Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

In the early 1830s, the city of Baltimore was developing as a bustling urban center and port.  The city diverted the streams around John Barron’s successful wharf and lowered the water level, which negatively impacted his business.  He sued the city to recover his financial losses.

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Guest Essayist: Professor William Morrisey

Faithful readers of Constituting America’s 90-Day Study have followed the story of our constitution through each of our presidential elections. We have seen that the moral foundations of both of our constitutions—the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution that replaced it—find their most cogent expression in the Declaration of Independence. There, the Founders held the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments must therefore be framed to secure those unalienable rights. Our God-endowed, or natural, rights—regulated by the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God—find security in our legal or civil rights, defended by a system of government so structured as to channel the ambitions of political men and women toward the guardianship of those rights. This requires a regime designed to empower the government so our rights can be defended effectively against those who threaten them, at home or abroad. At the same time, the powers of that government will check and balance one another, so that no single individual or group of individuals will likely usurp all those powers, setting us on the road to tyranny. America’s early Constitutional conflicts centered on the question of how much power should be placed in the hands of the national government vis-à-vis the states’ governments. But whether Federalists or Anti-Federalists, Hamiltonians or Jeffersonians, all of the principal founders aimed at securing the natural rights of Americans by the means of well-designed constitutional forms.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams


JFK, Catholicism, and the 1960 Election

The American Founding ushered in a “new order for the ages” that included the unprecedented and remarkable natural right of liberty of conscience.  The First Amendment protected this universal right of all humans and banned Congress from establishing an official religion.  The Constitution also banned all religious tests for national office.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams


Global War and Peace: The 1944 Election

In his 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered a “Second Bill of Rights” that redefined the rights of the founding bill of rights. This radical pronouncement promised economic security and “positive rights” guaranteed by the federal government.

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Guest Essayist: Nancy Salvato

The Supreme Court has been in the news this week and Justice John Roberts has been thrust into the spotlight because he authored the majority opinion in King v. Burwell.  In it, Roberts and the Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, i.e. Obamacare. This is no ordinary decision, though.  The court’s ruling doesn’t simply interpret the law, it rewrites the law.

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Guest Essayist: Dr. Roberta Herzberg, Utah State University Department of Political Science

FDR and the Second Bill of Rights

As World War 2 was winding down, Franklin Delano Roosevelt set his sights for the nation on transitioning the newly expanded role of government from the war effort to an expanded social and economic role. FDR called for the guarantees outlined in this address, as he argued that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” By assuming a role in protecting citizens from the potential problems of their own economic security, government entered an arena in which the citizen operates as a co-producer of the circumstance. Those with the most to gain would seek additional services, while others ignored the pattern of growing government until its scope and size became overwhelming. Read more

Guest Essayist: Brian J. Pawlowski, former Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow

Each year millions of Americans walk through the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives building in Washington D.C.  The Archives house our nation’s founding documents — the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.  The combination of architectural beauty, august ambiance, and history is incredibly powerful.  There is something, however, that is not housed in the Charters of Freedom, something most Americans know nothing about: a deleted portion of the Declaration of Independence.  This part constituted the lengthiest section of Thomas Jefferson’s draft, was the most controversial, and was arguably the most vicious charge against the King of Great Britain.  The passage was about slavery.  Jefferson wrote: “He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, Read more

Guest Essayist: George Landrith, President, Frontiers of Freedom

Today, much of the national political debate centers on the size and scope of the federal government. Whether the discussion is focused on federal spending, the debt, or the merits and demerits of a nationalized healthcare system, at its core, the debate is about how much power the federal government should properly wield. Read more

Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director, Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

“Conscience is the Most Sacred of Property”: James Madison’s Essay on Property
by Tony Williams

On January 24, 1774, James Madison wrote to a college friend praising the Boston Tea Party, which had occurred only weeks before.  He praised the Boston patriots for their boldness in “defending liberty and property.”  Equating political and civil liberty, he warned that if the Church of England had established itself as the official religion of all the colonies, then “slavery and subjection might and would have been gradually insinuated among us.” Read more

Guest Essayist: Tony Williams, Program Director, Washington-Jefferson-Madison Institute

On January 1, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson received a thirteen-foot mammoth cheese weighing some 1,200 pounds.  It was delivered by dissenting Baptist minister and long-time advocate of religious liberty, Reverend John Leland, who then preached a sermon to the president and members of Congress at the Capitol two days later.  Jefferson took the opportunity to compose a letter to the Danbury Baptists on the relationship between government and religion that would shape the course of twentieth-century jurisprudence. Read more

Essayist: Robert Lowry Clinton, Professor and Chair Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

President George Washington’s famous letter “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island” of August 18, 1790, is a response to a letter of the previous day penned by Moses Seixas on behalf of Congregation Yeshuat Israel. Seixas’s letter gives thanks to God for the religious liberty afforded at last by a government “erected by the Majesty of the People” and an “equal and benign administration.” This, after centuries of persecution and oppression of the descendants of Abraham by governments worldwide. Read more

Guest Essayist: The Honorable John Boehner, 53rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

I’m honored and delighted Constituting America would extend me an opportunity to conclude this year’s round of essays on the amendment process and to address the genius of the U.S. Constitution.

Our Founding Fathers believed in some simple and yet, for their times, absolutely revolutionary ideas.  One of these ideas was that every individual possessed fundamental rights even prior to these rights ever being put into writing.  Recall the words of the Declaration that these rights were “unalienable” and their existence a “self-evident” truth.

Another revolutionary idea was that government power or action essentially occurs at the expense of individual rights and liberties.  This idea turned completely upside down the reality of nearly every government in history to that point.  Most systems of rule placed a monarch, tyrant, or oligarchy at the top of subservient masses.  Even in colonial times, many of us may forget, Americans were “subjects” to the British crown.

A remarkable thing about our system is that we place all of the citizenry at the top of the hierarchy.

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the Founders put in writing exactly how Americans would rule themselves within a framework of individual liberty.  The document announced to the world a new concept: limited government at the heel of free people.

George Washington described this concept in a letter to a nephew shortly after the conclusion of the convention.  “The power under the Constitution will always be in the people.  It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interests, or not according to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled.”

Moreover, not only could representatives be changed, but the document itself could be altered.  The Constitution’s amendment process is self-government at work.  Other writers of this series over the past 90 days highlight more than two centuries of reform and adjustment.  Our Founders set up an amazing basic framework where citizens will forever have the privilege and right, under Article V, of making amendments.

During my early years in the House I worked for the ratification of the 27th Amendment, a provision dealing with Congressional pay originally part of the Bill of Rights but left un-ratified until 1992.  It was a privilege to see the genius of our Founders at work again, two centuries later.  My respect for that genius has only grown.

Shortly after my swearing in as Speaker of the House at the start of the 112th Congress, the Constitution was read in full on the House floor.  To the best of my knowledge, this had never been done before in American history.  I hope and trust a new tradition has been initiated.

This was done not only to honor liberty-loving Americans who take seriously Washington’s advice to recall “contrary” representatives, but because my Republican colleagues had promised to put our founding documents in their proper perspective.  In our Pledge to America, we said: “We pledge to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers and honor the original intent of those precepts that have been consistently ignored – particularly the Tenth Amendment, which grants that all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

My colleagues and I also passed a House rule that requires Members to cite Constitutional authority in every piece of legislation they introduce.  The American people deserve to know that the laws we pass and the actions we take comport with the spirit of our Constitution.

Let me again thank Constituting America for their education work.  They live by the admonition of James Madison: “A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.”

Since its ratification in 1788 the success of our Constitution has been a precious gift worth defending.  It is a light for the rest of the world and a torch to be handed to future generations.

The Honorable John Boehner represents the 8th Congressional District of Ohio, and is serving in the 112th Congress as the 53rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

June 22, 2012 

Essay #90 


Guess Essayist: David Eastman, 2011 Claremont Institute Abraham Lincoln Fellow

Before we conclude our 90 Day Amendment Study, we now take a look at some pending Constitutional Amendments, which have not been adopted:

The first in this short series is an amendment on Congressional Apportionment – Essayist: David Eastman, 2011 Claremont Institute Abraham Lincoln Fellow

Proposed Congressional Apportionment Amendment

“After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.”

Few today may be able to tell you, but the most immediate concern in the minds of many Americans following the adoption of the Constitution was not first amendment rights concerning freedom of speech, but rather first amendment rights concerning the number of representatives in Congress. And though it receives comparatively little attention in our own day, it was this issue that the Congress was compelled to tackle in the very first constitutional amendment it adopted (September 25, 1789).

Concerns over congressional apportionment predated ratification of the Constitution and were the subject of fully three of the Federalist Papers, in one of which Madison remarked “Scarce any article, indeed, in the whole Constitution seems to be rendered more worthy of attention by the weight of character and the apparent force of argument with which it has been assailed” (Federalist 55). The initial apportionment scheme that generated such high-spirited controversy was as follows:

“The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative…”

New Hampshire (3)
Massachusetts (8)
Rhode Island (1)
Connecticut (5)
New York (6)
New Jersey (4)
Pennsylvania (8)
Delaware (1)
Maryland (6)
Virginia (10)
North Carolina (5)
South Carolina (5)
Georgia (3)
Total (65)

Madison defended this portion of the proposed Constitution against a two-pronged attack: first, that the number of representatives in Congress, being too few, was inadequate to prevent corruption of the legislative body; and second, that such a number would deprive the body of sufficient knowledge owing to the inability of members of Congress to effectively represent such a large number of constituents. Also relevant was the concern that if the House of Representatives were ever to become too numerous, its character as a representative body would be undermined. Despite Madison’s best efforts to answer these concerns, they persisted, leading several states to propose amendments to this portion of the Constitution, which they submitted to the Articles Congress with their respective ratification documents.

These, and other requests submitted by the states, resulted in the first twelve amendments passed by the United States Congress and submitted to the states on September 25, 1789. Ten of the twelve were soon adopted as the Bill of Rights, and the eleventh would lay silently awaiting ratification until approved by the State of Michigan and finally added to the Constitution 202 years later, on May 7, 1992.

The twelfth and final amendment, the Congressional Apportionment Amendment, was ratified by a majority of states at the time of its passage, but less than the three-fourths required for adoption. This could be due in part to a transcription error that resulted in a mathematically impossible apportionment formula once the population of the United States reached 8 million and before it reached 10 million. The apportionment scheme now in use is determined by Congress, in keeping with the original text of the Constitution.

As it has already secured the approval of Congress, the Apportionment Amendment could follow the path taken by the 27th Amendment and be adopted if ratified by additional states. However, its passage today is unlikely, not only due to the passage of time but also due to the fact that approval would be of limited practical effect as the scheme currently approved by Congress is already in harmony with the Amendment. It seems Congress has been successful, at least as concerns this particular amendment, in fixing a number that is neither so numerous that passions become unwieldy, nor so few that states come to question the ability of their representatives to be independent voices amidst the representatives of other states.

David Eastman is a former U.S. Army Captain, a Claremont Lincoln Fellow. He can be reached at

June 14, 2012

Essay #84

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 Will Morrisey, William and Patricia LoMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College

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.

What Is “Due Process of Law”?

Enacted in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment numbers among the “Civil War amendments”—those that aimed to settle the relations of the states to the federal government. First among the much-controverted issues prior to the war was slavery, abolished throughout the nation in the Thirteenth Amendment. But slavery had thrived underneath the constitutional carapace of “states’ rights.” If state governments were not restrained from abridging the citizen rights of the former slaves, for example, what would prevent them from reintroducing de facto racial servitude in some other guise?

For example, why could the states not practice oppression against any group it chose to target by making it subject to arbitrary arrest or imprisonment or to summary judgment without benefit of trial? The Constitution prohibited the federal government from doing such things, but what about the other levels of government?

Thus the Fourteenth Amendment says that no state may “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Readers of our founding documents will find that language very familiar. Rightly so: the phrase reproduces the language of the Fifth Amendment, which itself follows the famous words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Jefferson’s words follow those of the English philosopher John Locke, who identified life, liberty, and property as fundamental natural rights.

This means that the Framers took natural rights—rights endowed by our Creator—and made them into civil rights—rights formally recognized in our fundamental man-made law. Designed and implemented by human beings, governments exist in order to secure our natural rights, and one way to secure those rights is forthrightly to enunciate them in the supreme law of our land, ratified by the only sovereign body under God Americans recognize—themselves.

But if governments are instituted to secure our natural rights against those who would violate them, by what right does government punish the violators? Does effective punishment not require the government to deprive criminals of their property—by fining them—their liberty—by imprisoning them—and even their lives—by executing them for the most heinous offenses against our natural and civil rights? How can government do this without contradicting itself—without violating the very rights government is supposed to secure?

The basic principle of justice is to repay good acts with good acts, bad acts with bad acts. (The basic law of charity is to repay bad acts with good acts, but charity goes beyond justice). The `bad’ or rights-depriving acts of just punishment are actually good in the sense that they punish those guilty of committing bad acts against the good. This repays the bad in their own coin and may deter those who are thinking of committing bad acts. Justice metes out equal things to equals: good things to the good, bad things to the bad.

But how do we determine who is guilty of a bad act? Parents mete out what might be described as informal punitive justice to their misbehaving children. This usually involves the quick procedure of look, see, and swat. Children do not deserve a jury of their peers, primarily because such a juvenile jury would be as foolish and unruly as they. Adult fellow-citizens are a different matter. As persons capable of ruling ourselves by reason, we deserve more careful treatment. The care we owe to children entails bringing them up to rule themselves by reason, preferably before they get big enough to do serious damage. The care we owe our fellow citizens entails treating them as such—as persons who should know better than to behave as if auditioning for the next episode of Cops.

This is where due process of law comes in. As an American citizen, your civil rights may not be abridged as punishment for any crime without the observance by the executive and judicial authorities of well-established legal procedures, including a list of the charges against you and the opportunity to defend yourself against them in court. That is, any punishment involves the government in depriving the accused of some important civil right, a right it normally would be entrusted to secure. To do so fairly, the government must `make a case’ against you—persuade a reasonable judge or jury of your peers that you deserve such deprivation.

Today, this form of due process is often called “procedural due process”—a rather odd-sounding redundancy. What process is not procedural? This locution is meant to distinguish adherence to proper legal procedure from another thing called “substantive due process.”

Strictly defined, due process of law limits executive and judicial power to acts that insure a defendant’s fair chance actually to defend himself civilly, without needing to defend himself physically by running away or fighting back. Due process helps to make civil society civil. Substantive due process limits not only executive or judicial power but legislative power. Substantive due process holds that Congress and (with the Fourteenth Amendment) the state legislatures may no longer pass laws that abridge your life, liberty, or property. For example, an American version of the infamous Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany, depriving a particular religious or ethnic group of their civil liberties and thus rendering them less than fully-protected citizens, would clearly violate the civil rights to liberty and property of all members of that group. The “substantive” in the phrase “substantive due process” thus refers to the substance of a given law itself as distinguished from the procedures employed to enforce the law. Due process initially held that you could not be deprived of your civil rights to life, liberty, and property without proper legal procedures; it now meant that legislatures could not deprive you of such rights in the first place. This assurance may seem unnecessary because those rights are already protected by the Constitution as a whole. Be that as it may, the assertion of substantive due process causes a serious dilemma because it returns the country to the original problem that due process was intended to solve: if legislatures cannot secure the rights of the good by enacting laws that injure or `correct’ the bad, how will the rights of the good be secured at all? It seems that the very substantiality of substantive due process contradicts justice itself.

Having caused the problem, the Court soon got round to re-solving it, this time at the expense of the legislatures and of the people, and to the aggrandizement of themselves. In its first move, habitual since the 1940s especially, the Supreme Court has claimed that due process places the states under the requirement to adhere not only to those amendments (such as amendments thirteen and fourteen) that specifically restrict the states, but also to adhere to the whole Bill of Rights, which of course originally applied to the acts of the federal government only. So, for example, the first amendment ban on religious establishment by the federal government left state religious establishments undisturbed; now, the courts could invalidate any such establishments by invoking the due process clause understood “substantively” and not just “procedurally.”

This vast expansion of the scope of the due process clause solved the problem of the protection of our civil rights, but only at the expense of intensifying the problem of American self-government. In practice the Court’s behavior has proved highly selective. In the case of the Second Amendment protection of the right to bear arms, the Court has often chosen to overlook state restrictions on that right. At the same time, the Court has at times deployed substantive due process in establishing hitherto unknown and entirely unsuspected “constitutional rights”. It has done so by making a second move, namely, to widen the definition of the rights to life, liberty, and property. The Court-asserted rights to abortion (established in Roe v. Wade [1973]) and to homosexual activity (established in Lawrence v. Texas [2003]) clearly go far beyond anything the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment could have been thinking of back in 1868. The justices have combined substantive due process with their invention of unenumerated Constitutional rights—seen perhaps most glaringly in the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision (in which the majority opinion claimed that the “right to privacy” existed in the “penumbra” of the right to liberty—an expansive and ill-defined emanation, indeed). The doctrine of substantive due process added to a very broad definition of civil rights has enabled the Court effectively not merely to adjudicate but to legislate—a power previously thought to reside in, well, the legislature.

By placing the states under the entire Bill of Rights, and then by defining “rights” penumbrically (I invent the word for the occasion, imitating the creativity of the distinguished justices in my own small way), the Court has done far more than to abridge the powers of the state governments. It has effectively given itself the power to amend the Constitution. Under the original theory of American constitutionalism, only the people—the sovereigns—held this sovereign power. But now the judges exercise it too, making a portion of the federal government sovereign over the (formerly) sovereign people. While the founders asserted the natural rights and sovereign power of the people to establish civil rights over the government-made rights of Englishmen as the basis of their independence from the Empire, the Supreme Court has effectively revolutionized the American Revolution, making Americans into Europeans, again—the New World back into the Old.

Will Morrisey holds the William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College; his books include Self-Government, The American Theme: Presidents of the Founding and Civil War and The Dilemma of Progressivism: How Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson Reshaped the American Regime of Self-Government.

April 27, 2012 

Essay #50 

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

Amendment X:

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

Modern Issues Of States’ Rights
Ninety percent, if not more, of what the central government does today is unconstitutional. All of the following legislation violates the Tenth Amendment: national healthcare, welfare, all federal education programs, federal highway construction and funding, the National Defense Authorization Act, gun control, the Federal Reserve System, etc., and these are just some of the large issues. An itemized list based on a modern federal budget would be too substantial to publish in a book length project, let alone a short essay. Proponents of the Tenth Amendment in the founding generation viewed it as a necessary check on the power of the general government and in particular the famous “sweeping” or “elastic” clauses of the Constitution, i.e., the “general welfare clause,” the “supremacy clause,” the “necessary and proper clause,” and now the infamous “commerce clause.” The Tenth Amendment was designed to keep domestic issues under the purview of the States and leave matters of commerce (meaning interstate and international trade) and defense in the hands of the general authority. In essence, every time the central government abuses its Constitutional authority it is violating the Tenth Amendment. But for the sake of argument, the most important and egregious violations of the Tenth Amendment today are as follows:

“Obamacare”: Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides in June, the “Affordable Care Act” is a gross violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. In fact, the States would do well to individually strike it down by invoking the Tenth Amendment, as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison did with the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 in response to the blatantly unconstitutional Sedition Act. As per Article 1, Section 8, regulating healthcare is not one of the delegated powers of the general government, and the commerce clause does not apply in this case because the general government cannot regulate the commercial exchange of individuals nor can it mandate that individuals engage in a commercial activity. Proponents of the Constitution continually argued in 1787 and 1788 that if the Constitution was mute on an issue, then the general government did not have the said power. The States, however, can, and thus if the States want to address healthcare, and the respective State constitution allows it, they are free to do so.

The National Defense Authorization Act for 2012: While this piece of legislation has support among Republicans, it unconstitutionally enlarges the powers of the executive branch and has the potential to place all American citizens under martial law, thus unconstitutionally suspending the civil court system in the United States. The general government cannot constitutionally interfere with the State judicial systems nor can it constitutionally give the executive branch the power to suspend habeas corpus. Those are not delegated powers in the Constitution and thus violate the Tenth Amendment. Abraham Lincoln unilaterally suspended habeas corpus in 1861 and while Attorney General Edward Bates supported it and the Congress retroactively “authorized” it, he was heavily criticized at the time. The Supreme Court even struck down his heavy handed tactics and later negated congressional attempts to supersede State courts with military tribunals during the Reconstruction era. Congress has forgotten or neglected to remember those decisions.

The Federal Reserve: The FED is at the heart of the current economic meltdown, and central banking has long been a contentious issue in American politics. During the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, the Pennsylvania delegation suggested giving the power for chartering a bank to the Congress but were soundly defeated. No matter. In 1791, Alexander Hamilton made a central bank “constitutional” by stretching the “necessary and proper clause” of the Constitution, something he said would never happen when arguing for ratification in the Federalist essays. The Bank of the United States failed re-charter in 1811 but was replaced with another in 1816, with James Madison’s support. His reason was dubious. Time and circumstances, he said, had made the Bank constitutional. Central banking supporters never looked back. Of course, Andrew Jackson destroyed this Second Bank of the United States, but the legislative precedent had been set. When the “Creature of Jekyll Island,” also known as the Federal Reserve System, appeared in 1913, thanks to Hamilton, Madison, and John Marshall who ruled the Bank was constitutional in the infamous 1819 McCulloch v. Maryland decision, no one questioned its constitutionality. But, if Americans followed the Constitution as ratified and amended by the Tenth Amendment, the Federal Reserve would fail the constitutional sniff test. Chartering a bank or a central banking system is not a delegated power of the general government.

All Social Welfare Legislation Including Education and Entitlement Spending: In the 1942 Supreme Court decision Wickard v. Filburn, the Court found that anything that might be considered “interstate commerce” fell under the authority of federal regulation, including economic activity such as growing your own food on your own land. In essence, the “commerce clause” has become the “Hey, you-can-do-whatever-you-feel-like Clause,” as federal judge Alex Kozinski pointed out in 2005. All federal social welfare spending falls either under the so called “commerce clause” or the “general welfare clause,” and according to the founding generation both were restricted by the Tenth Amendment. None of this legislation can be found in the enumerated powers of Article 1, Section 8 unless they are “stretched,” something opponents of the Constitution feared would happen. That was the driving force behind a “States’ Rights” amendment in the Bill of Rights to begin with. If the States had a backbone (and were not slopping at the federal trough) they would interpose their control over such issues, invoke the Tenth Amendment, and strike them from the books.

In 1788, Tench Coxe of Pennsylvania, an ardent supporter of the Constitution and member of the Continental Congress, wrote that,

[The general government] cannot interfere with the opening of rivers and canals; the making or regulation of roads, except post roads; building bridges; erecting ferries; establishment of state seminaries of learning; libraries; literary, religious, trading or manufacturing societies; erecting or regulating the police of cities, towns or boroughs; creating new state offices, building light houses, public wharves, county [jails], markets, or other public buildings…nor can they do any other matter or thing appertaining to the internal affairs of any state, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, civil or ecclesiastical.

And later he said, “In short besides the particulars enumerated, every thing of a domestic nature must or can be done by them [the States].” Translation, the general government in Washington D.C. cannot constitutionally do most of what it does today. To proponents of a Bill of Rights, the Tenth Amendment was there to legally ensure Coxe was correct. The Tenth Amendment is more than a protection of “States’ Rights,” it is a check on a tyrannical and unconstitutional abuse of authority by the central government.

Brion McClanahan holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of South Carolina. He is the author of The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution (Regnery History, 2012), The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers (Regnery, 2009), and Forgotten Conservatives in American History (forthcoming with Clyde Wilson, Pelican, 2012).

April 16, 2012 

Essay #41 

– Guest Essayist: Dr. John S. Baker, Jr., Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Catholic University School of Law; Professor Emeritus, Louisiana State University Law Center

Amendment X:

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


Statements about the Tenth amendment tend towards opposing extremes. Some cite the Amendment in claiming more powers than the Constitution actually leaves in the states. On the other side, some claim that the Amendment is merely a “truism,” implying it does virtually nothing. The actual meaning of the Amendment lies in between these two one-sided views.

The Tenth Amendment reads as follows:

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

The most important word is the one that does not appear in the text, i.e., “expressly.” It is common for those who place great weight on the Tenth Amendment to state incorrectly that the Amendment says “powers not expressly delegated to the United States…” The Amendment, however, pointedly omits the word expressly.

By contrast, somewhat similar language in the Articles of Confederation did include the word expressly.
Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled. (emphasis added)

What difference in meaning does the word “expressly” make? The difference is that which distinguishes a confederation from a government. The Articles of Confederation provides that “The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other…” (emphasis added). The Articles recognize that the States retained their full sovereignty and entered into a special kind of alliance or league. The Articles constitute a treaty involving multiple sovereignties and having several purposes. As a treaty, however, it is still a contract and each State delegates only those powers expressly written into the contract. Although “[t]he Articles thereof shall be inviolably observed by the States,” the document creates no government having the power to enforce its provisions. It provides only for states to send representatives to meet as the “United States in Congress” and to manage those powers expressly given.

The Constitution that emerged from the Convention, as all understood, was not a confederation or simply a league of friendship. Opponents of the Constitution, known as the Antifederalists, concluded that therefore the Constitution would create a consolidated or centralized government. The Federalist (written by Madison, Hamilton and Jay under the pseudonym of “Publius”) countered that the Constitution created a federal government of only limited powers and left most powers of government in the states.

Not persuaded, the Antifederalists contended that the Constitution’s limits on the federal government could and would be swept aside by its “necessary and proper clause.” Their arguments in opposition to the Constitution emphasized the document’s lack of a bill of rights. They urged that a statement of rights was necessary to protect liberty by limiting the power of the federal government and specifically to undo the effect of the “necessary and proper” clause.

The Constitution drafted at the Constitutional Convention contained no bill of rights. This was not an oversight. The Convention voted down George Mason’s proposal that a bill of rights be added. Moreover, during the Ratification period, The Federalist (#84) argued “that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous.” A bill of rights was unnecessary because “a minute detail of particular rights is certainly far less applicable to a constitution like that under consideration, which is merely intended to regulate the general political interests of the nation.” It was dangerous because it “would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than was granted.”

The Federalists and Antifederalists held opposing ideas about the best means to protect liberty. Whereas the Antifederalists gave priority to bills of rights, the Federalists distrusted the efficacy of such “parchment barriers.” Rather the Federalists drafted the Constitution on the premise that protecting liberty requires a structure of separation of powers within the federal government and a division of powers between the federal and state governments. For that reason, The Federalist said “The truth is … that the constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, A BILL OF RIGHTS.”

Predictions of both the Antifederalists and Federalists have proved in part to be accurate. As the Antifederalists feared, the Necessary and Proper Clause has been used to expand the powers of the federal government greatly at the expense of the states, a trend aided (as discussed in a later essay) by the Seventeenth Amendment. The Federalists were correct that the Bill of Rights, aided by the Fourteenth Amendment’s judicially-developed doctrine of Incorporation, has been used to expand the powers of the federal government at the expense of the states.

The foundational explanation of the Necessary and Proper Clause came in Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). The opinion addressed the Necessary and Proper Clause as an additional, not the primary, reason for upholding the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States. Jeffersonian Republicans, many of whom had been Antifederalists, opposed this decision as an unconstitutional expansion of Congress’s powers. Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion, however, was perfectly consistent with, and generally tracked language in several essays from, The Federalist.

Over the years, especially since the New Deal, the centralizers of national power have often relied on a distorted interpretation of the Necessary and Proper clause which disregards the fundamental principle that the federal government is one of limited powers. Accordingly, they dismiss the Tenth Amendment as simply a “truism.” The defenders of state power, on the other hand, emphasize the Tenth Amendment, almost as if nothing else in the Constitution matters. They generally fail to understand The Federalist explanation – confirmed by Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in McCulloch – that Congress has the fullness of those powers actually given to Congress and that the Constitution includes the Necessary and Proper Clause in order to leave no doubt about the fullness of the powers actually given.

When during the First Congress James Madison spoke for the Bill of Rights he had introduced, among other points he argued that they were of “such a nature as will not injure the Constitution.” Specifically, what became the Tenth Amendment did not injure the Constitution because it did not convert it to a confederation. That is to say, the Tenth Amendment pointedly did not use the word expressly.

As to any power actually given by the Constitution, Congress has the fullness of that power. Congress’s exercise of power is nevertheless limited– first by the fact that it is not given every power of government. Secondly, Congress encounters procedural limits on the implementation of its enumerated powers due to bicameralism and separation of powers. The division of powers between the federal and state governments which effectively limited Congress’s exercise of enumerated powers has been undermined by the Seventeenth Amendment’s provision for direct election of senators.

The U.S. government has over the years consolidated power to a degree feared even by the Federalists, and much more so by the Antifederalists. To point solely to the Tenth Amendment, however, as the primary limit on the expansion of federal power is to misunderstand the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment is a ‘truism” in the sense that it merely confirms that the Constitution creates a federal government with a limited number of powers, those related to national defense, foreign affairs, foreign trade, and trade among the states. See Federalist # 23 and #45. Like the Necessary and Proper Clause, a proper interpretation of the Tenth Amendment must be connected to the Constitution’s structure of divided and separated power.

Dr. John S. Baker, Jr. is the Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Catholic University School of Law and Professor Emeritus of Law at Louisiana State University Law Center.

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April 12, 2012

Essay #39

Guest Essayist: W.B. Allen, Dean Emeritus, James Madison College; Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University

Amendment 9 – Construction of Constitution. Ratified 12/15/1791.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The 9th Amendment to the Constitution was one of twelve submitted to the states for ratification in fall, 1789.  Ten of the twelve were ratified by December 15, 1791, and came to be known as the “Bill of Rights.”  An eleventh, the 27th Amendment, was ratified May 7, 1992.  The final of the twelfth, applying the relevant terms of the “Bill of Rights” to the states was never ratified.  However, the Supreme Court in the 20th Century adopted a doctrine of “incorporation” which imported many of the guarantees of the “Bill of Rights” as applying against the states through the 14th Amendment, adopted during the process of Reconstruction following the 1861-65 War for the Union.

The context for interpreting the 9th Amendment, therefore, is focused on the controlling ideas informing the “Bill of Rights.”  The Supreme Court has never provided clear guidance concerning the 9th Amendment itself.  A fundamental principle of constitutional interpretation, however, is that every article bears some intentional meaning which remains significant in understanding at minimum the intentions of the framers and the design of the institutions of self-government framed by the Constitution.  In that sense, we may take the 9th Amendment to refer primarily to the question of the breadth of the guarantees mentioned in the other articles of the “Bill of Rights.”  This follows the debate that took place over the ratification of the Constitution, in which the Antifederalists chiefly criticized the draft constitution as over-broad and threatening the rights of the people and their state institutions with the prospect of an unlimited federal/national government.  The defenders of the Constitution (the Federalists) responded that the guarantees of individual rights familiar in most of the state constitutions of the founding era should not be included in a federal constitution precisely because the federal constitution was not designed to convey the kind of police power (health, safety, and morals) that would imperil individual rights, reserving that jurisdiction to the states.  That argument is made most forcefully in essay number 84 of The Federalist Papers.  An additional argument made there is the argument that any determinate listing of guaranteed rights would bear the unfortunate implication that any specific guarantees omitted in the process of listing specific rights would imply the existence of a governmental power that had not been intended.

Once, therefore, the political compromise of adding a bill of rights to the constitution had been accepted, the authors of the amendments (mainly James Madison) thought it important to do everything possible to avert any unintended consequences of such an enumeration of rights.  The 9th of Amendment is the first of two deliberately intended to restrict the breadth of the application of those guarantees in such a manner as neither to imply unlimited power in the federal/national government nor to imply individual rights were exhausted by such an enumeration.  In that sense, the 9th Amendment creates a shadowy, unspecified realm in which certain additional rights may be discovered as reserved to the people and, to that extent, thus brought under the controlling language of the 1st Amendment, namely, that “Congress shall make no law respecting” such additional rights.  It is in that spirit that the Supreme Court in the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 decision discovered a constitutional “penumbra” within which a “right to privacy” sheltered and served to proscribe state prohibition of access to contraception.  It was because of the incorporation doctrine through the 14th Amendment that the Court was able to make use of the “Congress shall make no law respecting” the unspoken right to privacy language to enunciate a limit upon the states.  Though the Court has never said so, it should logically follow, therefore, that such a proscription against state policy can only be considered authoritative to the extent that it operates with equal effectiveness against the federal/national government.  For the language of the 9th Amendment is primarily a language of restriction on the federal/national government, as are all of the “Bill of Rights”, and in the absence of ratification of the drafted 12th amendment, applying the same terms to the states, the primary meaning of all such language must be that it is a limitation upon the government of the United States.  Besides contraception, the areas in which such application has occurred have been the parental right to educate children, the right to study a foreign language, the right to make and enforce contracts, etc.

W. B. Allen is Dean Emeritus, James Madison College; and Emeritus
Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University

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April 10, 2012

Essay #37

Guest Essayist: Nathaniel Stewart, Attorney

Amendment VIII:

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

Early Origins of the 8th Amendment’s

“Cruel and Unusual Punishments” Clause

Like many provisions of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the protection against “cruel and unusual punishments” prescribed in the 8th Amendment has deep English roots.  The text of the 8th Amendment is taken almost verbatim from England’s Declaration of Rights of 1689, an indictment of King James II that reads rather like our own Declaration of Independence and accuses the king and his government of mistreating the people and subverting the law.

Historians generally agree that the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause of the English Declaration of Rights was in response to abuses by the infamous Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys of the King’s Bench during James II’s reign.  Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys presided over the “Bloody Assizes”—a special commission that tried, convicted, and executed hundreds of suspected rebels following the failed rebellion in 1685.  The Bloody Assizes carried out punishments that included drawing and quartering, burning, beheading, and disemboweling those convicted.  But these punishments, as vicious as they might sound to us today, were specifically authorized by law at the time.  More recent scholarship suggests that it was not the nature of the punishments that led to the Declaration of Rights provision, but the arbitrary sentencing power that Jeffreys had used in sentencing those found guilty.  Many believed that Jeffreys was merely inventing special penalties for enemies of the king, and that those penalties and punishments were not authorized by the common law or by statute.

Thus, the Declaration of Rights objects to the “illegal and cruel punishments inflicted . . . All which are utterly and directly contrary to the known laws and statutes and freedom of this realm.”  1 Wm. & Mary, Sess. 2, ch. 2 (1689).  Legal discussions at the time of the Declaration of Rights indicated that a punishment was not considered wrong only because it was severe or even disproportionate to the crime; but a punishment was “cruel and unusual” if it was “out of the Judges’ power,” “contrary to the law and ancient practice,” “without precedent,” “illegal,” or imposed by “pretence to a discretionary power.”  The phrase “cruel and unusual” was often synonymous with “cruel and illegal.”

By the time of America’s founding many of the colonies had constitutions with provisions very similar to the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause of England’s Declaration of Rights.  In 1791, five States prohibited “cruel or unusual punishments, and two more States prohibited “cruel” punishments.  The U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights ultimately followed Virginia’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Because there were no federal common-law punishments, the clause effectively served as a check upon the Congress, not upon federal judges, so there is some question as whether “unusual punishment” continued to mean a punishment “contrary to law” as it had meant under English law.  Instead, “unusual punishment” came to mean one that “does not occur in ordinary practice.”  Webster’s American Dictionary (1828).  It is widely believed that by forbidding “cruel and unusual punishments,” the 8th Amendment prevents Congress from authorizing particular kinds or modes of punishment, especially cruel methods of punishment that are not regularly or customarily used.

The debates in the state ratifying conventions support the idea that the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause was designed to prohibit certain forms of punishment.  In the Massachusetts Convention in 1788, for example, one objection to the Constitution (without a Bill of Rights) was that Congress was “nowhere restrained from inventing the most cruel and unheard-of punishments, and annexing them to crimes; and there is no constitutional check on it, but that racks and gibbets may be amongst the most mild instruments of discipline.”  2 J. Elliot, Debates on the Federal Constitution 111 (2d ed. 1854).  A Bill of Rights was needed, they argued, in order to prevent Congress from “inventing” such punishments and resorting to vicious types of discipline.

Early commentaries on the Amendment also indicate that it was designed to outlaw certain types of punishment:  “The prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments, marks the improved spirit of the age, which would not tolerate the use of the rack or the stake, or any of those horrid modes of torture, devised by human ingenuity for the gratification of fiendish passion.”  J. Bayard, A Brief Exposition of the Constitution of the United States 154 (1840).  And, as Justice Story observed in his Commentaries on the Constitution, the 8th Amendment was “adopted as an admonition to all departments of the national government, to warn them against such violent proceedings, as had taken place in England in the arbitrary reigns of some of the Stuarts.”  3 J. Story, Commentaries of on the Constitution of the United States § 1896 (1833).

As the history and origins of the 8th Amendment make clear, criminal punishments should not be arbitrary or exacted by judges contrary to the law; and neither should they be “unusual” or torturous methods of discipline that are beyond the ordinary forms of reproach.  The 8th Amendment helps to protect against such punishments, and is yet another example of the Founders drawing upon their understanding of the rights of Englishmen, adapting the rights and laws of England to their own circumstance and government, and learning the lessons of history so as not to repeat the same mistakes.

Nathaniel Stewart is an attorney in Washington, D.C.

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April 6, 2012

Essay # 35

Guest Essayist: J. Eric Wise, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP law firm

Amendment VII:

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

If you have good facts, pound the facts; if you have good law, pound the law; if you have nothing, pound the table.  Aside from the good rule of focusing attention on the areas where one’s case has strength, advocacy, as a form of rhetoric, also requires knowing your audience.  In American criminal and civil procedure, where there is a jury, the jury is a trier of fact and the judge makes determinations of law.

The jury is a legal invention that can be traced back to at least 11th Century England, when the Domesday Book was assembled from information gathered by juries empaneled to catalogue property holdings throughout the realm.  Juries of local people were assumed to be familiar with the local facts that would be the basis of the catalogue.

As the use of juries expanded, juries came to be considered a bulwark against tyranny, because while magistrates might align with a king, a jury of peers would check the king’s power at trial.  The Bill of Rights protects jury trials in civil and criminal matters.

The Sixth Amendment provides “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to . . . 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.”  The Seventh Amendment provides “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of common law.”

While most state constitutions have jury clauses, the Supreme Court has determined that the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury in criminal cases extends to the states through the operation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment under the doctrine known as “substantive due process.”  However, the right to a trial in the state and district where the crime is committed, known as the Vicinage Clause, is not incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment against the states.  The right to a jury trial in a civil case is also not protected in state proceedings, unless protected under state law.

In jury trials, judges do not try questions of fact.  Rather judges determine questions of law, including questions regarding the procedures by which the facts are developed in court.  Judges further instruct the jury as to what is the law to which the facts are to be applied.  In certain cases, juries may refuse to determine the facts at all and engage in what is known as jury nullification to satisfy its own views of what the law should be in the particular case.  Arguments run here and there as to whether this is a check and balance of the justice system or whether it is a dereliction of the duties of jurors.

In certain cases and courts the judge is both the trier of fact and the trier of law.  Commercial parties frequently waive the right to a jury trial.  Administrative courts, as administrators, and bankruptcy courts, as courts of equity, largely do not employ juries.  This is in part based on the opinion that the subject matter of administrative law and commercial issues may be too sophisticated for a jury.  Left and Right take varying and perhaps contradictory positions on this.  Some on the Right advocate for removal of juries in medical malpractice cases.  The plaintiffs bar howls.  The Left admires administrative law and great bureaucracies.  They call it job creation.  Almost all commercial interests are satisfied that juries are generally absent from involvement in bankruptcy cases, which require rapid determinations and understanding of complex financial issues.

As usual, Ronald Reagan may have put it best.  In his First Inaugural Address he said first:  “[W]e have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.  But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?” and then he said “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work—work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back.”

J. Eric Wise is a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, where he practices restructuring and finance.

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April 3, 2012

Essay # 32

Guest Essayist: Julia Shaw, Research Associate and Program Manager in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation

Amendment VII:

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Right to Trial by Jury in Civil Cases

No one likes jury duty. When the summons arrives in the mail, most Americans look to check the box that gets them out of service. Why lose a day of work to spend a day deciding some dispute about a fence or a car accident?

Far from a wasted day,  Alexis de Tocqueville praised the jury service in Democracy in America “as a school, free of charge and always open, where each juror comes to be instructed on his rights, where he enters into daily communication with the most instructed and most enlightened members of the elevated classes, where the laws are taught to him a practical manner and are put within reach within his intelligence by the efforts of the attorneys, the advice of the judge, and they very passions of the parties.” Indeed, de Tocqueville attributes Americans’ “practical intelligence and good political sense” to their maintenance of the civil jury.

At the Constitutional Convention, Hugh Williamson argued that the right to jury in civil trials should be included in the Constitution. Two delegates moved to insert the sentence “And a trial by jury shall be preserved as usual in civil cases” in Article III, but the Convention rejected this wording and did not include it in the Constitution.

Its absence proved to be a grave political miscalculation. The lack of a specific protection the right to trial by jury in civil cases accounted for the greatest opposition to the Constitution. The Anti-Federalists suggested that the absence meant that the right to trial by jury in civil cases would be abolished. The Federalists defended the omission by arguing that Congress, not the Constitution, should determine the rules for civil cases. But, this was a weak argument for two reasons. First, twelve of the states’ constitutions protected the right to trial by jury in civil cases. Second, during the American Revolution, the colonists objected that Parliament had deprived them of their right to trial by jury. It’s no surprise then that Congress passed the Seventh Amendment guaranteeing the right to trial by jury in civil cases without debate.

Justice Joseph Story argued in Parsons v. Bedford (1830) that the Seventh Amendment applied to all suits except suits of equity and admiralty. The Supreme Court, however, ultimately developed a more limited interpretation. The Court argued that the clause applies to the kinds of cases that existed under English Common Law when the amendment was adopted. The Seventh Amendment does not apply to civil cases that are “suits at common law.” It also does not apply to cases when “public” or governmental rights are at issue or when there are no analogous historical cases with juries. Personal and property claims against the United States by Congress do not require juries. Parties can waive the right to a jury in civil trials. Unlike in 1791, jury trials for civil cases no longer require a unanimous verdict from a 12-person jury.

In contrast to broad support for the right to trial by jury in the 18th century, modern jurists do not see the right to jury in civil trials as fundamental to the U.S. legal system. This explains why, unlike the Sixth Amendment’s protection of the right to trial in criminal cases, the Right to Jury in Civil Cases Clause is not incorporated against the states. Unlike the Sixth Amendment, the Seventh Amendment applies only in federal courts. The Seventh Amendment joins the Second Amendment and the Grand Jury Clause as the few parts of the Bill of Rights that the Supreme Court has not incorporated against the states.

When that jury summons arrives in the mail, we should think about service not as a wasted day but as an opportunity to participate in the justice system and to gain a deeper understanding of our rights. As Tocqueville remarked that serving on a civil jury “teaches men the practice of equity. Each, in judging his neighbor, thinks that he could be judged in turn. That is above all true of the jury in a civil matter; there is almost no one who fears being the object of a criminal persecution one day; but everyone can have a lawsuit.”

Julia Shaw is Research Associate and Program Manager in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation.

April 2, 2012 

Essay #31 

Guest Essayist: Professor Kyle Scott, Professor of American Politics and Constitutional Law, Duke University

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.

With the Constitution in general, and the Bill of Rights in particular, we speak of liberty. There can be no doubt that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are liberty preserving and any act against liberty taken by the government runs against the true intention of the documents. But in the section of the 6th Amendment that guarantees the right to have the assistance of counsel we see equality creep in to the picture as well. The basic assumption is that if one is to receive a proper hearing one must have someone represent them with legal expertise. A trial by any other means would leave the one unrepresented by legal counsel at a competitive disadvantage. In that case, the matter would be decided not according to the law but by the superiority of the argument and legal expertise. The consequence would be that someone’s liberty could be deprived in a way inconsistent with the law and its application to the facts thus depriving the defendant of due process. This part of the amendment operates under the assumption that to have liberty, each citizen must have equal protection under the law. When the law is applied unfairly, or intentionally advantages some over others, liberty is sacrificed. This has nothing to do with equality of outcome or equality of opportunity as those matters are commonly discussed in contemporary policy debates. Rather, it simply states that the law must be the final determinant of when someone’s liberty may be restricted, not chance or caprice.

The rule of law is commonly understood to be something of an unbiased arbiter. It should not prejudice or hold bias against anyone for reasons unrelated to the relevant facts. The law also makes outcomes predictable. If the law is applied the same in all cases then I should know what to expect in all cases. The law produces a certain amount of certainty when it is known and unbiased. In a nation governed by the rule of law, I know what to expect from the law and from the government. Under a government without a known and settled law, only fear reigns with any predictability. Our futures and our liberty become uncertain and entirely dependent upon the will and whim of those in charge without equal protection under the law. This is why the law must be applied equally for equality under the law implies that those who make and enforce the law are as equally restricted by it as I am.

This holds true for relations between individuals as well. If the person I am dealing with has more liberty under the law than I do then I am at a disadvantage, one imposed by the state. For instance, if the government protects the right of individuals to make private contracts, and will also enforce the contracts if one side breaches it, then I can enter into an agreement knowing that the person will live up to their end of the bargain and if they don’t I have recourse through the government. But, if the government only made it so I was bound by the contract, and not my business associate, then he could exploit this inequality in the law to his advantage. Under such a scenario there would be no reason to have contracts and business relationships would deteriorate. Even in a free market society, where one is allowed to succeed or fail in the market on their own, the government must uphold the rule of law equally so that it is our liberty that decides our success and failure and not the government. If the law is unequally applied then it is not our liberty that is deciding the outcome, but those who make the law determine our fate, thus making it not a free market at all.

And this brings us back to the court room. I am not an attorney, nor did I sleep at a Holiday Inn last night. So if you pitted me against a successful trial lawyer I would get creamed. The only chance I would have of winning is if I had counsel. The right to counsel guaranteed by the 6th Amendment makes sure that I cannot be denied counsel by the other party or by the government. If the government really wanted to send me to jail, regardless of whether I was really guilty, all it would have to do is say I wasn’t allowed to have an attorney represent me. Think of what would happen if the government could use its power to deny me the one thing that would help guarantee a fair trial. The government could have somebody with legal specialization represent its interests but I would not have the same right. This would be unequal protection under the law and my fate would not be determined by the law but by its unequal application. Equality, the kind of which I write, is an essential component to the maintenance of liberty.

Kyle Scott, PhD, teaches American politics and constitutional law at Duke University. He has published three books and dozens of articles on issues ranging from political parties to Plato. His commentary on contemporary politics has appeared in Forbes,, Christian Science Monitor,, and dozens of local outlets including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun. He is a frequent contributor to and maintains his own blog at

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March 29, 2012

Essay #29

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

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:

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March 27, 2012

Essay #27

Guest Essayist: William C. Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation

Secret trials are the stuff of nightmares and a hallmark of a totalitarian state. The U.S. Supreme Court has noted that institutions employing secret trials “symbolized a menace to liberty.” In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 269 (1948).

When the Framers of the Sixth Amendment included the requirement of a “public” trial, they were enshrining a longstanding protection of liberty. William Blackstone, a bestseller in the Framing era, noted public trials dated back to the Roman Republic. England had public trials before the Norman Conquest and a “right” to a public trial seems to have existed in the 1600s. The important American treatise writer, Joel Bishop suggested the right in the Sixth Amendment is attributable to “immemorial usage.” Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 565-568 (1980); Harold Shapiro, “Right to a Public Trial” 41 Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 782 (1951).

The right is borrowed from the common law of England and contrasts with the civil law system (more common in Europe) which allows for private examination of witnesses. The Pennsylvania and North Carolina constitutions of 1776 both provided for open trials. There was little discussion of the provision in the debates over the Sixth Amendment. In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 269 (1948); Max Radin, “The Right to a Public Trial” 6 Temple Law Quarterly 381 (1931).

For the individual being tried a public trial provides crucial protections. Quoting In re Oliver again: “the guarantee has always been recognized as a safeguard against any attempt to employ our courts as instruments of persecution. The knowledge that every criminal trial is subject to contemporaneous review in the forum of public opinion is an effective restraint on possible abuse of judicial power.” Page 270. Having proceedings out in the open provides “assurance that the proceedings were conducted fairly to all concerned” and discouraged “decisions based on secret bias of partiality.” Richmond Newspapers v, Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 569 (1980).

For society at large public trials also serve valuable purposes. They discourage lying by witnesses (since someone who knows the truth could be in the courtroom), discourage bad behavior by participants, and provide an education on the legal system.

Put more simply, everyone (judge, attorney and witnesses alike), is likely to be on their best behavior when they know they are being observed. This is why parents whisper (or hiss) when they threaten their children at the grocery store.

This is a serious matter, though. In 1948, the Supreme Court could note: “we have been unable to find a single instance of a criminal trial conducted in camera [meaning in the judge’s chambers and not in open court] in any federal, state, or municipal court during the history of this country.” In re Oliver, page 266. That same year, an American citizen was arrested in Czechoslovakia and convicted of espionage in a secret trial ultimately escaping in 1952. Ken Lewis, “Leaving an Imprint” St. Augustine Record, September 26, 2003 at

How many Americans have been spared a similar fate because of the wisdom of the Framers? Yet another debt of gratitude we owe them.

William C. Duncan is director of the Marriage Law Foundation ( He formerly served as acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and as executive director of the Marriage and Family Law Research Grant at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he was also a visiting professor.

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March 23, 2012

Essay #25

Guest Essayist: Cynthia Dunbar, attorney, author, speaker and Assistant Professor of Law at Liberty University

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 Sixth Amendment of the Constitution affords citizens of the United States the right to a speedy and public trial. It is important to note that this right, as every single right within the Bill of Rights, is not a right created by the civil government.  Rather, they are rights that are deemed to already exist preserved from governmental deprivation.  The belief in inherent rights possessed by mankind is the ideal behind the Magna Carta.

Chapter 40 of the Magna Carta of 1215 states  “We…will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.” This shows that the ultimate concern was that no man be deprived of justice.  The inherent right all men possess to justice is at the heart of being afforded a speedy trial. It was thought that a miscarriage of justice could more readily occur in a system where men could be incarcerated for lengthy periods of time without the promise of a trial to present evidence of their potential innocence.  Without the promise of a speedy trial, men could ultimately be imprisoned for an undefined sentence of time prior to ever having been lawfully determined to be guilty.   The protections of the 6th Amendment have been said to be “an important safeguard to prevent undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial, to minimize anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation and to limit the possibility that long delay will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself.” United States v. Ewell, 383 U.S. 116, 120 (1966)

While it is clear that the right to a speedy trial avoids lengthy periods of incarceration prior to determination of guilt, it is also clear that it serves other legitimate goals to ensure justice.  First, it minimizes the threat that mere public accusation could create in its absence.  Because one is promised a speedy trial, mere accusations do not hold the same threat since those accusations would be weighed upon a technical evidentiary standard at trial. Additionally, the preservation of the evidence itself can be seen.  The delay of a trial can easily cause spoilage of evidence and diminished memories of witnesses who could be called to testify.  Inaccurate or fuzzy memories serve to increase the likelihood of a miscarriage of justice.  Ensuring a speedy trial is a necessary tool in ensuring that accurate testimony and evidence are presented at trial.

So we know we are afforded the right to a speedy trial and we know why we are afforded this right.  But now the question is, “how to determine when and if this right has been abridged?” The courts have determined that this right becomes activated once a criminal prosecution begins.  This right then is afforded to the accused once the prosecution of a crime has begun. It has also been determined that the right does not require a formal indictment or charge; it begins once restraints are imposed by arrest. United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307, 313, 320, 322 (1971)

This inherent or unalienable right to justice which all men possess served to give direction to our Founding Fathers.  They saw that in order to practically achieve the greatest protection of this right, citizens must be assured the right to a speedy trial.  The only hope that a falsely accused innocent man has of regaining his liberty is the preservation of accurate testimony and evidence and a prompt opportunity to confirm his innocence.  This pursuit of justice is what lies at the heart of the constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Cynthia Noland Dunbar is an attorney, author and public speaker and is frequently seen on Fox & Friends.  A former elected member of the Texas State Board of Education, she currently is an Assistant Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law and teaches on our Constitutional and common law heritage.

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March 22, 2012 

Essay #24 

Guest Essayist: Professor Kyle Scott, Professor of American Politics and Constitutional Law, Duke University

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 5th Amendment contains numerous, seemingly unconnected, components. However, there is a common theme. The common theme that runs throughout the amendment is liberty; it connects each of the components. The manner in which the amendment is constructed reflects the idea that the burden of proof falls on the government. In order to take someone’s life, liberty or property the government must adhere to a strict set of standards in trying to prove guilt or cause. Perhaps the most important of these is the protection against self-incrimination. The 5th Amendment states that an individual cannot be forced to testify against himself. The provision became well-known in popular culture when accused mobsters would commonly take the fifth when they were put on trial. But the provision has been around since at least the sixteenth century when torture and forced testimony was common practice.

In order to get a confession, or to get someone to testify against himself, officers of the law would torture someone or hold their family or property in custody until they signed a confession or took a pledge that confirmed their guilt. Of course, banning such practices was not enough as the practices were done in secret when they were outlawed, or outsourced to unofficial officers of the state where judges or barristers could plausibly deny the existence of such practices. The only way to make sure such reprehensible practices did not occur was to exempt people from being a witness against themselves. If a person could not be asked to witness against himself it wouldn’t do much good to torture him.

The provision increases the burden of proof on the government in criminal cases. A person cannot, during trial, be asked if they committed a crime. The government must prove the case against them. This may seem onerous and unnecessary but we should be quick to remember that the government can be as prone to misuses of power as individuals. This is but one additional check to make sure the government does not use its monopoly on force outside the bounds of law in a way that threatens the life, liberty, or property of individuals. Such a provision also bestows an increased level of legitimacy over judicial proceedings.

This provision, and perhaps this amendment moreso than any other, shows at what great lengths the First Congress went through to protect individual liberty. This provision shows that the government exists for the preservation of individual liberty, that individual liberty precedes government; and thus by extension, the primary purpose of government is to protect us, not to enhance itself or extend authority over us beyond what we grant it.

The mark of a good government, and of a people truly committed to the idea of liberty, is the degree to which they abide by procedures that make the deprivation of life, liberty, or property difficult. This must be true when we sympathize with the accused just as much as when find the accused to hold positions and values contrary to our own.

Kyle Scott, PhD, teaches American politics and constitutional law at Duke University. He has published three books and dozens of articles on issues ranging from political parties to Plato. His commentary on contemporary politics has appeared in Forbes,, Christian Science Monitor,, Washington Times and dozens of local outlets including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun.

March 16, 2012 

Essay #20 

Guest Essayist: William C. Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation

Amendment IV:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularity describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment IV: Particularity of Warrants

Limitation of the power of the government is not one of many possible approaches to governing under the U.S. Constitution. It is the very structure of the Constitution itself. Our Constitution is primarily a limitation on what the government it charters can do. The first ten amendments constituting the Bill of Rights, in particular, are not affirmative grants of privileges from a beneficent state to its subjects but a restrain on government in the interest of protecting the preexisting rights of citizens,

The structure of the Fourth Amendment, for instance, makes clear that the Framers understood the rights it protected from the government to be existing rights. This is consistent with the Framers’ entire approach to constitutional government, an approach informed by careful study of history and, specifically, their own experience in self-government and its opposites. Much of that experience, of course, was gained as subjects of the British Crown and in the effort to respond to abuses of English power in the colonies, ultimately leading to the decision to seek independence.

The decision to include in the first set of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, a requirement of particularized warrants is a key example.

The primary relevant experience of the Framers on this matter came from the general warrants, called writs of assistance, used by the British to conduct wide-ranging searches for contraband in the colonies. A writ of assistance is court permission for government officials to conduct a generalized search, for instance for goods on which customs fees have not been paid. They contrasted with a more specific search warrant that would specify who, what and where to be searched in some detail. The practical effect of the difference should be obvious. If a government official is allowed by court to go into all the homes on a block looking for anything on which taxes have not been paid, you have a significant intrusion. If the court instead says that these officials can go to 555 Whatever Lane and look for money that has been stolen from the downtown bank, the intrusion is dramatically less.

The use of writs of assistance in the colonies provoked understandable protect. John Dickinson, in his 1767 Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, noted the act of Parliament allowing for these writs empowered customs officers to “to enter into any HOUSE, warehouse, shop, cellar, or other place, in the British colonies or plantations in America, to search for or seize prohibited or unaccustomed goods [meaning goods on which no customs had been paid].” He pointed out that while those kinds of writs had also been issued in England, “the greatest asserters of the rights of Englishmen have always strenuously contended, that such a power was dangerous to freedom, and expressly contrary to the common law, which ever regarded a man’s house as his castle, or a place of perfect security.” Thus, Dickinson argued: “If such power was in the least degree dangerous there, it must be utterly destructive to liberty here.”

The experience of the colonists with these practices bore fruit in the newly independent States. The 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, the Maryland Constitution of the same year and John Adams’ 1780 Constitution for Massachusetts all required that warrants for searches and seizures be specific in describing the place to be searched and the subjects of the search or seizure.

These precedents, of course, were adopted in the drafting of the Fourth Amendment, the language of which clearly prohibits the broad-wide-ranging searches so abhorrent to the colonists. It does so by allowing only search warrants “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This is the particularity clause.

A Connecticut case from the early Nineteenth Century exemplified the type of warrants the Fourth Amendment was created to prevent: “it is not only a warrant to search for stolen goods supposed to be concealed in a particular place, but it is a warrant to search all suspected places, stores, shops and barns in Wilton. Where those suspected places were in Wilton is not pointed out, or by whom suspected: so that all the dwelling-houses and out-houses within the town of Wilton were by this warrant made liable to search.” (Grumon v. Raymond, 1 Conn. 40, 1814.

Today we would be shocked if a court were to authorize police to search an entire town for stolen goods. Yet, these kinds of warrants were commonly allowed in England prior to American Independence and seem to have been issued even into the 1800s here. What happened to change the legal culture?

Part of the answer is the Framers’ ability to apply what they had learned from experience. Americans had experienced the oppression of broad, intrusive searches and this led them to reject these as a proper instrument of government. They then ensured the lessons learned were reflected in the law through the Fourth Amendment.

The Framers wrought well and we are the inheritors of their wisdom in limiting the power of government. The English may have noted that the home is a case but the Fourth Amendment’s particularity requirement helped to give that concept the binding force it needed to be a reality.

William C. Duncan is director of the Marriage Law Foundation ( He formerly served as acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and as executive director of the Marriage and Family Law Research Grant at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he was also a visiting professor.

March 13, 2012 

Essay #17 

Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, Senior Fellow with the Heartland Institute

“… Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation…”

Americans today take great pride in the accomplishments and brilliance of the drafters of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  One of the things that this essay will demonstrate is that quite often the protections that we take for granted came about as a result of the prudence and wisdom of the founders and in particular their specific response to the challenges they were exposed to or aware of.   Many Americans may not appreciate that this provision isn’t just pivotal, it is in some sense central to America’s claim to independence.

The 2nd clause of the 4th Amendment makes clear, magistrates and others allowed to issue warrants must not issue “general” warrants, but instead when court orders are issued, they must be precise and detailed.  Warrants must specify descriptions of items demanded to be seized and judges must be convinced that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.

As is the case with much of America’s legal system, British history is a good starting point to understand this provision.

Let’s start with the “Star Chamber” or camera stellata as it was called in Latin.  It was sort of a super-appeals Court that held its meetings in the “Starred Chamber” of the Royal Court (a place initially created for meetings of the King’s Council in England.)  Reports of its existence suggest it operated early as the 13th Century and sat at the royal Palace of Westminster until 1641.

Made up of royal advisors and judges, the so called “Star Chamber’s” primary responsibility was to address civil and criminal matters involving elites to ensure that the kingdom’s laws were enforced against the powerful and the prominent.  Its sessions were held in secret.  It made no pretense of operating under traditional court rules involving criminal or civil procedure.  There was also no right of appeal, no juries and even no right to confront accusers or even for witnesses to testify.  However perhaps more offensive than these predations was its authority to issue “general warrants.”  These warrants were given to the sheriff or other local law enforcement officer and empowered them to retrieve items necessary to support the Star Chambers pre-ordained conclusions.

In other words, instead of saying that based on a signed statement by a witness, J. Smith was believed to hold in his home, item X, an illegal product, “general warrants” allowed the Sheriff to search all of J. Smith’s properties and seize any and all of his personal items without identifying any particular item.  The seized items would be subsequently examined by the staff of the Star Chamber to see which if any could be used as evidence against J. Smith.  The items typically weren’t returned and even when they were, they were often damaged or destroyed.

Over time the British recognized the inherent abuses associated with the operations of the Star Chamber. Finally, in 1640, the British Parliament adopted the Habeas Corpus Act and abolished the Star Chamber in 1641.

Unfortunately when making the decision to shut down the Star Chamber, the British Parliament hadn’t acted to eliminate the use of general warrants.  Abuses involving general warrants would continue over another 100 years before British society generally would recognize the ills of its use in particular.

One of the most prominent cases of abuse of general warrants that the founders would have been familiar with was the fall out from the British government’s attempt to use general warrants against Englishman John Wilkes, publisher and political activist and critic of the Crown, in 1763.

Wilkes, a member of parliament, during Prime Minister George Grenville’s government, published “The North Briton” which mocked and criticized King George III and the Grenville administration.  Using general warrants King George had Wilkes and nearly 50 of his associates arrested and charged with seditious libel.  Not only were he and his associates arrested, their personal property, papers, and effects were seized. The abuses that occurred were obvious for all to see.  As a Member of Parliament, Wilkes had immunity from these charges and while he was able to convince the Chief Justice to dismiss the case his troubles wouldn’t end.  Within the next 5 years he’d be charged again and again.  Notwithstanding these charges and subsequent expulsion from Parliament he would be re-elected 3 times.

Wilkes fled to France but eventually returned to England.  Wilkes would subsequently be elected Mayor of London and get recognition for his efforts to support the rights of English citizens and his efforts contributed to the fall of the Grenville government.   Wilkes’ ongoing arguments for Freedom of the Press, broader suffrage rights and religious toleration would ultimately find broad political support in England before his death.

But perhaps the greatest influence for the framers was the use of “general warrants” to enforce the infamous Townshend Acts of 1767.  Passed by the British Parliament, the Townshend Acts was adopted purportedly to provide for the salaries of colonial appointees, but many colonialists suspected its primary if not total rationale was to establish the precedent that the British Parliament had the right to tax the colonies.

As part of its efforts to enforce this revenue act, the British Parliament created the American Board of Customs Commissioners and the commission leapt at the opportunity to use “general warrants” to deter smuggling and tax evasion.  These warrants issued under the authority of the crown were particularly troublesome.  They violated the colonial charters’ rules that warrants were legal only when they provide a reason and a basis for searches.   Whereas Colonial warrants were limited in scope and time, the Commissioner’s general warrants had no time limits other than the life of the King and were transferable allowing one person holding the warrant to transfer his rights over to the other.  Additionally, the warrant holder could search any person or property at any time. Writ holders essentially were laws unto themselves.

Massachusetts Assembly James Otis whose catchphrase is “Taxation without Representation is Tyranny” called the general warrants “the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty, and the fundamental principles of law, that ever was found in an English law book.”

The new taxes proved to be quite unpopular and colonial appointees using the general warrants even more so.  Ultimately those responsible for collections requested military assistance. The British sent the fifty-gun warship HMS Romney to Boston Harbor in May 1768 to enforce the law.   Rather than quelling the situation, this dramatic escalation made matters worse.  Starting with the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party the gross abuse of general warrants and Townshend Acts would lead directly to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution.

It is that framework which influenced the writers of the 4th amendment.  Although far more jurisprudence is placed on the importance of the first clause of the 4th Amendment, for historians, the notion that government may not issue warrants to law enforcement officers without any justification or any particular limits to seize goods or people was a powerful enough issue that it was a key ingredient in the formation not only of a provision of the Bill of Rights, but the formation of an entire nation.

Horace Cooper is a senior fellow with the Heartland Institute and is a writer and legal commentator

March 12, 2012

Essay #16

- Guest Essayist: Dr. Charles K. Rowley, General Director of The Locke Institute and Duncan Black Professor Emeritus of Economics at George Mason University

March 9, 2012 – Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized. – Guest Essayist: Dr. Charles K. Rowley, General Director of The Locke Institute and Duncan Black Professor Emeritus of Economics at George Mason University

Although my assignment is to discuss the first clause of the Fourth Amendment, I cannot do so effectively without referring also to the second clause. Therefore, my Essay embraces both clauses, while focusing primary attention on the first.

Like many other areas of American law, the Fourth Amendment is rooted in English legal doctrine. Sir Edward Coke, in Semayne’s case (1604) stated: ‘The house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence as for his repose.’  In this judgment, the Court determined that the King was not endowed with unlimited authority to intrude upon his subjects’ dwellings, while recognizing that the King’s agents were permitted to conduct searches and seizures under specified conditions, when their purpose was lawful, and when a warrant had been secured.

The 1760s witnessed a significant growth in the rate of litigation against government agents using general warrants to locate and seize materials relating to John Wilkes. Wilkes’ publications attacked vehemently not only government policies, but the King himself. The most famous of these cases was Entick v. Carrington (1765) in which Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, ruled that the forcible entry by the King’s Messenger into the home of John Entick, and the search for and seizure of pamphlets and other materials under a general warrant was unlawful.  This case established the English precedent that the executive is limited by common law in intruding upon private property.

Unlike other provisions in the ‘Bill of Rights’, however, the Fourth Amendment was grounded mainly in American colonial experience, rather than in English history.  In order to stem rampant smuggling by tariff-evading colonialists, the British parliament had conferred vast powers of search on British customs officials.  The Writ of Assistance was a general search warrant granting such officials virtually unlimited discretion to search, and was valid throughout the lifetime of a sovereign. Casting its net widely, such a writ required neither ‘probable cause’, nor any description of persons or premises, nor even a magistrate’s authorization of a particular search. The arbitrary nature and capricious application of this writ enraged many colonialists and drove post-revolutionary arguments in favor of the Fourth Amendment (Jacob Landynski, ‘Fourth Amendment’, The Oxford Companion To The Supreme Court Of The United States. Edited by Kermit L. Hall, Oxford University Press, 1992).

Despite its apparent comprehensiveness, the Fourth Amendment actually provides very little guidance concerning how to deal with potential search situations.  Its historical justification teaches us a preference, wherever feasible, for a search under warrant over a judicially unsupervised police action.  Its text requires a standard of ‘probable cause’, and a description of the persons and premises involved.  However, the text does not define ‘probable cause’, nor does it even define a ‘search’.  In such circumstances, the United States Supreme Court has played a significant role, both in construing the text, and in determining how closely to hew to the history of the amendment.

Early on, the Court construed the text strictly and interpreted history narrowly.  In a changing environment, such construction allowed many avenues for government agents to evade the reach of the Amendment.  For example, for some time, the Court determined that electronic eavesdropping did not fall within the reach of the Amendment.  Similarly, administrative inspections were exempt because they were viewed as invading ‘only’ the privacy interest of the individual rather than his security interest.  Only after the Court moved away from strict construction, was it willing to hold that these new forms of search fell within the scope of the Amendment.

The great dilemma of interpretation concerns the relationship between the Amendment’s two clauses.  The first clause bans unreasonable searches while the second clause defines the conditions for issuance of a warrant.  Three possible interpretations emerge, each of which has been sanctioned by the Court at one time or another.

The most obvious interpretation is to consider the warrant clause as explanatory of the reasonableness clause.  This interpretation has been followed in most of the Court’s cases.  In the judgment of Justice Potter, ‘searches conducted outside the judicial process are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment – subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.’ (Katz v. United States, 1967)

A second interpretation reinforces the first, by inferring that some searches are sufficiently offensive to civilized standards of behavior as to be unreasonable even under warrant.  In this interpretation, the Court in 1886 proscribed the search and seizure of private papers even though such search was authorized by judicial process.  In 1921, the Court limited a search to contraband and the fruits of crime, banning the seizure of mere evidence.  These restrictions, however, no longer apply.

The third interpretation treats the two clauses as separable, as was implied in the nature of my commission for this Essay.  The reasonableness of a search, in this interpretation, is not dependent on the existence of a warrant, but on what Justice Minton called, ‘the facts and circumstances – the total atmosphere of the case’ (United States v. Rabinowitz, 1950).  Between 1950 and 1969, this interpretation ruled and the Court sanctioned extensive warrantless searches of premises where arrests were made.

Either of the first two interpretations is faithful to the purpose of the Amendment.  The third interpretation, however, is not.  Once a standard of reasonableness is segmented from the warrant requirement, it provides no standard whatsoever.  A determination of probable cause, even in non-exigency situations is then simply made by the police, and citizen protection is completely denied.  Unfortunately, at the present time, the Court is leaning once again in favor of the third interpretation – under a Hobbesian pressure from a terrorist-infested environment – even while it continues to pay lip-service to the first.

The Amendment covers arrest as well as search, albeit with an important difference between the two.  An outdoor felon arrest is always viewed as an exigency, not requiring a warrant.  An entry into a person’s house, in order to make an arrest, requires a warrant, unless an exigency can be demonstrated.

Perhaps the most controversial feature of the Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is the rule requiring exclusion of evidence seized in violation of constitutional standards.  Suppressing evidence merely because of the wrongful manner in which it was acquired is unique to American law.  This exclusionary rule first appeared in Boyd v. United States (1886). It was made explicit for the federal courts in Weeks v. United States (1914).  It was extended to state prosecutions in Mapp v. Ohio (1961).  The exclusionary rule was rigorously enforced until 1984, when the Court retreated somewhat in United States v. Leon.  The justices ruled that ‘good faith’ reliance by police on a defective warrant does not require exclusion.

This back-track coincides with a more general retreat by the Court into the feel-good fuzziness of a living constitution.  Eventually, such a retreat may leave the Court sanctioning warrantless searches under non-exigent circumstances.  At such time, an unconstitutional Supreme Court, to all intents and purposes, will have arbitrarily repealed the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Charles K. Rowley, Ph.D. is President and General Director of The Locke Institute in Fairfax, Virginia and Duncan Black Professor Emeritus of Economics at George Mason University.  For further details see and

March 9, 2012 

Essay #15 

Guest Essayist: Andrew Dykstal, a Junior at Hillsdale College

Amendment III

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

The Third Amendment seldom enjoys press or study; one high school-level text dismisses it with a single sentence to the effect of “This amendment has been unimportant since its adoption.” Nevertheless, the Third Amendment offers valuable insight into the Constitution’s intended restraints on standing armies and the relationship between civil and military authorities. The Third Amendment directly protects the property and freedom of individual citizens, but it also imposes an additional limit on the power of the executive to maintain military power without the consent of the legislature.

The surface-level meaning of the Third Amendment is quite straightforward: In peacetime, the federal government cannot use any residence to house soldiers without the consent of the owner. Only in wartime–a condition that only Congress can declare–can soldiers be housed in private residences. Even in this case, Congress must provide for this mediation of property rights by an act of law distinct from a declaration of war. In the only significant court case (Engblom v. Carey, 1982) involving the Third Amendment, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the concept of “soldier” can be broadly construed to include National Guardsmen. More significantly, the court held that “house” includes dwellings not owned by the inhabitant, such as apartments and rented rooms. The Third Amendment therefore constitutes a broad protection of the citizenry against legislative power in peacetime and the executive at any time.

In contemporary times, this protection may seem unnecessary or redundant with, say, the Fourth Amendment. But when the Bill of Rights was drafted, memories of royal abuse were still fresh in American minds, and the question of abusive military was a subject of intense debate between the Federalists–the people who supported the ratification of the Constitution–and the Antifederalists–the people who opposed it. The Third Amendment addresses on of the Antifederalists’ historically-grounded concerns. The Declaration of Independence reads, in part, “He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power….For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us…” This indictment of King George III bridges two separate but equally significant issues. First was the traditional, specific aversion to the quartering of troops in private homes. Parliament passed a series of Quartering Acts beginning in 1765, directly contravening the 1689 English Bill of Rights. These acts called into question the Americans’ rights as Englishmen and subjected them to treatment unconscionable for citizens of the Empire. More pragmatically, the conduct of British troops, stationed far from home in what was often considered a colonial backwater, was often reprehensible, and crimes against colonists increased in frequency and severity as political tension grew. The colonists experienced a direct, vivid reminder of why the quartering of soldiers in homes had been explicitly forbidden under British law for decades.

The second issue at the heart of this indictment of King George III (and at the heart of the Third Amendment) is substantially more interesting from a contemporary perspective. The very existence of a standing army in the colonies was generally taken as offensive, and this sentiment influenced the development of the Constitution. The Third Amendment renders significantly more difficult the maintenance of “in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our Legislatures.” Specifically, the Third Amendment checks executive and military power by increasing the cost of maintaining a standing army. In Federalist 26, Alexander Hamilton describes the way in which regular funding renewal forces the legislature to continuously revisit the question of a standing army. Under Article One, Section 8, the executive is reliant on legislative approval to fund the military, and the Third Amendment helps to prevent an end run around these measures; the federal government must make appropriations via Congress to support the military. The military cannot support itself directly from the people unwilling hospitality. With the memory of the threat a standing army can pose to liberty in mind, the Constitution’s framers put in place both primary and incidental restrictions on the nature of executive and military power.

The specific protection afforded by the Third Amendment has not, thankfully, seen as much use as those afforded elsewhere in the Bill of Rights, but the ideas and intent behind this amendment can still educate us about our nation’s history and inform our current policies. The Third Amendment speaks to the grave responsibility in the hands of the legislature as long as the United States maintains a powerful military in war and peacetime alike, and it speaks to the care necessary in the exercise even of necessary power.

March 8, 2012

Essay #14

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

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:

March 5, 2012 

Essay #11 

Guest Essayist: Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”

The Free Exercise Clause is perhaps the least commonly understood part of the First Amendment. The mythical “average American” presumably understands what freedom of speech means – we protect the right of almost anyone to say almost anything – and the Establishment Clause has been given the catchy, if mostly inaccurate, shorthand of “separation of church and state.” But were one to ask this hypothetical average American what protecting free exercise of religion means, she might respond with a blank stare.

So why is the Free Exercise Clause so unknown, and what does it really mean today? Some blame for the Clause’s obscurity must lie with its checkered history. That history can be divided into roughly five stages. The first stage lasted 87 years, from 1791 to 1878, and was characterized by judicial silence. Although the Clause was ratified as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the Supreme Court had no occasion to address it, other than to say briefly, in 1842, that it applied only to the federal government, not states and cities. This silence does not mean that the Clause had no public meaning; indeed, it was cited time and again in debates over religion in the public square. But it did not appear in court, and its meaning remained rhetorical and political, not legal.

That first phase came to an end in 1878, with the Reynolds case. In that case, the Supreme Court held that the Free Exercise Clause did not protect the practice of religious polygamy. Thus began an unsettled period for the Court’s Free Exercise jurisprudence. Two separate strands of caselaw emerged—one rooted in Reynolds and limitations on religious exercise, and another rooted in the ability of churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions to manage their own internal structures and their property.

The tensions in Free Exercise jurisprudence became apparent in a series of cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses during the 1940s. These cases at first resulted in at first narrow readings of the Clause and then increasingly broader readings that provided protections to the Jehovah’s Witness plaintiffs.

This second and turbulent stage ended, and the third began, with Sherbert v. Verner, decided in 1963. In that case, the Court took a very strong stand in favor of individual religious liberty, holding that a Seventh-day Adventist could not be denied unemployment benefits because she was fired from her job for observing the Sabbath. The Court said that any government-imposed “substantial burden” on religious activity would be very difficult for the government to justify. This standard, extremely protective of religious liberty, represented a high-water mark in the history of the protection of Free Exercise.

The Clause’s course took a sharp turn in a less religion-friendly direction 28 years after Sherbert was decided. In Employment Division v. Smith, decided in 1990, the Court held that Native Americans who had been convicted for smoking peyote in accordance with their religious beliefs did not have a right to state unemployment benefits. Because the Oregon anti-narcotic law at issue was a “neutral rule of general applicability” the Free Exercise Clause would provide no protection to the religious plaintiffs.

This was true even though, like the Sherbert regulation, the rule imposed a “substantial burden” on their religious activity. The Smith ruling represented a dramatic shift in the law of Free Exercise, making it much more difficult for religious people to protect themselves against religion-restrictive laws. For a time, it seemed that the only way to evade Smith’s rule would be by convincing Congress and state legislatures to provide relief in the form of civil rights statutes protecting religion.

But in 2012, the Court announced a fifth and entirely new stage of the Clause’s existence in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC. In Hosanna-Tabor, the Court held, in a 9-0 decision,that federal and state employment discrimination laws do not apply to “ministerial” positions. The Court thus made clear that Smith’s rule did not apply in the same way to religious institutions as it did to religious individuals. Indeed, religious activities related to “internal church decisions” would fall outside the Smith rule entirely, a result that shocked many long-time observers of the Court’s religion decisions.

The next steps for the law of Free Exercise are not clear, but they are much more hopeful for religious people and institutions than they were before Hosanna-Tabor was decided.One could argue that this up-and-down history shows a kind of national, or at least judicial, schizophrenia when it comes to the place of religious people in public life. But that schizophrenia may simply mirror Americans’ uncertainty about the role of religion in public life, especially given the increasing religious diversity of our nation. The law could move in the direction of France or other Western European countries that have in effect attempted to drive religion out of public life, or to control it directly. But the law might also move in the direction of increasing religious freedom for every American, and decreasing government interference with religious people.

So what should the Free Exercise Clause mean, at its most fundamental level? There is a case to be made that the Clause stands for the idea that every person, and every religious group, gets to decide for themselves what they believe about the good and the true, and to act on those beliefs in public. In that sense, the Clause carves out a kind of sacred space in the American body politic—a place where Americans can work out their relationship with God free from government interference, indeed, a place where the government must fear to tread. By its nature, religious freedom cannot be without limits. But by the same token government cannot be without limits, and some areas must remain completely free from government influence.

But this sacred space is under siege in today’s ever-growing regulatory state. As they expand their influence over more and more areas of American life, governments at the federal, state, and local levels increasingly run roughshod over the claims of conscience. Prominent recent examples include the federal government’s attempt in the Hosanna-Tabor case to take over some ministerial and hiring and firing decisions, as well as the recently-issued healthcare mandates that would force Catholic, Protestant, and other religious groups to violate their consciences by paying for drugs and devices they believe cause abortion. State governments have made similar attempts to limit the conscience rights of religious institutions like churches and homeless shelters, as well as the conscience rights of individuals like pharmacists and doctors who object to participating in certain medical procedures.

These conflicts will only grow in size and number as government expands and becomes more aggressively secular. Therefore it will be important for religious Americans in coming years to fight for the sacred space staked out by the Free Exercise Clause, because government will not stay out on its own.

Eric Rassbach is Deputy General Counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit law firm based in Washington, D.C. that defends the free expression of all religious traditions. He led the Becket Fund team that litigated the Hosanna-Tabor case.

February 24, 2012 

Essay #5 

Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, Senior Fellow with the Heartland Institute

Watch or Listen to Janine Turner Read: *The Bill of Rights: America’s Bulwark of Liberty – Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, senior fellow with the Heartland Institute


Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, Constituting America Fellow

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The First Ten Amendments to the United States Constitution make up what is called “The Bill of Rights.”  This remarkable collection of limitations on the power of the national government was written by James Madison and heavily influenced by George Mason.  Today it operates as a barrier to oppressive government at all levels and protects citizen liberty.

While most Americans at the time of the writing of the US Constitution agreed that the Articles of Confederation had failed to provide the former colonies with the powers needed to insure the experiment in self-government would succeed, there was another contingent who argued that any new and expanded powers given to the central government must be overlaid with specific limits in order to ensure that the citizens rights wouldn’t be trampled.  They argued that rather than limiting principles, there should be specific prohibitions on what government is allowed to do, especially in the context of its treatment of its citizens.

The two camps generally called themselves Federalists and Anti-Federalists.  While the design and makeup of the original Constitution is a triumph of the Federalists, the Bill of Rights represents the success of the Anti-Federalists.

Timeless in their rigor and value, the Bill of Rights has proven to be a brilliant tool to limit government excesses and insure that the individual has the kinds of freedoms that many of us take for granted.  While the writers of the Constitution created a system of checks and balances that cause the three branches of government to be limited in their ability to achieve hegemony vis-à-vis the other, it is the Bill of Rights that has done more to protect individual liberty  — doing so by specifically placing limits on government power.

While the Federalists won the day with the original draft of the Constitution, it soon became clear that the American people wouldn’t accept the Constitution unless a Bill or Rights was agreed to.  Shortly after meeting, the first Congress began that process.  Originally 17 Amendments or changes to the Constitution were presented and passed by the House of Representatives. Of those 12 were passed by the United States Senate and sent to the states for approval in August of 1789. 10 of these  were  approved (or, ratified) with George Mason’s state of Virginia becoming the last to ratify the amendments on December 15, 1791.

Indubitably, liberties that we take for granted as Americans find their origin in the Bill of Rights.  One key aspect of the Bill of Rights is that instead of expanding or authorizing the powers of the central government, the Bill of Rights squarely and directly treats government power as a potential threat to citizen liberty and places clear and unequivocal barriers to government action.  More a list of what government cannot do, the Bill of Rights provides a zone of liberty that makes our American system of citizenship the envy of the world.

The supporters of the concept of the Bill of Rights understood that government’s tendency was to expand and over-run the individual.  And the beauty of the Bill of Rights, its simplicity is, it limits government power and by doing keeps Americans free.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

 The government cannot make you believe in a religion.

 The government cannot keep you from practicing any religion you choose.

 The government cannot keep you from saying what you wish.

 The government cannot keep you from writing what you want.

 The government cannot stop you from publishing what you wish.

 The government cannot keep you from joining together peacefully with others to express your views.

 The government cannot prevent you from complaining about what the government or others are doing to you.

The framers understood that freedom of faith, thought, political belief and other forms of expression were central to citizen liberty and they specifically barred government action in this arena.  Rather than leave to the majority whether Catholics, Protestants, Jews or even people of no faith would receive preference by the national government, the First Amendment insures that no religious group would be preferred nor would any be penalized.  It also prevents the government from using coercive powers to reward certain political thoughts or writings as well as punishing the same.  Finally it further insures that citizens have the right to complain specifically about the activities of the government and to engage in demonstrations as well as formally taking measures to get the government itself to change policies.

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.

 The government cannot take away your right to own and keep guns.

Rather than leave firearm access to the government, our Bill of Rights explicitly insures that the right to bear and own firearms is a fundamental right – not a privilege – that resides with every citizen.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

 The government cannot make you let soldiers to live in your house unless the country comes under attack and Congress specifically authorizes it.

Even though war-making activity is the quintessential government duty and activity, this power is not unlimited.  While it might be cost-effective or even efficient, government has to respect that our homes are our property and may not be overtaken by the military during peace-time and during war only in a legal manner determined by Congress.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

 The government cannot come into your home unless it has legal permission from a judge.

Perhaps one of the greatest threats that the citizen faces is the potential that the central government will use force to enter our property whether under pretext of solving crimes or ferreting out critics of the government residing therein.  The founders recognized that the principle that the individual citizen was the “king” of his own “castle” especially when the government sought unlawful entry was a powerful limit on government excesses.  Juxtaposing judges and other magistrates before the government can take, enter or search property protected liberty in the 18th century and the 21st as well.

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 government cannot hold you in jail for a major crime without the knowledge and approval of your fellow citizens.

 The government cannot try a person twice for the same crime.

 The government cannot make incriminate yourself.

 The government cannot take away your life, liberty, or property without following the law.

 The government cannot take your private property from you for public use unless it pays to you what your property is worth.

King George and his predecessors in England had the ability to falsely accuse and even imprison or execute his opponents without even a pretext of any real violation of the law.  Our system rejects this idea.  The Bill of Rights requires that your fellow citizens be presented with the charges against you and that those charges not be presented to you more than once or that you or your property be taken from you without having legal recourse to challenge it.  Americans can’t be forced to give incriminating testimony against themselves and their assets can’t be confiscated by the government without being justly compensated.

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 defense.

 The government cannot hold you in jail for a long time without a trial if you  are accused of having broken the law.

 The government cannot deny to you a speedy trial with a jury of your fellow citizens.

 The government cannot keep secret from you those who will speak against you.

 The government cannot prevent you from having your personal attorney.

 The government cannot keep you from having other people help you defend yourself in a courtroom.

Instead of the use of secret trials and star chambers, our system specifically requires that when people are accused the trials must not be unnecessarily lengthened and must be held in public.  The individuals who decide guilt or innocent – jurors – must be impartial and residents of the area where the accused crime was to have occurred.  Instead of announcing new charges mid-trial, the government must announce the charges with specificity and must present witnesses against him and must allow him to bring in his own witnesses to testify on his behalf and may not prevent him from having legal assistance if he chooses.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

 The government cannot keep you from having a trial decided by your fellow citizens in civil disputes and the fact-finding by the jury in those trials cannot be overturned by other courts.

Civil cases, like criminal cases provide potential opportunity for liberties to be risked.  Our founders guaranteed that civil disputes will be subject to jury trials instead of the whims of government magistrates and also that the findings of jurors can’t be second guessed by judges.  The government can’t pick sides or use its judicial appointees to try  to influence the outcomes of civil disputes.

Amendment VIII

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

 The government cannot make people pay an unfairly high amount of money for bail while they wait for a judge or jury to hear their case.

 The government cannot punish you for a crime in a cruel and unusual way.

The government is not allowed to skip the trial phase by holding citizens in jail with high bails having nothing to do with the severity of their crime or any flight risks they pose.  Even when citizens are found guilty, the federal government may not assess fines that aren’t connected with the severity of their crime nor may they issue punishments that are depraved and unduly harsh.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

 The government cannot limit your rights to just those listed in the Bill of Rights.

Reaffirming the anti-federalists view that government tends to expand whenever and however it can and ultimately crowding out the rights and privileges of its citizens, our founders have made it clear that the Constitution and even the Bill of Rights do not attempt to outline every existing natural or inalienable right of citizens.

Amendment X

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

 The government cannot claim to possess more power and authority than what the Constitution permits, and all other powers not listed in the Constitution belong to the states or individuals.

Since the Constitution is a charter of specific and enumerated powers, there are rights that exist above and beyond those addressed in it.  Those powers and rights that are not specifically addressed in the Constitution and those powers that are not banned by states through the Constitution are real and duly allowed to be exercised by the states and the people.

Horace Cooper, a Constituting America Fellow, is co-chairman for Project 21’s National Advisory Board and adjunct fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research. In addition to having taught constitutional law at George Mason University, Mr. Cooper was general counsel to U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey.





Guest Essayist: Richard Brookhiser, Author, James Madison

Watch or Listen to Janine Turner Read: The Bill of Rights, Purpose and Benefits – Guest Essayist: Richard Brookhiser, Author, James Madison

Guest Essayist: Richard Brookhiser, Author, James Madison
The Philadelphia Convention finished the Constitution and sent it on to Congress and to the states in September 1787. There was no Bill of Rights. George Mason, delegate from Virginia, had suggested adding one at the last minute, but his fellow delegates, who had been in session for three and a half months, wanted to get done and get home. They believed they had designed a structure of government that would prevent despots or overbearing majorities from seizing power; a list of rights struck them as mere ornament. “Whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution,” argued New York delegate Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers (#84), “the only solid basis of all our rights” was “the general spirit of the people and of the government.”

In the year-long national debate over whether to ratify the Constitution, it became clear, however, that the American people wanted solid protections written into the new fundamental law. Religious minorities, in particular, were alarmed that the Constitution made no specific mention of their right to worship as they wished. James Madison of Virginia, like most of the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention, originally saw no need for a Bill of Rights; it would be, he feared, a “parchment barrier,” adding nothing of substance to the structural safeguards already built into the new system. But under pressure from Baptists in his home state—a minority sect long bullied by their Anglican neighbors—and from his best friend, Thomas Jefferson, who was then serving as a diplomat in Paris, Madison came around. “A bill of rights,” Jefferson wrote him, “is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth.” Madison came to see that rights written down in black and white would become “fundamental maxims of good government.” They would “rouse the attention” of Americans, who would rally to defend them.

So in June 1789, in the First Congress, Madison, who had been elected as a representative from Virginia , took the lead in drafting a set of amendments. He originally wanted to shoehorn his new additions into the body of the Constitution, but most of his colleagues favored adding them at the end. Congress submitted twelve amendments to the states for ratification in September 1789. The first, which regulated the size of congressional districts, fell by the wayside. The second, which concerned congressional pay, was not ratified until 1992, when it became the 27th Amendment. But by December 1791, the remaining ten amendments had been ratified—the Bill of Rights of today. Their distinct position, and the magic number ten—like another famous set of laws—ensured that they would “rouse the attention” of Americans, as Madison put it.

There had been bills of rights in English and American law for centuries, and the men who drafted the American Bill of Rights drew on these precedents. The right to petition (1st Amendment) and to trial by jury (6th Amendment) went back to Magna Carta (1215). The right to bear arms (2nd Amendment) and the prohibition of excessive bail and fines and of cruel and unusual punishments (8th Amendment) appear in the English Bill of Rights (1689). The Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) enshrined freedom of the press and free exercise of religion (1st Amendment), and forbade arbitrary search warrants (6th Amendment) and compelling anyone to testify against himself (5th Amendment).

But the Bill of Rights added two brand-new provisions. The 9th amendment protects all “other” rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, while the 10th amendment “reserves” powers not assigned to the federal government to the states and to the people. These fortify the structural balance of the Constitution itself. They are a warning to the future: just because we haven’t thought of everything doesn’t mean you can grab for power.

Jefferson, as he often did, found just the right words to describe the impact of the Bill of Rights, which in this case came from his experience as an amateur architect: “a brace the more will often keep up the building which would have fallen” without it.

The Bill of Rights is a worthy addition to the great work that was done in Philadelphia in 1787.

Distinguished author and historian Richard Brookhiser is the author of James Madison; America’s First Dynasty about John Adam’s family; Gentleman Revolutionary, about Gouverneur Morris; and Alexander Hamilton, American.

February 21, 2012 – Essay #2


- Guest Essayist: Dr. Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, and author of The Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It

Only with a large effort can the Constitution of the United States be formally amended.  This was not an accident, but the intention of its framers.

If the Constitution is changed too often and for the wrong reasons, the people of America, the Founders held, will lose reverence for its principles, and respect for its rule.  With reverence lost, they might cease to be a self-governing people.  Tyranny itself could topple liberty.

The Constitution is difficult to amend not because the Founders distrusted the people.  In fact, they trusted the American people more than any other constitution-makers had ever before trusted a people.  They took pride in the fact that no separate or special class of persons would hold any authority under the Constitution.  They created no aristocracy or favored group, and their design did not pit one group of citizens against another.

Instead, they rested all power in the hands of the people.  Then they divided that power so as to encourage fairness and deliberation in their judgments.  It is the “reason alone of the people that must be placed in control of the government,” writes James Madison in Federalist 49.  “Their passions must be controlled by the government.”

Our American regime is the first in which sovereignty lies outside the government—in the people.  The Constitution’s structure in its original form was designed to bring power and restraint together.  The people must come to respect the restraint of the government so that its properly-limited power might be upheld.  The Constitution provides for limited government so that the natural rights of citizens can best be secured.

In this sense, Alexander Hamilton noted that the Constitution itself, even before it was amended, was “a bill of rights.”  Adding the first ten amendments, which the First Congress did in 1791, marked a reaffirmation and an explicit statement of rights held by the people and the states, but all of these are affirmed in the original structure of the Constitution—with its separation of powers, representative form, and limited grant of power to the government.  All of these essential features of good government were stated with unmistakable clarity in the Declaration of Independence.

Today, the Bill of Rights is often confused as the source of American liberties.  In fact, as both Madison and Hamilton knew, it is the Constitution’s structure that provides the surest bulwark of our liberties.  Destroy the structure, and liberty will be lost.  Alter the structure significantly (see the Seventeenth Amendment), and liberty is endangered.

Without reverence for it, the Constitution, like the Bill of Rights that is now part of it, will be but a “parchment barrier.”

Out of the more than 5,000 amendments to the Constitution proposed in Congress since 1789, only 27 have been adopted.  There are two possible ways to amend the Constitution, both of them specified in Article V.  All of the current amendments to the Constitution have been adopted following the first path, wherein votes are required by two thirds of both houses of Congress, followed by a vote of three-fourths of state legislatures.

The other path, to date not used successfully, is the convention method, in which two-thirds of the state legislatures can call a constitutional convention, after which three-fourths of the state legislatures or state conventions must then ratify the proposed amendment or amendments to the Constitution.  Conventions have been avoided probably for good reason, since it is not clear to anyone whether a convention would be bound to changing only one item in the Constitution.  We Americans have been pleased to have only one Constitutional Convention.

The New York Times recently noted that outside of the defunct Yugoslavian constitution, there is no other constitution in the world so hard to amend as ours.  By coupling our Constitution with a failed state, the article seemed to imply that if we don’t get with the times, we will be left behind.  Our country, they quote a justice of Australia’s high court as saying, is becoming a “legal backwater.”

For over a hundred years the Constitution has been assailed as undemocratic, and in need of an overhaul.

Long is the list of books written recently suggesting ways—formal and informal—to make our Constitution better.  When formal amendment efforts fail, informal methods are advanced.  Efforts to informally amend the Constitution—to bring it into better congruity with fashionable legal and political norms of today—can be successful only if citizen reverence for the Constitution is lost.

Dr. Larry P. Arnn is president of Hillsdale College, and author of The Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It. Hillsdale’s “Constitution 101,” an online course which features lectures by Dr. Arnn and others, starts today.  For more information on Constitution 101, go to:

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