The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law 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.

Passed by Congress March 4, 1794. Ratified February 7, 1795.

Note: Article III, section 2, of the Constitution was modified by amendment 11.

Guest Essayist: James D. Best, author of Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and Principled Action, Lessons from the Origins of the American Republic

Amendment XXVII:

No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

The 27th Amendment states that any law Congress passes that alters their compensation cannot take effect until after the next election.

On September 25, 1789, Congress proposed twelve constitutional amendments. In a little over two years, ten of these were ratified by the states. These very first amendments to the Constitution became our revered Bill of Rights.

The first rejected amendment proscribed a complex formula for determining the size of the House of Representatives. The second failed amendment, known as the Compensation Amendment, was written by James Madison in response to Antifederalist claims that Congress possessed the power to vote themselves rich salaries. Although this amendment failed in 1791, it eventually became the 27th Amendment.

The 11th Amendment took less than a year to ratify. Prohibition (18th Amendment) took 14 months, while repeal (21st Amendment) took only nine months. Women’s suffrage (19th Amendment) took 14 months to ratify. Giving 18 year olds the right to vote (26th Amendment) took only a little over three months. So why did it take 203 years to ratify the 27th Amendment?

In 1791, Americans didn’t see compensation of Congress as a big issue—at least, not enough of an issue to threaten liberty. If Congress became too greedy, voters would simply throw them out of office. In 1873, Congress did vote itself a retroactive raise. In a pique, Ohio ratified the Compensation Amendment. No other states followed suit, so the amendment languished—until the 1980s. Surprisingly, a grassroots campaign was ignited by an undergraduate term paper written by Gregory Watson. (He received a C grade for the paper.) On May 7, 1992, the Compensation Amendment was finally ratified by enough states to make it officially the 27th Amendment.

The irony is that this two-century process may have been made meaningless by later court decisions. Since the amendment was ratified, the only court challenge claimed that the annual Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) violated this amendment. A few taxpayers and a congressman filed suit, but a lower court ruled that the taxpayers did not have standing (standing is a legal interest in the issue that entitles the party to seek relief).  It further ruled that an automatic COLA was not an independent law subject to the amendment. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit ruled that the congressman also did not have standing. If neither taxpayers nor congressmen have standing, it’s hard to imagine a successful challenge.

Madison had crafted a clear, single sentence that 203 years later became part of the Constitution. It’s doubtful that Congress would be foolish enough to violate this minor restriction on their pay increases.

We often hear laments that our politicians no longer honor their pledge to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  This is backward.  The Constitution was not written for politicians.  Our political leaders have no motivation to abide by a two hundred year old restraining order.  Americans must enforce the supreme law of the land.  The first outsized words of the Constitution read We the People.  It’s our document. It was always meant to be ours, not the government’s.  It is each and every American’s obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

James D. Best is the author of Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and Principled Action, Lessons from the Origins of the American Republic.

June 13, 2012

Essay #83

Guest Essayist: Professor Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

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:

April 25, 2012 

Essay #48 

Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

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:

April 17, 2012 

Essay #42 


Guest Essayist: Kevin Theriot, Senior Counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund

Amendment XI

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law 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

Eleventh Amendment Immunity:  Good Legal Fiction

On its face, the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution seems to provide a great deal of protection for states against lawsuits.  The amendment says:

The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law 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.

Judicial interpretation has made it even broader.  For instance, the amendment appears to only prevent a private citizen of South Carolina from suing the State of Georgia in federal court.  But the Supreme Court has said that it also prohibits suits by citizens of Georgia from suing their own state in federal court, Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890), and immunity even applies if the complaint is filed in Georgia’s state courts.  Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 (1999).

This judicial willingness to go well beyond the language of the Eleventh Amendment is based upon the idea that it is just one aspect of the broader doctrine of sovereign immunity, a doctrine that precedes the constitution itself.  Article III of the Constitution gives federal courts jurisdiction of cases “between a State and a citizen of another State.”  Historians suspect that most of the Founding Fathers anticipated that this would involve cases where a state is suing a citizen of another state, but not vice versa.  See 13 Charles Alan Wright, Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 3524 (3d ed. 2010).  The founders likely thought states were protected from suits by citizens by the well-established English Common Law rule that a sovereign could not be sued without its consent.  This foundational belief may explain the quick passage of the Eleventh Amendment, which was enacted shortly after the Supreme Court found in 1793 that a citizen of South Carolina could indeed sue the State of Georgia in federal court.  Chisholm v. Virginia, 2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419 (1793).  It also explains why over the years the Court has viewed the Eleventh Amendment as just one aspect of a broader common law principle.

But it doesn’t explain why courts have made it so easy to circumvent the Eleventh Amendment.  For instance, someone who has had their civil rights violated by the state of Georgia cannot sue Georgia, but they can sue its head executive, Governor Deal.  For all practical purposes, the result for the plaintiff is the same.  If the plaintiff wins, the court will enter an injunction against the governor in his official capacity, which will affect all other state officials.  This principle was established in Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), and is often referred to as the “Ex Parte Young fiction.”  Practically, suing governors in their official capacity is just a suit against their state.  But the Court said the state officer could never really be given authority to violate the law, so it is not really a suit against the state.  One can understand why it is referred to as a “fiction,” since it resembles a Star Wars Jedi mind trick.  Later, the Court determined that a successful plaintiff can even obtain damages from state officials.  See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991).

Why is it the Court feels justified in reading the Eleventh Amendment so broadly, but then completely undermining it with a legal fiction?  Most likely, it’s because judges understand that in a country built upon the concept of inalienable rights, state officials must be held accountable when they violate those rights.  In fact, in Chisholm, the case that prompted passage of the amendment, the Justices discussed “whether sovereign immunity—a doctrine born in a monarchy and based upon the notion that the crown could (or perhaps simply should) do no wrong—ought to play any role in the new democratic republic.”  Wright, Miller, supra, § 3524.

It seems unnecessarily complicated to adopt a legal fiction requiring plaintiffs to sue state officials in order to give lip service to a doctrine that shouldn’t even apply to our form of government.  But we do get the right result in the end – citizens have legal recourse against state officials that violate their rights. After all, subtle nuances, complicated plots, and happy endings are what good fiction is all about.

Kevin Theriot is senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance that employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.


Guest Essayist: Brion McClanahan, Ph.D., author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers

The authorship of Federalist No. 50 is disputed.  Whether it was James Madison or Alexander Hamilton, the author’s arguments have ramifications for our current political problems and, in many ways, exemplify the nature of the federal government under the Constitution.  Federalist No. 50 opens with the following premise: “IT MAY be contended, perhaps, that instead of OCCASIONAL appeals to the people, which are liable to the objections urged against them, PERIODICAL appeals are the proper and adequate means of PREVENTING AND CORRECTING INFRACTIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION.”  The key to the opening is the last capitalized phrase.  The author then proceeds to discuss how conventions called for the purpose of “correcting infractions of the constitution” would be neither productive nor “adequate” to remedy unconstitutional abuse of power by any branch of government.

The author used the State of Pennsylvania as an example to prove his premise.  Pennsylvania had a Council of Censors in the 1780s that was charged with the task of determining if the State constitution had been violated and if the executive or legislative body was at fault.  But most of the men who held a seat on the Council also served in either the executive or legislative branch and they often split into “two fixed and violent parties.”  Their conclusions were often clouded by passion and their decisions ignored by the State government.  The author concludes, “This censorial body, therefore, proves at the same time, by its researches, the existence of the disease, and by its example, the inefficacy of the remedy.”  States would always divide into groups, and even if the State tried to remedy the problem by appointing men who had not been connected with the constitutional issue at hand, the author argues that, “The important task would probably devolve on men, who, with inferior capacities, would in other respects be little better qualified. Although they might not have been personally concerned in the administration, and therefore not immediately agents in the measures to be examined, they would probably have been involved in the parties connected with these measures, and have been elected under their auspices.”

The author, of course, implied that an outside “referee” would be no better to check unconstitutional abuses of government than the “checks and balances” contained within the Constitution itself.  The Senate is a check on the executive; the executive is a check on the congress, and the Supreme Court a check on both. But the author failed to consider one of the principle arguments against the Constitution and the checks and balances system: what or who will check federal power if they have a monopoly on the “checks and balances” system?  That was the heart of the anti-federalist critique of the federal judiciary, for example.  Certainly, Federalist No. 50 was cogent and persuasive, and the amendment process was always showcased as a fail-proof method of altering the Constitution, but the anti-federalists had much to say on the subject.

One of the best arguments against Federalist No. 50 appeared almost four months earlier in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer.  The author, An Old Whig, contended that the amendment process as written would never produce beneficial changes to the Constitution.  He called the procedures for amending the Constitution a “labyrinth,” and thought that before the process was over, “ages will revolve, and perhaps the great principles upon which our late glorious revolution was founded, will be totally forgotten. If the principles of liberty are not firmly fixed and established in the present constitution, in vain may we hope for retrieving them hereafter. People once possessed of power are always loathe to part with it; and we shall never find two thirds of a Congress voting or proposing any thing which shall derogate from their own authority and importance, or agreeing to give back to the people any part of those privileges which they have once parted with….”  Perhaps the Old Whig was correct.  Only seventeen amendments have been added to the Constitution since the Bill of Rights were ratified in 1791, and in reality only two, the 11th and the 22nd, limited the power of the central government.  Others such as the 14th, 16th, and 17th, increased it exponentially.

Interestingly, if Madison was the author of Federalist No. 50, he reversed his position on the issue of an external “referee” less than ten years after the Constitution was ratified.  Both he and Thomas Jefferson argued in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 that the States could interpose their sovereignty or “nullify” an unconstitutional federal law.  The question was not which branch of government was a fault—both the executive and legislative branch would be culpable under this scenario because congress passed the law and the president signed it—but whether the “checks and balances” system actually worked.  The people of the States, the very people Federalist No. 50 impugned as inferior, would thus rule on federal authority.  If the president and the congress in concert can ignore the Constitution—national healthcare, the federal stimulus, the nationalization of the auto industry—and if the federal judiciary is, as it often has been, a rubber stamp for federal legislation, how can it be reasonably argued today that checks and balances work?  The anti-federalists warned against such logic, and Jefferson and Madison provided the tonic, Federalist No. 50 notwithstanding.

Brion McClanahan, Ph.D., is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers.  He currently teaches History at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in Phenix City, AL.

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Great discussion today – loved seeing some new names blogging!   Remember to invite your friends to join the conversation – and share this with your children! Encourage them to enter our We The People 9.17 Contest – sign up online ASAP – entries due July 4!  Tell high school students we especially need short films, PSA’s and we are asking middle schoolers and high schoolers to compose cool songs!  Students can enter in teams of two for the songs, short films and PSA’s.  Sign up today!

Tackling the Bill of Rights, and the Amendments in one day was a big job!   As I read through the Amendments, I wondered about the efforts and battles that must have gone into the passage of each.  Reading through the Amendments is like a quick reading of the history of our country.  The Amendments reflect the times and current events in the eras in which they were passed.  We can be proud as Americans that MOST of the Amendments reflect the founding fathers’ principles. (see today’s and yesterday’s blog for lively discussion on some such as the 16th and 17th which many feel do not!)

All of the Amendments have fascinating stories that accompany their passage.  We all know of the stories and have seen photos of the women’s suffrage movement, for example. That battle spanned 50 years before Congress approved the 19th Amendment in 1919 and 3/4 of the States ratified it in 1920. But there is an interesting back story to the passage of the 19th Amendment that I love.  In August of 1920 Tennessee was the final state needed to achieve ratification of the 19th Amendment. The vote in the Tennessee Legislature came down to a young State Representative, Harry Burn, who represented a district bitterly divided on the issue, and who was facing re-election that fall.  Representative Burn had voted previously with the Anti-Amendment forces.  The vote was tied 48-48, and Harry was expected to vote with those opposing the Amendment again.  But Harry carried a letter from his mother in his breast pocket, admonishing him “Don’t forget to be a good boy,” and vote for the Amendment.  Harry surprised everyone by voting yes, and thus on August 18, 1920 Tennessee became the 36th State to ratify the 19th Amendment, and one young 24 year old man empowered millions of women in our country with his brave vote.

Earlier today Rich asked an interesting question about how the 17th Amendment came to be passed, so I pulled two books off my shelf that I recommend to anyone who is interested in the stories and history of the Amendments, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution:

Seth Lipsky’s The Citizen’s Constitution: An Annotated Guide (2009) and the Heritage Foundation’s Guide to the Constitution, edited by Ed Meese, Mathew Spalding and David Forte (2005).

Upon reading about the 17th Amendment’s history in both of the above sources, I found it was passed in reaction to many State legislatures which were deadlocked on the issue of choosing a U.S. Senator, thus leaving their states without representation in the U.S. Senate. The 17th Amendment was passed in the name of enhancing Democracy, yet many feel it has been detrimental to protecting States’ rights, expanding the federal government’s reach.

To me, the most important Amendments to our Constitution were the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which abolished slavery, established citizenship for former slaves, and prohibited restrictions on the right to vote based on color, race or previous condition of servitude.  President Lincoln received pressure from those who thought the 13th Amendment should be ratified only by the Northern States, in order to get it done quickly.  But Lincoln favored 3/4 ratification of the 13th Amendment by all the States, so the Amendment’s legitimacy could not be challenged.  He also believed the ratification process in the Southern States was important to Reconstruction and healing.  Regarding the 14th Amendment, Seth Lipsky writes, “Were the Amendments musical compositions, the fourteenth would be the grand symphony in four movements, full of exciting themes, varied movements, and clashing symbols….” Indeed the 14th did much more than overturn the Dred Scott decision and extend citizenship to former slaves, it contains the State Action, Privileges or Immunities, Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, as well as Section Two, Apportionment of Representatives. The 15th Amendment, the last of the Amendments dealing with Reconstruction, prohibited voting discrimination for former slaves, and any voting discrimination based on race and color.  These three Amendments set the stage for the healing of our country.

It is another testament to the beauty of our Constitution that the Amendments read like a short hand version of the history of the United States.  It is all there, from the the 11th Amendment stemming from States being held accountable for their Revolutionary War Debts, to the 27th Amendment restricting congressional pay raises from taking effect until after an election. Interestingly the 27th Amendment was first proposed in 1789 and finally ratifed in 1992!

What will our next Amendment be?   Let us pray it will reflect the founding fathers’ principles as so many of our great Amendments have.  The only thing that is certain, though is that fascinating stories and struggles will accompany its passage, and it will add to the historical narrative of our country which is embodied in the United States Constitution.

April 27, 2010

Posted in Constitutional Essays by Cathy, The Amendments to the United States Constitution | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “April 272010 – the Amendments to the United States Constitution – Cathy Gillespie

  1. Susan says:

    We were trying to place the amendments in the context of history by guessing what was going on at the time they were enacted without peeking at the date. Amazingly, we were pretty close.

  2. Mary Lou Leddy says:

    I want to thank bothCathy and Janine for their blogs on the amendments today. As I have never studied theConstitution, Bill of Rights and the amendments in great detail before ; I must admit it can be very challenging to understand; but your blogs as well as the essays of the guest bloggers have made some things much clearer. Thank you again. I look forward to continuing this great study

  3. Pam says:

    I have been trying to get an answer to this question for about a month. In regards to illegal aliens, George Wills wrote an article stating that our policy of granting citizenship to children born in this country to illegal aliens is a misapplication of the 14th Amendment. That it does not apply to illegal immigrants, because at the time it was written, there were no restrictions on immigration.

    As far as I know, we are the only country that has this policy. Right now (to quote George) the best thing a poor person of any country can do for their children is to have them here. I think that changing our policy in regards to children of illegals would go a long way to stop the flood. Any comments?

  4. Susan Craig says:

    My understanding of the whys and wherefores of the 14th was to clarify the citizenship status of the newly emancipated slaves after the Civil War and its intention was never for transient immigrants who wish to anchor themselves here with all the privileges but not necessarily the duties.

  5. Sandra Rodas says:

    I realize that to keep with the 90 day format, it was necessary to have all the amendments be covered in one day, but it sure would be nice to look at each in a little more depth. Maybe when the 90 day challenge is over, we could revisit them one at a time on the blog.

  6. Martin says:

    With regard to the 14th Amendment. Those who would reinvent the Constitution as a document of positive rights versus a document of negative rights have sought to contort the “privileges and immunities” clause to meet their ends.

    Basically, the Constitution is written as a set of guarantees limiting what government actually has the power to do and in fact, limiting what it can do to it’s citizenry. There is a movement under way to redefine government in terms of what it must do for its people.

    The Slaughter supreme court decisions (right after the Civil War) have defined this narrowly to apply to the states, guaranteeing that the federal government supersedes state governments only in the realm of guaranteed protections specified by the Bill of Rights.

    The folks who promulgate the concept of the Constitution as a “living” document want to overturn this precedent so that more “rights” can be forced down over the objections of the states. These new “rights” would be things like – housing, guaranteed employment, health care, and guaranteed access to the political process. By defining them as obligations or entitlements, the government would have to take steps to ensure that they are fulfilled. This would necessarily entail funding and enforcement.

    The movement doing this is called the Constitution 2020 movement.

    Hillsdale College recently produced a paper documenting their efforts. I’ve written a synopsis at, where I’ve included links to this paper as well links to some of this groups writings.

  7. Kirk John Larson says:

    Greetings and Salutations,

    I wish to address certain issues. The 17th Amendment and the 2020 Movement.

    Cathy pointed out that some have argued that the 17th Amendment hurt States rights, and it did. In passing that amendment, State Governments no longer have true representation in Washington. As a result, the Federal government has infringed upon States issues by mandating how the States spends its tax revenues and what laws to pass lest the Federal government would suspend funding as a form of punishment over the states. This practice works to diminish the role and need for State Governments at all. This has been the plan by progressives since 1913. More over, by stripping the State Governments of authority, the Public role in governance and more over the publics ability to self govern is also eroded.

    As for the Constitution 2020 movement; this effort to impose ‘new rights’ is not to say our rights have been lost or confused but to say that the US Government is the sole granter of “Rights.” This is a secular push toward a more socialized society where in the Government defines and prescribes where you live, how you live, and whether or not you live.

    Housing is a replaceable commodity, (Just ask any tornado.) Employment is a personal choice and on occasion deniable due to the lack of employers. Ultimately, the “Right to Employment” is to destroy the Entrepreneurial Spirit of America. Health Care is a personal responsibility. The effort hear is ultimately establish euthanasia as a legal recourse. Then there is guaranteed access to political process, which is an intent to eradicate responsibility. Today, under the law, criminal conduct suspends your rights to vote or participate in the political process such as serving as a representative in congress. (either house) The idea the progressives have here is Americans should be free from responsibility and consequences for their actions. This is intended to bring more freedom but will actually encourage chaos. As a result, the very idea actually produces the opposite affect as the public cannot be trusted to conduct themselves responsibly, so totalitarian rules must be imposed. The two step process bring greater freedom from responsibility and consequences is to eliminate freedom altogether.

    The left will argue to the contrary but the truth is; the absence of responsibility produces chaos and public endangerment.
    Socialism has failed time and again. It will always fail because it dehumanizes the people into little more than cattle to be processed.