the drafting of the Constitution, is now a dead letter. Another, the Extradition Clause, imposes a theoretical duty (“shall…be delivered”) on the state governors. But the Supreme Court ruled in 1861 that judicial compulsion, by writ of mandamus, was unavailable. As a result, governors have considered themselves at liberty to refuse requests for extradition when, in their opinions, justice so demands. Rather, the clause is enforced (more or less) politically through interstate compacts, uniform state laws, and (indirectly) federal fugitive-from-justice legislation.

The first clause, the (“Interstate”) Privileges and Immunities Clause, has a long pedigree, yet remains murky in meaning and ambiguous in scope. It is derived from Article IV of the Articles of Confederation (as are the Constitution’s Extradition and Full Faith and Credit Clauses). The existence of these clauses in both charters is evidence of the continuity reflected in the Constitution’s Preamble “to form a more perfect [not a new] Union.” These clauses also are one more manifestation of the bedrock federalism principle of union among states (rather than simply creation of a national government over the states) that runs through both charters.

The Constitution’s version of the P&I Clause is a redaction of the more compendious version in the Articles. Unfortunately, concision did not bestow clarity. Four different meanings have been advanced. The first is that the clause is actually a restriction on Congress not to pass laws that discriminate among different states and the citizens thereof. This interpretation received support from Justice Catron in his concurring opinion in the Dred Scott Case. It is constitutionally obsolete today.

Another interpretation is that the clause guarantees the citizens of each state various rights that are enjoyed by citizens in any other state. That view was specifically rejected by the Supreme Court a century ago. It would have given the Supreme Court the kind of power of review over state laws that it came to acquire more gradually through judicial expansion of the 14th Amendment by the “incorporation” of various Bill of Rights guarantees into the due process clause and the creation of new categories of unconstitutional discrimination under the equal protection clause.

A third interpretation is that the clause guarantees the right of a citizen of a state to exercise the rights that he has in his own state even when visiting another state, that is, to carry his rights of state citizenship throughout the Union. That view, as well, has been rejected by the Supreme Court, albeit implicitly, well over a hundred years.

The fourth, and constitutionally accepted, understanding is that the clause prohibits certain forms of discrimination by a state against citizens from other states who are sojourning within its borders. This creates a kind of equal protection principle. The Constitution had no clause that prohibited discrimination against (some) individuals overtly as the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause does today. But there were some clauses that operated through a limited and implied non-discrimination principle. The P&I Clause is one.

The P&I clause does not apply to corporations or other merely “legal” persons. Nor does it apply to aliens. Neither of those limits is significant today, in light of the Court’s expansive reading of the 14th Amendment. The P&I Clause also provides no minimum protections of rights. To the extent the state limits the exercise of rights of its own citizens, it may do so for outsiders coming into the state, at least under this provision. Outsiders have the right not to be treated unfavorably due to their status as visitors, but have no right to be treated more favorably.

Not all rights are protected. The exact definition has always been elusive. The seminal opinion in this area is a circuit court opinion by Justice Bushrod Washington from 1823, Corfield v. Coryell. He wrote: “We have no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are, in their nature, fundamental; which belong, of right, to the citizens of all free governments; and which have, at all times, been enjoyed by the citizens of the several states which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign.”

Such flourishes, while rhetorically satisfying, do not provide concrete guidance. Justice Washington carries on, but does little to penetrate the verbal fog; “What these fundamental principles are, it would perhaps be more tedious than difficult to enumerate. They may, however, be all comprehended under the following general heads: Protection by the government; the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety; subject nevertheless to such restraints as the government may justly prescribe for the general good of the whole.”

He finally delivers himself of some examples of protected rights, privileges, and immunities. “The right of a citizen of one state to pass through, or to reside in any other state, for purposes of trade, agriculture, professional pursuits, or otherwise;…to institute and maintain actions of any kind in the courts of the state; to take, hold and dispose of property, either real or personal; and an exemption from higher taxes or impositions than are paid by the other citizens of the state….These, and many others which might be mentioned, are, strictly speaking, privileges and immunities, and the enjoyment of them by the citizens of each state, in every other state, was manifestly calculated (to use the expressions of the preamble of the corresponding provision in the old articles of confederation) ‘the better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different states of the Union.’”

Such rights, deemed fundamental to the concept of a single nation, do not include the right to hunt game, to fish, or to engage in certain “quasi-public” businesses, such as insurance. Nor does it include a right to vote or to attend college at in-state rates, though, oddly, it includes the right not only to receive welfare payments without residency requirements, but to receive the same level of payment as those who have lived in the state for many years. To curtail even marginally the opportunities of welfare recipients to spend their “down time” in a state with higher benefits than their current domicile by having to meet the new state’s residency requirement is an intolerable burden on the right to travel. To be sure, the Supreme Court’s decisions on the matter rest on uncertain constitutional foundations, that eminent tribunal having referred to Article IV, to the Commerce Clause, to the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and (most recently) Privileges or Immunities Clauses as havens for a right to travel. Since states would like these welfare recipients to keep traveling, the Court has also re-characterized the right as “moving to another state.”

The P&I Clause of Article IV apparently was intended as a significant part of the constitutional edifice. With the Supreme Court’s inflation of the 14th Amendment, and Congress’ frequent resort to legislation under the commerce clause, it has become virtually redundant. Still, every decade or so, a case comes along to remind us that there is “still some life left in the carcass.”

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Article III, Section 2, Clause 1

1: The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;–to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;–to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;–to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;–to Controversies between two or more States;–between a State and Citizens of another State;10 –between Citizens of different States, –between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

Article III, Section 2 defines the universe of federal jurisdiction (“shall extend to”). The kinds of issues included are defined either by the nature of the cause or the character of the parties. An example of the first is “federal question” jurisdiction, i.e., cases “arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States and treaties ….” The second might be a dispute “between two or more States.”

This is not necessarily federal court jurisdiction. As some other provisions of the Constitution also underscore, the Framers expected that state courts would be significant, if not the principal, forums for federal jurisdiction. In that vein, the federal courts have never exercised the full federal jurisdiction available under Article III, Section 2. Moreover, unless Congress expressly requires that federal courts exercise exclusive jurisdiction over a matter, state courts have concurrent jurisdiction to hear “federal” issues. Congress rarely imposes such “exclusive” jurisdiction outside bankruptcy, patents, federal taxes, and immigration, and cases involving the United States as a party.

The focus of federal jurisdiction can change. During the early years of the Republic, there were few federal statutes, but much attachment to one’s state, with potential local prejudice against outsiders. Therefore, “diversity” jurisdiction (suits between citizens of different states) was more significant than “federal question” jurisdiction. Today, with the increased homogenization of Americans across states, and the explosion of federal law, the relative importance of the types of jurisdiction is reversed.

Federal courts, then, are courts of limited jurisdiction. The jurisdiction, indeed the very existence, of lower federal courts depends on affirmative grants from Congress. Only the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is guaranteed under the Constitution, though academics have argued (and Supreme Court opinions have strongly implied) that the Supreme Court also has the inherent power to review at least those lower court opinions that interpret the Constitution.

Once a federal court is authorized to hear a certain type of issue, it can exercise the full “judicial power,” a somewhat amorphous term that describes what courts “do” (e.g, resolve disputes between parties, issue final relief). However, the judicial power requires “cases” and “controversies.” A “controversy” in this context refers to a civil action or suit. A “case” can be either civil or criminal. The Supreme Court has declared that there is no functional significance from the use of one term or the other in the Constitution.

The “case or controversy” requirement limits the exercise of federal jurisdiction. There must be a concrete matter that involves a “live” dispute between adversaries. About a dozen states, such as Massachusetts, allow designated courts to issue “advisory opinions” on the constitutionality of laws at the request of certain parties, such as the state legislature. This is a common feature in foreign constitutional systems, preeminently the German Constitutional Court, which has emerged as the dominant alternative to the American approach. That system is “centralized” judicial review by a specialized court. The American system is “decentralized” judicial review, as any federal “Article III” court, as well as state courts, can decide constitutional questions. Such American courts also are not specialized, as they decide a host of other legal questions.

In a decentralized system of judicial review, the case or controversy requirement represents an important restraint on the inclination of a vast array of courts to inject themselves into constitutional matters. That said, the judiciary has often found ways to hear cases that appear collusive and to avoid hearing disputes it finds impolitic to decide. Related doctrines, such as the “standing” of a plaintiff to sue (has he suffered a clear enough injury) or the “ripeness” or “mootness” of a dispute (is there yet–or still–enough of a dispute), are very much driven by the facts of the particular case and do not lend themselves to neat and readily-applied tests.

Moreover, the Supreme Court as an institution may expand or contract these doctrines based on the attitudes of the justices towards the role of courts. Thus, the Warren Court greatly expanded the “standing” doctrine and made it easier in a number of ways for litigants to bring their disputes to federal courts. That judicial philosophy changed during the Burger and Rehnquist Courts, beginning in the mid-1970s, as Warren Court-era justices began to be replaced. The latest “standing” cases, decided by the Roberts Court concerning establishment clause claims, continue that trend.

More amorphous and less defined even than standing is the “non-justiciable political questions” doctrine. As early as Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court emphasized that there are certain kinds of cases beyond judicial review, even if all other particulars are met that would allow a court to hear the matter. Such cases may involve suits to enjoin the other departments from making discretionary political decisions, or attempts to review decisions by the other branches in military or diplomatic matters.

But the application of the doctrine is unpredictable, as a review of the federal courts’ recent approach regarding executive power in the conduct of the fight against terrorists shows. On the one hand, the Supreme Court injected itself into the executive’s domain by recognizing, for the first time (and implicitly overruling a contrary precedent), a right to habeas corpus for enemy combatant detainees not held in the U.S. On the other hand, the Court has not injected itself in other related matters, such as the admission of former detainees into the U.S. contrary to federal law and executive decision. Lower courts have cited the non-justiciable political questions doctrine to that end.

Article III, Section 2, clause 1, is also a pillar for the legitimacy of constitutional judicial review itself. It authorizes the courts to hear cases arising under the Constitution. Though the clause does not conclusively settle the question whether courts are free to disregard unconstitutional laws or must let the legislature repeal such laws (as some state courts determined), the federal judges early took the position that they are not bound by unconstitutional actions. During the 1790s, federal courts in several cases declared their power to exercise judicial review over state laws. More significant, one can identify four cases in which the Supreme Court explicitly or implicitly assumed a power to review the constitutionality of acts of Congress. All arose before Marbury.

Marbury v. Madison, decided in 1803, is the iconic case for judicial review. It has often been portrayed as revolutionary in that it “established” judicial review. It is more accurate to say that it is a political manifesto that provided a coherent defense of judicial review, but one that had already been made in other venues, such as Hamilton’s Federalist 78.

With one qualification, Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion is very cautious. As his wont was to avoid conflict with Jefferson, Marshall gave the President the specific result the latter wanted. Striking down the federal law was not novel, and the Jeffersonians’ criticism of the opinion was generally not directed at that part. The critics, instead, complained about Marshall’s implicit (and novel) claim that the Court could even issue direct orders to the President, an idea the Chief Justice tried to implement later, with mixed results, in a subpoena to Jefferson during the Burr treason trial.

Marbury, and Article III, also do not resolve whether the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of constitutional decisions. Presidents Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, among others, asserted a “departmental theory,” that each branch is supreme within its own functions, lest one become “more equal” than the others. Marbury is best seen as a declaration of independence of the judicial branch from the others in a matter that directly involved the courts’ function. Extravagant notions of courts roaming far and wide as “final” or “ultimate” deciders of constitutional matters embody a more recent judicial conceit. While there are practical reasons that the judges’ views are entitled to respect from the other branches and the people, it is a blow against republican principles to declare that the opinions of judges are the Constitution itself.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Article II, Section 2, Clause 3

3: The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

The National Labor Relations Board is a federal agency established under Franklin Roosevelt whose assigned duty it is to protect employees, while balancing the rights of unions and management. In an unprecedented move, it has recently moved to bar Boeing from opening a second aircraft assembly line in South Carolina rather than Washington state. In a second unprecedented move, the agency is about to reverse decades-old policy and allow unions to organize small groups of employees to gain a toehold in the company, rather than the entire company workforce at once (a more difficult project).

The agency currently is dominated by union lawyers, and one of the main advocates for these changes is Craig Becker, a controversial former lawyer for the SEIU, who has written that management should have no say whatever in unionizing activities. After his nomination was rejected by the Senate (on the failure of a cloture vote), President Obama nevertheless appointed Mr. Becker to the board a month later, while the Senate was in recess.

Recess appointments have been practiced since the Constitution went into effect. Initially, Congress was very much a part-time legislature, so there was an obvious need to allow the President to appoint officers to posts that might become vacant while the Senate was not in session. Indeed, that was precisely the early understanding. Vacancies might “happen” (in the terminology of Article II, Section 2, cl. 3) if they arise during the recess.

It may be asked why there is any need for recess appointments now that the Senate meets regularly during the course of the year. Surely, there is no need to have recess appointments just because the Senate is on a brief Easter recess or President’s Day long weekend. Even if the recess is longer, say during the month of August, it is unlikely that the President would even be able to gear up for an appointment until the recess is almost over. In the unlikely event of a government crisis, the Congress almost certainly would reconvene quickly. That said, recess appointments are useful for lower-level appointments on which the Senate has failed to act for some time. Moreover, they can protect the President’s constitutional prerogatives, if the Senate purposely seeks to weaken the President by failing to act on his nominations made while the Senate is in session.

Presidents have long interpreted the clause to give them a writ to make recess appointments for vacancies as long as those vacancies exist during the recess, even if they arose earlier. This interpretation has been upheld judicially. But even though it may be constitutionally justifiable, it raises serious political issues. Presidential appointments for vacancies that arise while the Senate is in session, but are not filled until the President can do so unilaterally when the Senate is in recess are delicate matters. Such appointments can easily be seen as end-runs around the constitutional blending and overlapping of functions.

Now add to that if the recess appointment is of an individual who was previously rejected by the Senate. The politics of such a move clearly invite Senatorial rebuke, and President Obama’s appointment of Craig Becker was lambasted by a number of Republican Senators.

As early as 1863, Congress tried to rein in recess appointments, by prohibiting payment of salary to anyone appointed during the Senate’s recess, until the Senate confirms. Today, the Pay Act, 5 U.S.C. 5503, prohibits such payments only if the vacancy already existed while the Senate was in session. The act also provides certain exceptions. For example, it does not restrict salaries of recess appointees if the nomination was pending when the Senate recessed. Neither does the salary restriction apply if the Senate, within 30 days before the end of a session, rejected a nominee of the President to the office. However, that exception, in turn, does not apply if the President during the recess appoints the rejected nominee. It should be noted that the end of a “session” is the end of the annual term. Thus, when Congress adjourns this December, it will be the end of the first session of the 112th Congress. Merely rejecting a nominee before a holiday recess is not the end of a session.

One wonders, therefore, whether President Obama’s NLRB man, Craig Becker, is entitled to payment of salary. One argument he might make is that the nomination technically was not formally rejected because it was filibustered and never came up for a vote on the merits. Since it was not withdrawn, the nomination technically was still pending when the recess occurred.

By statute, if a recess appointment is made, the appointee’s name must be submitted to the Senate soon after its next session begins. President Obama has done so with Mr. Becker. If the appointment is not confirmed, the officer may continue to serve, but must step down at the end of that next session. Thus, Mr. Becker’s term will end in December of this year, as he was appointed by the President in March, 2010. If Mr. Becker is rejected, he will not be permitted to draw a salary, if a routine provision to that effect in funding bills continues to be used.

Finally, the political virtuosity of the recess appointment device is shown by the fact that, even if the Senate rejects Mr. Becker, there will be new vacancies on the NLRB, and the President can wait for the next recess to appoint his ideological fellow to the agency once more. Mr. Becker could then serve until the end of 2012, again without Senate confirmation.

Unlike appointments to administrative or executive positions, recess appointments of judges are uncommon. Bill Clinton made one; George W. Bush made two; Barack Obama has made none so far. No President has made a recess appointment to the Supreme Court since Dwight Eisenhower, who appointed Chief Justice Warren, Justice Brennan, and Justice Stewart in that manner.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 8

8: Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–“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.”

When a new duke was installed in the old Republic of Venice, he took a prescribed oath of office that included a list of limitations on his power. Just in case his memory conveniently weakened as his fondness for office grew, the oath and its limitations were read to him in a formal ceremony every two months. Remembering the horrified reaction in some quarters in Congress when the new leadership read the Constitution at just the opening of this session, one is inclined to believe the Venetians were on to something.

Although the Constitution requires other officials to take an oath of office, the President’s is the only one expressly prescribed. One question that arose is whether the oath is a precondition to the assumption of office. George Washington took office March 4, 1792, yet did not take the oath until April 30 of that year. Similarly, the practice of the British constitution, with which the Framers were intimately familiar, was that the coronation oath might not be administered until some time after the heir’s succession to the vacant throne. The President assumes his office when the constitutionally-designated day, January 20, arrives. However, before the President can execute the functions of his office, he must take the oath. Under the current practice of inauguration (which increasingly does resemble a coronation) and the demands of office, the matter has ceased to have practical significance.

Of more continuing relevance is the question of the scope of independent power the oath gives the President. Just as the effectiveness of the periodic recitation of the Venetian oath on restraining executive excess depended largely on the confluence of political events and the duke’s personality, the use of the oath as a source of executive power by the President has been similarly shaped. President Lincoln cited his duty to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Constitution as ample authority for his initial steps to combat organized secession, though he sometimes also referred to the three other sources of broad implied executive powers, the “executive power” clause, the commander-in-chief clause, and the clause that requires him to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” In a defense of his actions made to Congress in July, 1861, Lincoln declared that he was acting under his oath to “preserve the Constitution” and the Union, when he called forth the militia to suppress the rebellion, proclaimed a blockade of Southern ports (an act of war), directed large increases of the Army and Navy, ordered $2 million (yes, that was a lot of money then) of unappropriated funds paid out of the Treasury, pledged the unprecedented and astronomical sum of $250 million of the government’s credit, and ordered the military detention and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus for those engaged in or “contemplating” “treasonable practices.”

Laying aside the emergency of the Civil War, the oath has been used by Presidents in more pedestrian ways to assert independent authority. The issue has come up in disputes between the Supreme Court and the President, and the Congress and the President. Early in our history, the “departmental theory” of judicial review dominated. That theory held that each branch was the final and independent interpreter of the powers entrusted to it under the Constitution. Jefferson wrote in 1801 that each of the branches of the federal government “must have a right in cases which arise within the line of its proper functions, where, equally with the others, it acts in the last resort and without appeal, to decide on the validity of an act according to its own judgment, and uncontrolled by the opinions of any other department.” Chief Justice Marshall in the Marbury Case used the oath he took as providing constitutional legitimacy for judicial review.

Madison echoed Jefferson. So did Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and others. The attorneys representing President Andrew Johnson during his Senate trial in 1868 on impeachment charges relied on the President’s independent constitutional position, validated by his oath of office, to defy the Tenure of Office Act of 1867. Johnson claimed that the act, adopted over his veto, deprived him of his constitutional powers to remove executive department officers by requiring him to obtain Senatorial consent before firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

The issue continues to resonate. The President’s first duty, as so many incumbents have argued, is to the Constitution as the Supreme Law. Moreover, the President is an independent actor in that regard. Hence, the President can veto a bill from Congress if he believes it to be unconstitutional, even if the Congress and an existing Supreme Court precedent point to its constitutionality. Questions of greater constitutional difficulty and shadowiness arise about Presidential signing statements and the President’s refusal to enforce a law that has been duly enacted, the latter of which also implicates the President’s Article II duty of faithful execution of the laws.

Both issues are live political matters. Just as his predecessors did, President Obama has resorted to the very signing statements whose use by George W. Bush he vocally decried. The latest is a statement that he would continue to employ “czars” (presidential policy directors not subject to Senatorial confirmation) despite the fact that the budget he was signing after the deal reached with Congress prohibited funding for 4 such officials (out of 39). The President has claimed that the budget restriction violates his constitutional authority. Such statements are not given legal significance by the courts when interpreting the constitutionality of a statute, in part because they tend to be rather vague and thin on constitutional analysis. But they certainly are a measure of the President’s willingness to claim that his constitutional powers are not subject to Congressional limitation. At the same time, the statute is now the law of the land, and the President’s proper choice should have been to veto the bill, not to refuse to enforce parts, in effect signing a bill into law that was not the same as presented to him.

Not enforcing an already-existing and properly enacted law is the most troubling. For instance, the Obama administration has announced that it will not defend the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), because the President believes the law to be unconstitutional. Yet, the law was adopted by a Congress and signed by a President (Bill Clinton) who must have believed the law to be constitutional. Moreover, there is no Supreme Court opinion that the law is unconstitutional, and there has been no great change in social conditions or political composition of the voters. While a President’s oath to support the Constitution gives him some leeway in administering law, and while a predecessor’s acts cannot inflexibly bind a President, in this matter the President’s position is at odds with the actions of Congress and two Presidents, of different parties. There is a tension between the President’s claim that the oath directs his first duty to the Constitution, and the Constitution’s own command that he faithfully enforce the laws.

These issues are not easily resolved. It is clear, however, that the oath is far more than mere formality. History has shown it to be another factor in the Constitution’s separation of powers and blending and overlapping of functions, swirling in the murky vortex where constitutional law and politics lose their distinctness.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Article II, Section 1, Clause 3

3:  The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not lie an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; a quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two-thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice-President.

When determining the mode for selecting the President, the Framers were faced with a conundrum.  The President was to be a leader who could act with energy and dispatch.  Yet he was to maintain his constitutional pedigree as a republican, and he must exercise wisdom and judgment.  It was hoped that the President would be, as Henry Lee said in his eulogy of George Washington, “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”  But the president was not to gain that position as an American Caesar, a man whose immense talents and genius also proved to be fatal to that ancient republic that Revolutionary War-era Americans so admired.

Perhaps even worse, because so much more likely in the ordinary case, would be the man who, lacking the genius of a Caesar, would gain office through “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” as Hamilton sneered in Federalist 68.  To Americans of the time, “popular” suggested a certain cravenness and lack of principle.  Such a person would do what advanced his political standing, rather than what was best for the country.  As Plato long ago warned in his description of the demagogue (Greek for “leader of the people”), this was a particular flaw of democracy.  Such a man was most likely to emerge in a system that placed no electoral barrier between the mass of the people and him.

Hamilton’s response during the Philadelphia Convention was a complex multi-layered proposal of election by electors selected by regional electors themselves elected by some class of voters.  Such a convoluted system resembles an electoral Rube Goldberg-contraption. However, the historically well-read Framers had the experience of other republics from which to draw, and Hamilton’s system was a simplified (if that can be imagined) variant of the election of the Doge of Venice.  A system of electors avoids the democratic pitfalls of election of unqualified flatterers by a people corrupted by promises of favors or bedazzled by a façade of handsome features and soaring, but empty, rhetoric.  But, without more, election by a council of the few does not avoid the oligarchic pitfalls and factionalism inherent in any cohesive and organized group, characteristics Madison warned against in The Federalist.  Hamilton’s proposal would increase the number of participants and disperse their decisions.  This made it more difficult for a candidate to gain office by corruption and intrigue through a small and cohesive faction.

The Framers did not go along with the particulars of Hamilton’s proposal.  But, after making the easy call against direct popular election and rejecting, as well, election by Congress or by the state legislatures, they settled on a system similar to the one proposed by Hamilton. In the process, they resolved several practical problems.  Every efficient electoral system has to provide for a means of nominating and then electing candidates. Moreover, civil disturbances over what is often a politically heated process must be avoided. There must be no taint of corruption. The candidate elected must be qualified.

As to the first, the Electoral College would, in many cases, nominate multiple candidates. Electors would be chosen as the legislatures of the states would direct. Though the practice of popular voting for electors spread, not until South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860 did appointment by the legislatures end everywhere. Once selected, the electors’ strong loyalties to their respective states likely would cause the electors to select a “favorite son” candidate. To prevent a multiplicity of candidates based on state residency, electors had to cast one of the two votes allotted to each for someone from another state. It was expected that several regional candidates would emerge under that process. There likely would be no single majority electoral vote recipient, at least not after George Washington. In effect, the Electoral College would nominate the candidates.  The actual election of the President then would devolve to the House of Representatives, fostering the blending and overlapping of powers that Madison extolled in Federalist 51.  The winner of the House vote would be President, the runner-up would be Vice-President.

That last step corresponded to the Framers’ experience with the election of the British prime minister and cabinet, and with the practice of several states. However, consistent with the state-oriented structure of American federalism, such election in the House had to come through a majority of state delegations, not individual Congressmen. Though modified slightly by the Twelfth Amendment as a result of the deadlock of 1800, this process is still in place.

As John Jay writes in Federalist 64, the Constitution’s system would likely select those most qualified to be President. Augmented by the Constitution’s age requirement for President, the electors are not “liable to be deceived by those brilliant appearances of genius and patriotism, which, like transient meteors, sometimes mislead as well as dazzle.”

Having the voters select a group of electors, rather than the President directly, would also calm the political waters. By making that election something other than an immediate vote about particular candidates, the process would encourage reflection and deliberation by voters about the capacity for reasoned judgment of the electors chosen. The smaller number of wise electors, in turn, would exercise that judgment free from popular passion.

Hamilton and others assured Americans that corruption and the influence of faction would be avoided by the temporary and limited duty of the electors, the disqualification of federal office holders to serve, the large number of electors, and the fact that they would meet in separate states at the same time rather than in one grand national body. Presumably, those protections fall away when the House elects the President. But Congressmen have to worry about re-election and, thus, want to avoid corrupt bargains that are odious to the voters.

The system never quite worked as intended.  After Washington’s election, the nomination of Presidents was informally taken over by factions in Congress, in a process dubbed the Congressional caucus system.  That system immediately caused the untenable situation of a President (Adams) and a Vice-President (Jefferson) from opposing factions.  The debacle of the House-controlled election of 1800 brought about by the intra-factional rivalry of Jefferson and Burr placed the young American experiment in self-government in mortal danger. That, in turn, brought limited reform through the 12th Amendment.

Though the constitutional shell remains, much of the system operates differently than the Framers thought. The reason is the evolution of the modern programmatic party, that bane of good republicans, which has replaced state loyalties with party loyalties. The Framers thought they had dealt adequately with the influence of factions (political groups that focus on a particular issue or coalesce around a charismatic leader) in their finely-tuned system. As modern party government was just emerging in Britain and—in contrast to temporary and shifting political factions—unknown in the states, the Framers designed the election process unprepared for such parties.

Today, the nominating function is performed by political parties, while election is, in practice, by the voters. Elections by the House are still possible, if there is a strong regional third-party candidate. But the dominance of the two parties (which are, in part, coalitions of factions) suppresses competition, and the last time there was a reasonable possibility of electoral deadlock was in 1968, when Alabama Governor George C. Wallace took 46 electoral votes. Mere independent national candidacies, such as that of Ross Perot in 1992, have roughly similar levels of support in all states and are unlikely to siphon electoral votes and block the usual process.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums.  Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/ .

Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1

1:  No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

What if a state, laboring under a significant budget deficit, decided to repudiate its general obligation bonds?  What if that state, further, enacted an increase in the income tax, retroactive to the beginning of the year?  Would Article I, Section 10, clause 1 permit such actions?

The first part of that clause, along with clause 3 of the section, restricts the states to only a very limited capacity at international law, and states may exercise even that residue only with permission of Congress.  The Articles of Confederation restricted these powers already, as the exercise of them by the states would undermine national sovereignty.  The new Constitution simply tightened them and made them more concise, in recognition of the fact that these restrictions were an integral part of the establishment of a stronger Union.

The second part of that clause, dealing with money, bills of credit, and gold and silver as legal tender, addressed the pestilence of paper money issued by the states.  Many of the Framers saw this as a particular problem that contributed to the insecurity of property in various states and the economic turbulence that, in turn, produced political turbulence and threatened the republican experiment.  It had been the practice even of colonial assemblies to fund the costs of military campaigns by quasi-confiscatory practices of issuing bills of credit (paper money on the credit of the colony) to merchants and suppliers of war materiel.  After the war, those bills of credit rapidly depreciated, as the colonists declined to vote the taxes necessary to pay them.  Once the bills reached a sufficiently low level, they could be taxed out of existence relatively painlessly.

It was hardly surprising, then, that the states (and the Continental Congress) would resort to that same hoary practice on declaring independence.  By war’s end, Congress had issued $226 million in bills of credit, for which it had received $45 million in goods and services, as Americans increasingly took into account this species of public finance fraud.  However, the paper currency itself had depreciated essentially to nothing, a massive (and conscious) expropriation of private property by inflation, engineered by a body that lacked the formal constitutional powers to do so.  “Not worth a Continental” was not a metaphor.  Benjamin Franklin defended this confiscatory practice as an equitable form of taxation as these bills were held more by the upper-middle and upper segments of society than by the poor.  John Adams dismissed critics of the devaluation with a curt, “The public has its rights as well as individuals.”  In the end, Congress never redeemed the paper currency.

If the Congress was bad, in some ways the states were worse.  Not only were there problems with the emission of bills of credit (though that was less significant than for Congress), but with other, broader confiscatory and debt cancellation laws.  To the extent that such laws injured the interests of Loyalists and British creditors, they violated the peace treaty with Great Britain and threatened to reignite the war.  To the extent they hit their own citizens, the states were flirting with class warfare.  At best, even in the absence of a specter of violence, state politics circled around the vortex of the depreciated bills, as holders, speculators, and debtors (who were not always different persons) jockeyed for political and economic advantage.  This contributed to the instability of state politics and prevented establishing a basis for long-term social peace and material prosperity.

Historians, including conservatives such as Forrest McDonald, indict this period after independence for making Americans less secure in their property rights than they had been under King George.  To an increasing number of Americans, especially younger figures such as Hamilton and Madison who were not as tied to the “revolutionary spirit,” the reason was that “governments were now committing unprecedented excesses, even though–or precisely because–governments now derived their powers from compacts amongst the people.”  The period was a vivid illustration that democratic self-rule does not, without more, set a society on the path to the security of property and long-term well-being.  Even more alarming was the fact that those same state governments were acting under constitutions that nominally protected individuals’ liberty and property from just such majoritarian muggings.

It is no wonder then, that many of those who gathered at the convention in Philadelphia, viewed the levelling tendencies of such fiscal and redistributionist laws with consternation and as evidence of the irresponsibility of popular majorities.  There was no opposition to the portions of Article I, Section 10, that negated the states’ abilities to coin money, issue paper currency, or make anything but gold and silver legal tender.  Some delegates wanted that prohibition extended to Congress, but the majority demurred.  The need for paper money during emergencies, combined with the Madisonian faith that a more effective balance between debtor and creditor interests would produce better political checks against excesses at the national level than within the states, gave the majority pause about tying the hands of Congress.

In hindsight, both sides can claim vindication.  Certainly, the issuance of fiat money during the Civil War helped the Union’s war effort.  On the other hand, the flood of trillions of dollars sloshing around today during peacetime can easily become a tsunami that destroys the economic well-being of large numbers of Americans.  And, contrary to Franklin, devaluation and inflation typically hit the lower and middle classes more than it does the wealthy.  Inflation is a brutally regressive tax.

One tool of the Framers was to ban retrospective laws.  The first was the prohibition on ex post facto laws, one that also applied to the national government under Article I, Section 9.  Apparently many of the Convention (including Madison) thought that ex post facto laws covered all retrospective laws.  This produced a moment that demonstrates that the Framers were ordinary humans, finding their way through the constitutional fog, not infallible divine creators.  The day after the vote, John Dickinson sheepishly announced that he had looked up “ex post facto” in Blackstone and found (correctly) that this only prohibited retroactive criminal laws.

Similarly, bills of attainder (legislative decrees of punishment of individuals used expansively during the English Civil War, but not unknown even in the newly-independent states) were prohibited for the states and the national government, primarily because of their retroactive application to acts already committed.  Bills of attainder and ex post facto laws were viewed as such outrageous infringements of liberty that they were denounced as contrary to the protections of the social contract and the very nature of a republican government of free men.

But that still left the issue of retrospective civil laws.  The contract clause of Article I apparently was the vehicle to deal with the vexatious laws that, in tandem with the paper currency policies, cancelled debts or otherwise interfered with existing contracts.  Although the origin of the clause is obscure, it is similar to one found in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, passed by the Confederation Congress.  The author at the Convention probably was Hamilton, who, after his personal experience with Pennsylvania’s capricious revocation of the charter of the Bank of North America, also saw the potential of the clause to protect banks and other corporations from state harassment.

The contracts clause was an early vehicle for the Supreme Court to promote the rule of law and the stability of rights in property.  Chief Justice Marshall, in particular, read the clause broadly to protect individual rights in contracts.  Indeed, his interpretation went so far as to prevent the states from interfering with the obligations of contracts even prospectively, a view that was probably beyond that envisioned by the Framers and which led to Marshall’s only dissent in a constitutional case in 34 years on the Court.

Much has changed since then.  Today, the Supreme Court has reinterpreted the categorical language of the clause to prohibit only laws “unreasonably” impairing the obligation of contracts.  This has effectively eviscerated the clause’s protections against most state laws that interfere with purely private contractual relations, even those that are retrospective.  States, and the federal government (to which the contracts clause does not apply directly), are relatively free to force creditors to revise terms of existing debt instruments, such as mortgages) when debtor interests gain enough political traction.

Neither of our hypothetical state laws would be unconstitutional under the ex post facto clause, as they do not deal with crimes.  There being no “contract,” the only limitation on the retroactive tax increase would be vague notions of “notice” to the taxpayers under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.  The repudiation of state bonds would be a closer case, and states well may run into difficulties under the contracts clause if they were to try to repudiate their bonds (or to curtail vested public employee pensions).

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums.  Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/ .

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2 and 3

2:  The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.  3:  No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

The Great Writ.  The writ of habeas corpus, protected in Article I, Section 9, clause 2, is often regarded as the cornerstone of the rule of law in Anglo-American jurisprudence.  Alexander Hamilton, writing in Federalist 84, approvingly quotes Blackstone that habeas corpus is the “ bulwark of the British constitution,” in that it prevents the “dangerous engine of arbitrary government” that comes from “confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten.”

Some historians trace the writ back to Magna Charta, although more definitive evidence shows a gradual emergence under the common law, culminating in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, during the reign of Charles II.  As Hamilton’s comment shows, the Framers were well aware of the writ.  Note that the Constitution does not “create” the writ; rather, Article I, Section 9, assumes the existence of the writ, but provides for its limited suspension.

Congress early confirmed the federal courts’ jurisdiction to issue the writ in the Judiciary Act of 1789, though the scope of the jurisdiction has changed over time.  It is even plausible, though not without doubt in light of 19th century precedent, that the power to issue writs of habeas corpus is so tied to the essential role of the federal courts that they could issue writs of habeas corpus even if Congress had not affirmatively recognized that power.

The writ is commonly said to be an instrument only to test the constitutionality of the detention, not to adjudicate the guilt or innocence of a detainee.  In other words, it is not the same as a right to appeal a conviction, but a “collateral attack” on the right of the government to detain the prisoner at all.  In some fashion, though, habeas corpus is broader than an appeal.  Rights of appeal are usually limited in time.  Petitions for habeas corpus traditionally were not so limited and could be brought repeatedly, years after trial.

There are two areas where the use of habeas corpus has become controversial in the last few decades.  One is the use of federal courts to challenge state criminal proceedings, especially in death penalty cases.  The other is the applicability of the writ to detainees in military custody.

As to state criminal proceedings, the problem began with the Supreme Court’s “incorporation” into the 14th Amendment of criminal procedure protections in the Bill of Rights.  This process, principally during the Warren Court, extended the federal courts’ supervisory powers over state court proceedings.  Justice Frankfurter as early as 1953 warned of the writ’s “possibilities for evil as well as good,” in light of the roughly 400 to 500 habeas petitions brought in federal court by persons in state custody.  By the end of the Warren Court, that number increased to 12,000 per year.  It continued to climb until the Rehnquist Court in the 1990s began to stem the deluge.

Today, habeas petitions are still a favorite pastime of “jailhouse lawyers,” as well as of attorneys who represent inmates with various complaints, from prison overcrowding or medical care to more individualized concerns about ineffective assistance of counsel in capital cases.  But federal laws and Supreme Court decisions now require petitioners to meet stiffer tests for such collateral review.  In part these restrictions have been justified by the perceived greater due process protections in state criminal proceedings compared to 50 years ago.  In part it is the conscious institutional desire of the Rehnquist and Roberts Court majorities to shift more business out of the federal courts into the state courts.  It is the latter, after all, who are the courts of “general jurisdiction” in our federal system.  In part it is simply the federal judges’ impatience with the sheer volume of repeated and frivolous petitions.  Even before the floodgates opened, only a very small percentage (6%) of petitions were found to have merit.  As so frequently happens, the increase in quantity over the years led to a further decrease in quality.

Regarding jurisdiction over people detained by the military, the writ has a checkered past.  Early in the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended the writ in a portion of Maryland (a de facto imposition of martial law).  In 1861, Chief Justice Taney issued the writ to the military jailer of a Maryland secessionist arrested for destroying railroad bridges.  When the military commander ignored the writ, the Chief Justice, in Ex parte Merryman, denounced Lincoln’s action, arguing that Article I, Section 9, dealt with limitations on Congress’s powers.  Therefore, only Congress could suspend the writ.

In classic implied executive powers fashion, Lincoln responded that the Constitution did not specify which branch could suspend the writ, only the conditions under which it could be suspended.  Moreover, the President could act due to the emergency involved.  Both Lincoln and his attorney general, Edward Bates, declared that the judiciary was incapable of dealing adequately with organized rebellion.  Bates, in his more detailed opinion, pointedly reminded the Court that the executive was not subordinate to the judiciary, but one of three coordinate branches of government.  The President took an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution,” Bates asserted, and the courts were too weak to accomplish that task.

In 2008, the Supreme Court decided Boumediene v. Bush.  There, Justice Kennedy, in a 5-4 opinion, declared portions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 unconstitutional, most significantly the portion that denied habeas corpus review to Guantanamo detainees.  Aside from a host of constitutional and practical problems with the Court’s opinion, particularly troubling was the Court’s extension of the writ to people outside the sovereignty of the U.S.  To do so, the Court had to distort the traditional Anglo-American understanding that the writ applied only within the nation’s territory.

While the writ has long applied to procedures of military courts, the Court previously made clear that it did not apply to acts of such courts outside the U.S.  Thus, in Johnson v. Eisentrager in 1950, the Court, speaking through Justice Jackson, rejected a habeas petition from German prisoners who had been convicted of war crimes by an American military commission and were held at an American military prison in the American occupation zone in postwar Germany.  The Eisentrager Court found “no instance where a court, in this or any other country where the writ is known, has issued it on behalf of an alien enemy, who, at no relevant time and in no stage of his captivity, has been within its territorial jurisdiction.”

Where Justice Jackson and others feared to tread, Justice Kennedy rushed in.  As Justice Scalia wrote in dissent in Boumediene, what drove the Court’s opinion was “neither the meaning of the Suspension Clause, nor the principles of our precedents, but rather an inflated sense of judicial supremacy.”  Precisely the attitude that President Lincoln and Attorney General Bates had emphatically rejected in their response to Chief Justice Taney.

Whether the Boumediene opinion has precedential virility, or whether it is merely judicial posturing, remains to be seen.  Justice Scalia feared that it is likely to be the former.  Early indications from the circuit courts suggest the latter.  Those courts have read Boumediene narrowly as applying only to Guantanamo, not, for example, to detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.  If that interpretation prevails before the Supreme Court, Boumediene is mere institutional chest-beating.  More troubling, in the long run, is the possibility that Justice Scalia’s concerns are well-founded, and that the Court’s use of habeas corpus in Boumediene is part of the expanding notion of “lawfare” that threatens to tie down the President’s commander-in-chief powers through a web of legal regulations and procedures, an American military Gulliver tied down by legal Lilliputians.

As Justice Frankfurter warned, the writ has “possibilities for evil as well as good.”

Note: Professor Knipprath will address Article I, Section 9, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution in his upcoming essay on: Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1, Scheduled for publication on April 11: 1:  No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility. 

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums.  Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/ .

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 18

18:  To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

In a letter to Edward Livingston in 1800, Thomas Jefferson addressed the potential of infinite expansion of national power through the “necessary and proper clause” (Article I, Section 8, clause 18) after Congress chartered a mining company.  Jefferson derided the exercise by comparing the constitutional claims of the law’s supporters to a popular nursery rhyme:

“Congress are authorized to defend the nation. Ships are necessary for defense; copper is necessary for ships; mines, necessary for copper; a company necessary to work the mines; and who can doubt this reasoning who has ever played at ‘This is the House that Jack Built’? Under such a process of filiation of necessities the sweeping clause makes clean work..”

Who can doubt this, indeed?  Especially when, just last year, in U.S. v. Comstock, Justice Breyer led the Supreme Court in finding that the necessary and proper clause permits the national government to remit into federal civil commitment persons deemed to be sexually dangerous, even though the federal government could no longer hold them on a federal criminal charge. After applying one of the malleable multi-factor balancing tests he so favors, Justice Breyer determined that the necessary and proper clause permits Congress to enact laws that criminalize conduct that threatens the beneficial exercise of its enumerated powers; and that, therefore, Congress can imprison those who engage in that conduct; and that, therefore, Congress can pass laws to govern those prisons; and that, therefore, Congress can act as custodian of its prisoners; and that, therefore, Congress can pass a law that allows the federal government to keep those former prisoners “to protect the public from dangers created by the federal criminal justice and prison systems.” Besides, Breyer averred, the new law was only a “modest expansion” of Congress’s power.  Indeed.  Were he alive, Jefferson would recognize the game.

The necessary and proper clause is the Constitution’s version of the “implied powers” theory.  Congress is the American people’s legislative agent.  As such, the people gave Congress certain objectives to achieve.  It is a basic principle of agency law that the agent has not only the powers expressly assigned by the principal but, by implication, also those powers necessary to carry them out.  But there is no need for application of “implied powers” because the people, as Congress’s principal, themselves provided the means to carry out Congress’s assigned objectives.  The necessary and proper clause specifies that Congress has the power to make laws “necessary and proper for carrying into execution” the powers conferred by the Constitution on the federal government.

The clause has long been hotly debated.  Opponents of the Constitution, especially New York’s Robert Yates (“Brutus”), repeatedly warned of the dangers from an expansive interpretation of “necessary and proper.” They predicted that an unrestrained power to accomplish formally limited powers itself effectively created an unlimited power to legislate through pretext.  Madison, responding to Yates in Federalist 44, sought to tie the clause to the other powers in a luke-warm argument that made the clause sound like the least worst alternative the Framers faced.  Moreover, he attempted to narrow the meaning of the clause to those means that were “indispensably necessary” and “required.” Ultimately, however, Madison threw up his hands, effectively conceded the argument about the dangers, but urged the people to remain alert to usurpations by Congress.

The Supreme Court weighed in with McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819.  Chief Justice Marshall rejected the restrictive interpretation of “necessary” urged by the old anti-Federalist warhorse, Maryland’s wily attorney general Luther Martin.