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

The backdrop for President Reagan’s inaugural on January 20, 1981 was unforgettable. The United States had endured a decade of decline in our economy at home and our prestige abroad. Some Americans feared our best days were behind us as they had struggled through years of staggeringly high inflation, persistent unemployment, and shrinking incomes. The gears of American industry were slowed by an ever-expanding barrage of high-handed bureaucracies and policies established by administrations dating back to the New Deal.

But on that cold January day, a special man and a big moment came together. In his inaugural address the new president offered a new direction, but one based on the clear, foundational principles of the U.S. Constitution.

In the address, Reagan described the nation’s severe economic challenges, what he called “this present crisis,” as well as his administration’s objective – “a healthy, vigorous, growing economy.” He then used some of the sharpest language of any modern president to underscore the Constitution’s spirit of limited power guided by the people’s approval. “We are a nation that has a government, not the other way around,” he said. “Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.”

At the time of this address, I was a young, small businessman in the plastics and packaging industry. Like many Americans, I was dealing with the effects of out-of-control taxation and regulation. To me, government was killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

To this day, the simplicity of Reagan’s speech and his strong admonitions guides my work in the House of Representatives. He wanted government “to stand by our side, not ride on our back.” He established as “first priorities” the reawakening of America’s manufacturing base and the reduction of punitive taxes.

The latter goal was accomplished seven months after his inauguration and five months after an assassination attempt. On August 13, 1981, President Reagan signed the Kemp-Roth tax cuts, which slashed tax rates for individuals and businesses, rates which had grown to as high as 70 percent. These tax cuts and other initiatives during Reagan’s two terms led to an economic resurgence.

During the 1980s the economy grew by one-third. Seventeen million new workers were working longer hours per day. Household incomes rose. Unemployment dipped to the 5 percent range. Productivity and manufacturing surged, as did the savings rate. Inflation, once at double-digit levels, stabilized and decreased significantly. And interest rates, which had climbed to more than 18 percent in 1981, steadily fell during the Reagan era. It was, as described in the famous 1984 campaign ad, “morning in America.”

But this economic rebound grew from a clear recognition that federal power is constitutionally limited and that ultimately the people make the wisest economic decisions, not bureaucracies in Washington. President Reagan faced his administration’s challenges with this basic truth in mind. His first inaugural address made a transformational impact still remembered” and relevant” today as our nation faces big government power grabs such as ObamaCare.

If America’s long tradition of enlightened self-government is to survive, the people must not only be acquainted with our founding documents; they must also understand the thinking that produced them. The Constitution is not only the starting point of the American republic, as President Reagan made clear; it is the culmination of several centuries of serious thinking about the role of individuals in relation to each other and the Creator, and the most helpful way for each of us to secure our God-given liberties. I want to thank Janine Turner and Cathy Gillespie. I am humbled by their invitation to appear as a guest essayist. Let me also thank everyone at Constituting America for their hard work to, as they put it, “make the Constitution cool” for kids and adults and accurately teach the history of our great nation.

Read Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Speech here.

The Honorable John Boehner represents the 8th Congressional District of Ohio, and is serving in the 113th Congress as the 53rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Guest Essayist: Troy Kickler, Ph.D., Founding Director, North Carolina History Project and editor of

It seems today that many Americans wrongly perceive the Constitution as a roadblock on the way to a better America.  Not too long ago during a dinner conversation, this unfavorable view of the Constitution was expressed to me.  The person had overlooked the enduring qualities of the document–qualities that have allowed freedom to flourish and have kept tyranny in check.

In “What Good’s A Constitution,” former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill reminds readers that the American Constitution has been the “shield of the common man,” and its framework and provisions reveal that a government exists for individuals.  Individuals do not exist for the government.  Churchill wrote the 1936 article in an era in which Fascist dictatorships had emerged in Italy and Germany and Russia’s Communist experiment Read more

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

In 1932, the Democratic candidate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was the privileged scion of a wealthy family who ran a campaign that was committed to the Progressive vision of American society and government from the turn of the century.  In his “Commonwealth Club Address,” FDR embraced the Progressive idea that pitted the “interests” against the people.  He also promised the continued growth of the administrative state managed by enlightened bureaucratic elites in the name of the people.  Even more importantly, FDR maintained that the purpose of government under the social compact was to preserve rights, but he was bold enough to assert that a redefinition of rights was necessary in an industrial age.  Achieving this vision would usher in a secular utopia of progress and equality. Read more

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

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

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

Guest Essayist: George Landrith, President of Frontiers of Freedom

Woodrow Wilson:  A Failed President

One of the most common ways of judging a president is to simply ask if there was peace and economic prosperity during his time in office? This is a useful analysis, but not entirely complete. The president isn’t the only reason there might be peace or prosperity. Thus, other criteria should be taken into account. What policies did the president pursue? What impact did they have? And how did the president use the power entrusted to him by the American public? By these criteria, Woodrow Wilson was a failed president.

Read more

Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate, Master of Arts in Political Science at Villanova University, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good

Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most colorful presidents to serve the Republic.  He was a rancher in the North Dakota Badlands, led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill and received a Medal of Honor for his gallantry, the only President with such a distinction.  While climbing a Mountain in the Adirondacks of New York in 1901, word reached Vice President Theodore Roosevelt that the condition of President McKinley had rapidly deteriorated after an assassination attempt a week earlier.  The next day, McKinley was dead, and Roosevelt was sworn into office as president.  Roosevelt brought an ideology to the Office of the President that was a refutation of the American Founding, Progressivism.  This ideology included a dramatic expansion of power vested in one person, the president. Read more

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

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

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

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

The elevation of Woodrow Wilson to the presidency of the United States is a defining moment in American history. It signaled the triumph of an ideology destined to transform the United States Constitution from an instrument of limited government to one of consolidation, much as had been feared by0 the Antifederalist Brutus more than a century before. That ideology is known as “progressivism,” the essentials of which are laid out clearly and unapologetically in Wilson’s “What Is Progress?” Included in these essentials are: belief in the perfectibility of human beings and human societies, demonization of the past and devaluation of time-honored traditions, and the worship of science and technology. Read more

Guest Essayist: Professor Will Morrisey, William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College

What Is the “New Birth of Freedom”?

 Lincoln came to the Gettysburg field of the dead and spoke of “a new birth of freedom.”  What did he mean by it?

A lot of men killed a lot of other men at Gettysburg during those three days in July of 1863. But that happened more than once in the Civil War: at Antietam, in the Wilderness, at Cold Harbor, and many other places.  People remember those places and those battles, too, but not the way they remember Gettysburg.

Maybe because this was the battle? The one in which the Confederate States of America lost not just a battle but began to lose the war?  But why did they lose this battle and that war? Read more

Scot Faulkner, Former Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives and currently President of Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s right hand was trembling.  He had spent the morning shaking hundreds of hands as part of the traditional New Year’s Day greetings at the White House.  He remarked to Secretary of State, William Seward, that, “if my signature wavers they will say I was afraid to sign it.” He then took up his pen and wrote his name firmly on the Emancipation Proclamation.  As Seward co-signed the document, Lincoln mused, “Seward, if I am to be remembered in history at all, it will probably be in connection with this piece of paper”. [1] Read more

Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, legal commentator, contributor with Constituting America and adjunct fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research

There has been much discussion about the reach and scope of executive power.  While certainly Presidents Washington and Jefferson provide good lessons about what would be accepted practice from an executive, perhaps no other President besides Lincoln gives as extensive a model of executive authority.

To start, President Lincoln responded to the April attack on Ft Sumter and the growing secessionist movement by putting executive power front and center.  The Civil War started during the Congressional recess and President Lincoln would prosecute the North’s response for nearly 3 months before calling Congress Read more

Guest Essayist: Professor Will Morrisey, William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College

Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in the election of 1860, defeating three other candidates, including two Democrats, with nearly forty percent of the popular vote and an absolute majority in the Electoral College.  Democrats had split into two factions. Northern Democrats, headed by Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas (who had defeated Lincoln in the Senate election two years earlier) held that the question of admitting slavery into the western territories should be answered by referendum in each territory. Southern Democrats, headed by Senator John J. Breckinridge of Kentucky, upheld the claim most famously enunciated decades earlier by Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina–namely, that property in slaves is an unalienable right, that slavery was “a positive good” for both white masters and black slaves, and that slave owners therefore could keep their slaves wherever in the territories they pleased.  Popular sovereignty might not protect, and surely did not posit a natural or absolute legal right to slave property, and could never satisfy the slave owners. Although Douglas won the nomination of the regular Democratic organization, he won only a single state in the national election: Missouri. The southern Democrats (who had `seceded’ from the party’s convention before the final vote was taken) won ten states, all of them by overwhelming margins. Read more

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

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

Guest Essayist: David Eastman, Claremont Institute Abraham Lincoln Fellow

On March 4th 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president.  One week later, The Constitution of the Confederate States of America was adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Montgomery, Alabama.2  Midway into the ratification process, on March 21st, provisionally elected Vice President of the Confederate States, Alexander Stephens, mounted the stage of the Athenaeum Theatre in Savannah and delivered what has come to be known as the Cornerstone Speech.  Read more

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

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

Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

Senator Jefferson Davis’ response to William Seward’s State of the Country Speech was effectively a political speech- it was not meant to fully articulate the Southern cause of State’s Rights, nor was it a long-winded justification of that “peculiar institution,” slavery.  Rather, Davis’ goal was to respond to Seward’s earlier speech, which condemned slavery.  Within Davis’ speech, though, we find an idea more dangerous and pernicious than slavery as a positive good or that a State has rights; Davis rejected the central principle of the American Founding and Declaration of Independence, 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.”  Read more

Guest Essayist: Brenda Hafera, Finance and Events Co-Ordinator at the Matthew J. Ryan Center For the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University

“No former effort in the line of speech-making had cost Lincoln so much time and thought as this one.”  Considering the nuances and rhetoric of Lincoln’s speeches in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, it is perhaps shocking that law partner William Herndon was referring to the Cooper Union Address.  Lincoln meticulously poured over dusty parchment for several months in preparation for this speech.  His painstaking research included the examination of six volumes of Debates on the Federal Constitution by Elliott, the official records of the proceedings of Congress, the Congressional Globe, American history books, and other sources.  He traced the actual legislative votes of thirty-nine of the Constitution’s signers to determine how they later acted on the question of slavery to prove that the Founders did indeed intend for slavery to become extinct. Read more

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

On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln won the Republican nomination for the vacant U.S. Senate seat from Illinois.  His opponent in the election would be Stephen Douglas.  Upon his nomination, Lincoln delivered the “House Divided” speech in the war of words of what would culminate in the Lincoln-Douglas debates later that year. Read more

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

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

Guest Essayist: Frank M. Reilly, partner at the law firm of Potts & Reilly, L.L.P., Horseshoe Bay, Texas

In 1820, the U.S. Congress passed the Missouri Compromise in an effort to settle disagreements between pro and anti-slavery factions regarding the admission of new states to the union.  The Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery in new states north of the 36°30ˈ north parallel, with the exception of Missouri.  In 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois proposed, and succeeded in passing, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which unraveled the Missouri Compromise.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act, signed into law by President Franklin Pierce on May 30, 1854, allowed citizens within the Kansas and Nebraska territories to decide by what they called “Popular Sovereignty” (a popular vote) as to whether they would allow slavery. Read more

Guest Essayist: Julie Silverbrook, Executive Director of The Constitutional Sources Project

George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison on Slavery

Historian William Freehling has famously said, “[i[f men were evaluated in terms of dreams rather than deeds everyone would concede the antislavery credentials of the Founding Fathers.”[i] While the Founding generation unquestionably aspired to create a nation founded on universal freedom, the challenges of creating a nation, maintaining a profitable economy — both personally and nationally, and overcoming personal prejudices made that dream a distant reality. Read more

Guest Essayist: Kyle Scott, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Houston

The Northwest Ordinance–adopted in 1787 by the Congress of the Confederation and passed again by Congress in 1789 after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution to govern the Northwest Territories which included modern day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin–is undeniably an ordinance that inherits and extends the common law tradition. This means property rights take center stage and due process of law is established as a means of protecting property rights and the rights constituent to property such as life and liberty. 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: Mr. Robert Frank Pence, Founder, the Pence Group

He was crying from all six of his eyes. Tears gushed together with a bloody froth. Within each mouth, with gnashing teeth, he tore to bits a sinner so that he brought much pain to three at once. The first was Judas Iscariot; the second is Brutus; and the other is Cassius.

In the Ninth Circle of Dante’s Hell are punished traitors against their lords. Judas, the principal offender against religious/ecclesiastic law, is being chewed by Lucifer for having betrayed Christ. Cassius and Brutus are ground down by Lucifer for having murdered their temporal lord, Julius Caesar (who, by the way, merits only a passing mention in Inferno 4 wherein he reposes with other virtuous pagans).

It ought to strike us as strange that the leader of the Roman Empire will remain forever in Limbo while several other pagans were placed by Dante in purgatory or paradise. Cassius and Brutus are not excused by Dante for having killed the tyrant who subjugated all of Rome, 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: Justin Dyer, Ph.D., Author and Professor of Political Science, University of Missouri

Scholars generally attribute the authorship of the letters of Brutus to Robert Yates (1738-1801), a prominent New York politician and judge who was a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787.  After voicing his opposition to the plan of the Convention, Yates returned home to New York. During the state ratification debates, he then became an outspoken opponent of the proposed Constitution. In his polemical essays against the Constitution, Yates’ chosen pen name was Brutus, and his objective was to slay Ceasar. Read more

Guest Essayist: Geordan Kushner, Fellow at the Mathew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

George Washington’s letter transmitting the Constitution to Congress marked a milestone achievement in the founding of the modern United States. George Washington, the President of the Second Continental Congress, sent his letter on September 17, 1787 after four months of having been locked in a crucible of sweltering summer heat, clashing political interests, grueling debate, tenacious deadlock, and demanding compromise. Even though a majority of the convention’s delegates agreed to and drafted a new Constitution, it was well known that the real battle was soon to be realized. The battle to come would be the struggle to ratify the Constitution in at least nine states, which was the minimum number required in order for it to have the force of law. Read more

Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia provides an examination of the difficulties the State of Virginia faced in governing itself over the course of the Revolutionary period.  Self-government, as the United States has learned over the last two centuries, is no mean feat.  It was made all the more difficult as there were no enduring examples to look to for guidance, and one of the greatest militaries the world had known had waged a war across the Thirteen Colonies.  Query XIII: Constitution addresses a wide range of issues, from justice in representation, the separation of powers, to a warning against expediency in deviating from the rule of law. Read more

Guest Essayist: James Legee, Graduate Fellow at the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the study of Free Institutions and the Public Good, Villanova University

Five years after the surrender at Yorktown, circumstances were all but calm for the young republic.  George Washington, retired to Mount Vernon, wrote a letter to the second Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation, John Jay, articulating his concerns over the state of events.  Washington began the letter disquieted by the divergent foreign policies the states pursued.  The focus of the letter quickly shifted from foreign policy, to alarm Read more

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

If Jay Leno were to conduct a   “Man on the Street” segment and ask random Americans to name the first constitution for the United States, the answers would probably range from, “The Declaration of Independence,” to “the Preamble,” to “Who cares?”  The answer, of course, is The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.  American ignorance of the Articles is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which being a lack of understanding about the fundamental structure of the American general government.  The Articles of Confederation is, in fact, the most maligned and misunderstood document in American political history.  It is the bedrock of the United States Constitution which replaced it, and the Founders’ conception of Union and the appropriate powers of government can be found in its Thirteen Articles. 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

Guest Essayist: Justin Butterfield, Religious Liberty Attorney at the Liberty Institute

At the end of his second presidential administration, after forty-five years serving America, President Washington did not want to leave without imparting some final guidance and wisdom. To do so, Washington, working from drafts written by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, wrote a letter to the American people titled “The Address of Gen. Washington to the People of America, on his Declining the Presidency of the United States” and more popularly known as “Washington’s Farewell Address.” 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: George Landrith, President, Frontiers of Freedom

The Founders’ proclamations on fasting and prayer are relevant today

by George Landrith

Today, many Americans think that government and even public life must be strictly separated from religious life and faith. Few know what the Constitution actually says about religious freedom or what the Founders believed about the concepts of liberty, God, and religion. But our history paints a very clear picture.

On March 16, 1776, the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia issued a proclamation calling for a day of fasting and prayer. Read more

Guest Essayist: Kevin R. C. Gutzman, J.D., Ph.D. Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Department of History, Western Connecticut State University and Author, James Madison and the Making of America

The Virginia Declaration of Rights is one of the key source documents of the U.S. Constitution.  This first American declaration of rights includes multiple provisions later echoed, and even copied, by the authors of the U.S. Constitution.  The Declaration’s chief author, George Mason, and one of the two other main contributors, James Madison, played extremely prominent roles in both the writing and ratification of the Constitution and the movement culminating in the Bill of Rights, so the resemblance is no surprise. Read more

Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner, Co-Founder, George Washington Institute of Living Ethics, Shepherd University

As 1776 began, America’s rebellion against British colonial rule was not yet a revolution.  Less than half the projected number of volunteers had enlisted in the Continental army with desertions mounting.  George Washington was entrenched, but stalemated in Cambridge outside of Boston. The British Commander, General John Burgoyne, mocked the situation by writing and producing the satirical play, “The Blockade”, which portrayed Washington as an incompetent flailing a rusty sword.  Then something amazing happened.

“Common Sense” was published on January 9, 1776.  It remains one of the most indispensable documents of America’s founding.  In forty-eight pages, Thomas Paine accomplished three things fundamental to America.   Read more

Guest Essayist: Hadley Heath, Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women's Forum

Modern people argue about the importance of the Constitution asking: Should we strictly adhere to its words, or should we view it as a living document?  The Founders penned it more than 200 years ago.  Is it still relevant today?

In his short piece, “Fragment on the Constitution and the Union,” Abraham Lincoln asserts that it is not the founding document that bears the greatest importance, but the principle that undergirds it.  Namely, the principle upon which America was founded: liberty for all.  So long as we are true to this principle, we are honoring the essence of the American idea.

Lincoln explains that the United States of America could have been formed as a new nation without the principle of liberty for all.  Given the circumstances — mass immigration to the New World, Read more

Guest Essayist: Steven H. Aden, Senior Counsel and Vice President of the Center for Life at Alliance Defending Freedom

“It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” With those understated words, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall ushered in the modern era of judicial review – the notion that it is up to judges, not legislators or presidents, to finally interpret and give meaning to the nation’s Constitution and laws.

During the founding era, Alexander Hamilton had written Federalist 78, to assure those wary of a strong federal judiciary that “[T]he judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution,” because it holds neither the power of the sword, as the Executive (Presidential) Branch does, nor the power of the purse strings, as the Legislative Branch (Congress) does. Read more

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

The Constitution

When Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were creating the University of Virginia, they decided that the three American documents that would best illuminate the meaning of the Constitution when teaching future statesmen were the Declaration of Independence (along with the ideas of John Locke and Algernon Sidney), George Washington’s Farewell Address, and the Federalist.

Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence expressed the universal principle that all men were endowed by a Creator with natural, unalienable rights.  Influenced by the ideas of John Locke’s social compact theory, the purpose of government was to protect those natural rights.

If any government became tyrannical, or destructive of the ends for which it was created, the people had a right to overthrow that government and to institute a government that would protect their rights. Read more

The Constitution of the United States of America

Fifty-five delegates from twelve states (Rhode Island declined to participate) traveled to Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention, which began in May 1787. They quickly scrapped the existing Articles of Confederation, and after four months they concluded their business by adopting a new frame of government. On September 17, thirty-nine delegates signed the Constitution.
It was nine months before the requisite nine states ratified the Constitution, putting it into effect. The thirteenth state, Rhode Island, did not ratify it until 1790. Subsequently, it has been amended twenty-seven times.

September 17, 1787


We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,

Read more

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

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

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

Guest Essayist: Eric Mack Ph.D., University of Rochester, Professor of Philosophy and the author of John Locke (London: Continuum Press, 2009)

John Locke’s Second Treatise is the much better known half of his Two Treatises of Government. Although the Treatises were not published until 1689, they were composed during the decade that culminated in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. During that decade Locke was deeply involved in opposition to the authoritarian ambitions of Charles II and James II; and the Two Treatises were written to provide intellectual support for resistance against over-reaching monarchical power.

The Stuart Monarchs (James I and Charles I prior to the Civil Wars of the 1640s Read more

Guest Essayist: Robert Frank Pence, Founder, The Pence Group

Cicero’s De Republica
by Robert Frank Pence

Cicero’s De Republica

Robert Frank Pence

Gone, gone for ever is that valour that used to be found in this Republic and caused brave men to suppress a citizen traitor with keener punishment than the most bitter foe.[1]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.E.) had a decision to make. Catiline and his fellow conspirators were going to assassinate Cicero and other Roman senators within hours.  What should he do?  Knowing that Rome had its enemies, domestic as well as foreign, Cicero immediately had several of the conspirators arrested, taken to prison, and executed, all without extending to them the right of trial.  Cicero announced their deaths to the crowd with the word vixerunt (“they had lived,” meaning, euphemistically, “they are dead”). Read more

Guest Essayist: Kyle Scott, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Houston

Aristotle studied under Plato and tutored Alexander the Great. If only because of his pedigree he should be read and understood by anyone who is interested in politics. But those who want to understand politics in general, and American politics in particular, would do well to study the works of Aristotle for the insight they provide on human nature and the nature of politics.

According to Aristotle, a person can be truly human only within a community. Aristotle wrote in the Politics that any man who exists outside of a community is either a beast or a god (Politics 1253a2, 1253a25; see also NE 1097b10). For man is by nature a political animal which means if he is to act according to his nature he must live among others. Read more

Guest Essayist: Dr. David Bobb, Director, Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, Hillsdale College

When in 1863 Abraham Lincoln began his address at Gettysburg battlefield with the phrase, “Four score and seven years ago,” he reminded his fellow citizens that their cause in the Civil War was also the cause of 1776.  In the year of America’s birth, Lincoln stated, “Our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

America’s principles are liberty and equality, and our Founding understanding of their relationship was revolutionary. 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 


Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, Director of the Institute for Liberty’s Center for Law and Regulation, and a legal commentator

Proposed Amendment: Slavery and the States Amendment:

State’s sole right to regulate slavery proposal:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.

This proposed amendment is the so-called Corwin Amendment.  Passed by the 36th Congress on March 2, 1861, the Corwin Amendment offered by Ohio Representative Thomas Corwin was presented as a means of forestalling the secession of Southern states prior to the beginning of the Civil War.

It had become increasingly clear to many in Congress that a conflict was occurring over the status of slave versus non-slave states that could have cataclysmic effects on the Union.  In the 36th session alone, there were more than 200 different measures introduced regarding the subject of slavery including nearly 60 Constitutional amendments.

The Corwin Amendment sought to forbid any future attempts to amend the Constitution to empower the Congress to “abolish or interfere” with slavery as a way to ensure that southern states would not feel obligated to leave the American Union.  Presented as a last ditch effort to prevent the collapse of the Union, the proposal didn’t have the intended effect.  The newly formed Confederate States of America organized and declared that it would pursue a path of independence completely ignoring Congress’ intentions with the Corwin Amendment.

Notably the Corwin Amendment has the distinction of being the only constitutional amendment to have an actual numerical designation assigned to it by Congress—the proposing resolution includes the name “Article Thirteen.”

After passing the House and Senate, congressional leaders prevailed upon incoming President Lincoln to send a letter to each governor alerting them that the amendment had passed.  While President Lincoln never endorsed the measure, he acquiesced to the request.

By the time President Lincoln had been elected, seven southern states had seceded and within a few months four others would join them.  While Lincoln had not campaigned on a platform to end slavery where it existed, he had pledged to use the power of the federal government to prevent slavery from spreading to territories that were not yet states.  His willingness then to send the letter was yet another demonstration of the lengths he was attempting to go to prevent the dissolution of the union.

Ohio has the distinction of the being the first legislature to ratify the amendment on May 13, 1861.  However by March 31, 1864 the commencement of the Civil War and changing public sentiment led the legislature to rescind its ratification.  Since Congress did not include a final ratification date for this proposed amendment, it technically is still pending.  In 1963 more than a century after it was ratified, Texas state representative Henry Stollenwerck introduced a resolution to ratify in the Texas statehouse.   It was referred to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Constitutional Amendments on March 7, 1963, and received no further consideration.

It is noteworthy that the Confederate Constitution contained no provision like that found in the Corwin amendment.  Even though the Confederate charter explicitly authorized slavery in the Confederacy, it didn’t seek to prevent or bar future amendments that might restrict or abolish slavery.

Most scholars believe that even if the Corwin Amendment had been adopted it would not have been irreversible.  That is to say, Congress and the states could bar Congressional interference with slavery if they wanted but they couldn’t bar a subsequent Congress and the states from either repealing the amendment the same way they did when they adopted prohibition and then repealed it later or adding new amendments that had the same effect.  In other words, the mere adoption of the Corwin Amendment would not have prevented a subsequent Congress from passing an amendment to ban slavery or to protect the voting rights of blacks who were formerly slaves.

Horace Cooper is a legal commentator and the Director of the Center for Law and Regulation at the Institute for Liberty

June 18, 2012

Essay #86

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: Janice Brenman, Attorney

Amendment XXVI:

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

The Twenty-Sixth Amendment: Empowering America’s Youth

Throughout our nation’s history the right to vote has remained a cornerstone of cherished civil liberties and democratic processes.  This right, however, was granted to select members of the populace until a century and a half ago. The end of the Civil War brought about 3 “Reconstruction Amendments” aimed to bring constitutionally granted “blessings of liberty” to the black male populace – the 3rd of these, the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, granted voting rights regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  Half a century later, women were also granted the right to vote, after various organizations staged a protracted series of processions and protests.  Several countries, such as Sweden, Finland (then known as the Grand Duchy (Dutch-ee)), Britain and Australia, had already forged ground in this area at the end of the 19th century.  The resulting 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, which prohibited state and federal sex-based voting restrictions.  Additional suffrage privileges were granted with ratification of the 24th Amendment in 1964 – which guaranteed that voting rights of citizens

“shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”

Age was the next obstacle to overcome.

The Constitution allowed states to dictate voting qualifications, subject to restrictions incorporated into Amendments.  One of these Amendments, the 14th, mandated an age 21 minimum for male suffrage, with the caveat of withholding any state’s representation in Congress should this right be denied.  With the onset of World War II, many young men and women under age 21 entered military service, sparking discussions about reducing the voting age to 18.  It seemed ironic that one could be called up for military service at 18 and denied the right to vote for the country one was entrusted to defend.  So, in 1942, four Congressmen introduced resolutions to reduce the age to 18.  Over 150 proposals were initiated, some setting the age to 19.  In the early 1950s, Senate debated one of “18” resolutions, but it failed by a vote of 34 to 24.  By the late 1960s, the Vietnam War was rapidly escalating and thousands of young Americans enlisted, or, were drafted for active duty overseas.  As of 1968,  25% of the troops were under age 21 and made up an even higher percentage of casualties.  ‘Old enough to fight, old enough to vote’ became a mantra for the burgeoning Baby Boom generation.

The resolutions for lowering the voting age began to gain momentum once again.  Congress held hearings on the subject between 1968 and 1970. These hearings touched on the link between military service and voting, but primarily focused on the increased educational levels of modern youth.  Their discussions also focused on the ever-increasing responsibilities of the 18-21 year old demographic: attending college, driving automobiles, drinking alcohol (in subsequent years, states raised this age to 21), holding jobs, starting families, being tried as adults in court.  Concurrently, in a narrow 5-4 vote, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Oregon v. Mitchell (1970) that 18 year olds could vote in federal elections, but not in those held at the state, or, local levels.

States now were tasked with evaluating their suffrage-age laws, and sixteen states did just that in 1970.  Six states lowered the age and ten remained unswayed.  Other states began to weigh administrative and cost advantages in matching the new federal framework.  Congress then added a provision to the Voting Rights Act in 1970 setting the minimum voting age to 18 for both national and state elections, arguing it had broad power to protect voting rights under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment.  With that, Congress accelerated its commitment to incorporate the youth suffrage movement within the framework of the Constitution.  Congress passed the 26th Amendment March 23, 1971. In the fastest ratification process on record (107 days), three fourths of the states ratified this landmark proposal July 1, 1971.

Note: Amendment 14, section 2, of the Constitution was modified by section 1 of the 26th amendment.

Ms. Janice R. Brenman is a former prosecutor now in private practice in Los Angeles. She has commented in major legal publications on the subject of legal reform and celebrity influence on the legal system. She has also appeared in medical malpractice, products liability and complex civil litigation, and is well versed in all forms of discovery.  From 1999 to 2000, Ms. Brenman was a City Prosecutor and Community Preservationist. She clerked for the Honorable Rupert J. Groh(Grow), Jr., of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Ms. Brenman also worked researching, writing and editing under a Nobel Prize winning laureate.

June 11, 2012

Essay #81

Guess Essayist: Horace Cooper, legal commentator and the Director of the Center for Law and Regulation at the Institute for Liberty

Amendment XXV Section 3

Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Since the nation’s founding there have been lingering questions about the presidential succession process.  As drafted by the framers, Article II of the U.S. Constitution provided that the vice president shall “discharge the Powers and Duties” of the president in the case of the president’s “Death, Resignation, or Inability.”

Seemingly clear enough in 1787, it increasingly became obvious there were serious gaps in the process.  Congress was given the responsibility to work out the details for what might occur if both the Vice President and President were incapacitated.  At the same time the Constitution was opaque over what constituted inability or scenarios in which a previously incapacitated President might have his authority restored.

Until the 25th amendment was ratified, the vice presidency had been vacant 16 times after a president or vice president had died or resigned. *

President Garfield tragic assassination was a major case in point regarding Presidential Succession.  Assassin Charles J. Guiteau disgruntled over not being able to obtain a federal post shot President Garfield.  The president would slip in and out of comas over the next 80 days.  As a result he would perform only one official act during this period – the signing of an extradition paper. President Woodrow Wilson was disabled by a stroke in 1919–1921. Many presidents have suffered shorter periods of disability. In no instance were the disability provisions invoked. *

Many in Washington thought that President Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955 and then subsequent stroke in 1957 made clear that the modern presidency needed a succession plan.  However, the subsequent campaign between Nixon and Kennedy, either of whom would set the record for youngest president in US history moved the issue to the back burner.

Ironically, it was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, which brought the issue immediately to the forefront.  This far into the 20th century the United States couldn’t answer long-standing questions such as when the president died, did the vice president automatically become president, or only serve as acting president? What happened when the vice presidency was vacant?  The Twenty-fifth Amendment, would at long last answer these questions.

Stymied during the Eisenhower administration, this time the urgency was clear.  Even The American Bar Association endorsed the proposal.  On January 6, 1965, Senator Birch Bayh formally proposed the amendment.  It was passed by Congress on July 6, 1965, and ratified on February 10, 1967, making it the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

Reportedly Presidents G HW Bush and Bill Clinton established detailed plans in compliance with Section 3 to deal with incapacity during their terms although ultimately they never needed to be invoked.

Horace Cooper is a legal commentator and the Director of the Center for Law and Regulation at the Institute for Liberty


June 7, 2012

Essay #79

Guest Essayist: Hadley Heath, Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women's Forum

Amendment XXV, Section 2:

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

The 25rd Amendment, Section 2, explains that in a vacancy in the office of Vice President, the President must act to select a new Vice President, and the Congress must confirm the President’s choice.  More broadly, this Amendment (ratified in 1967) clarifies the line of succession in the executive branch as established in Article II of the Constitution.

Without this Section or this Amendment, it was unclear what to do in the case of a Vice Presidential death or disqualification.  Would the Speaker of the House ascend to this office?  Would the people elect a new Vice President?  Actually, neither happened.  But before the 25th Amendment, the office of the Vice President was simply left vacant 16 times, and it stayed that way until the next election.

Eight times the President of the United States died, and the Vice President left office to become President.  Seven times the Vice President died.  Once, Vice President John Calhoun resigned in order to become a U.S. Senator.

But for the sake of continuity, and in order to keep the important office of Vice President filled, the U.S. ratified this Amendment.  It makes it clear that the President will nominate someone, and the Congress will confirm.  The Congressional confirmation also ensures that the people have a representative voice in approving the new Vice President.

After all, the office of the Vice President carries with it unique Constitutional duties and shouldn’t be left empty.  According to Article I of the Constitution, the Vice President also serves as President of the U.S. Senate, and must cast a vote if there is a tie.  The Vice President is also charged with overseeing, counting and presenting the votes of the Electoral College.

The Vice President also serves an important informal role as the assistant to, or spokesperson for the President.  This role varies from administration to administration, depending on the relationship between the two leaders.

In American history since 1967, only two back-to-back occasions have called for the selection of a Vice President in the manner prescribed by Amendment XXV.  In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned.  President Richard Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to the Vice Presidency, and Congress confirmed him.

The following year, 1974, President Nixon resigned.  This meant that Gerald Ford would ascend to the Presidency, allowing him to select a nominee for Vice President to fill his now-vacant office.  He selected Norman Rockefeller, who was also confirmed by the Congress.  This situation resulted in both a President and a Vice President who were not elected in a general election by the Electoral College.

Elections are essential to the American system of governance: They allow the people to select their own leaders.  But, on the rare occasion that these elected leaders cannot perform their duties, Amendment XXV prescribes how new leadership will take charge.

Amendment XXV, Section 2, ensures that the people are at least represented in the selection of this new leadership; the requirement of the new Vice President’s confirmation by Congress means that Members of the House and Senate – the representatives of the people – can check the power of the executive in making this new appointment.

This Section of Amendment XXV serves the important purpose of maintaining the offices of President and Vice President in a manner consistent with government for, of, and by the people.

Hadley Heath is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum.

June 6, 2012

Essay #78

Guest Essayist: Hadley Heath, Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women's Forum

Amendment XXV, Section 1:

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967 to clarify the Presidential line of succession established in Article II of the Constitution.  For the sake of national security, and to avoid the turmoil of contested authority – with which the Founders were familiar after a revolutionary war – the new nation established a clear, indisputable contingency plan in the case of a Presidential death, resignation, or removal from office.

This provision in the Constitution points to the underlying idea that America’s destiny does not live or die with one person or one leader, but that she is always ready to continue thriving, even in the face of a national tragedy or crisis.

Fully nine U.S. Vice Presidents have come to the office of President in this way – eight because of the death of a President.  One occasion, the resignation of President Richard Nixon, resulted in Vice President Gerald Ford taking the office of President in 1974.  This has also been the only such occasion (of a Vice President ascending to the office of President) that occurred after the ratification of Amendment XXV.

Previous to this Amendment, the nation looked to Article II, Clause 6 for guidance.  This clause states that in case of a Presidential disqualification or death, the “powers and duties” of the President will devolve to the Vice President.  However, the language of this clause left unclear whether the Vice President would indeed become the next President, or if he would simply execute the duties of the office until a new President could be elected.

Precedent resolved this controversy, when the first Presidential death occurred in 1841.  President William Henry Harrison died in office, and Vice President John Tyler took the oath of office to succeed him as President.

Amendment XXV finally clarified in supreme Constitutional law that the successor to the office of President would indeed become President, not simply become “acting President.”

Because they are established as first in line for succession, the Vice Presidents of the United States are subject to the same eligibility requirements as Presidents.  According to Article II of the Constitution, these requirements are that the person be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and have spent at least 14 years residing in the U.S.

The Constitution gives Congress the authority to further define the line of succession.  The Presidential Line of Succession Act of 1947 established that the next successors would be the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, followed by the members of the Presidential Cabinet in order of their department’s establishment.

The 25th Amendment – along with Article II of the Constitution and the Presidential Line of Succession Act – make provision for the United States to have continuous leadership, even in the event of the disqualification or death of the national leader.  This important establishment, in law, is meant to guarantee a peaceful and seamless transition.

So far in our history, although the occasions have been rare, this part of our government’s structure has provided new leadership in the face of national tragedy and hardship.  This clearly serves to underscore the American idea that the future of our nation is not in the hands of one man or one executive, but that as a people we’ve consented to the leadership of duly elected and vetted leaders, as designed by the Constitution.

Hadley Heath is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum.

June 5, 2012

Essay #77

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

Amendment XXIV:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 4, 2012

Essay #76



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

Amendment XXIV, Section 1:

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

In an effort to circumvent the Fifteenth Amendment’s requirement that the States not deprive a citizen of the right to vote based on race, in the decades from 1890 to 1910 some States began implementing various requirements which were purportedly neutral regarding race but which had the (intended) effect of preventing black citizens from voting. One of the requirements was a poll tax, a specific fee for voting that prevented the poor from voting. (Often the laws were written in a way that would allow white citizens to vote without paying the fee or implemented in this way, such as where a politician bought votes by paying poll taxes for the voters.)

As the moral wrongness of this kind of restriction became harder to deny, States began to remove some of these requirements. Some States had repealed their poll taxes by World War II and others removed them for soldiers in the 1940s. As the national government became more involved in promoting civil rights and ending racial discrimination in the 1950s, the number of states with poll taxes was down to five (Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia).

In 1959, the report of the Commission on Civil Rights (created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957) suggested a national law to allow all Americans to vote subject only to age and residency requirements. One result was the proposal of an amendment to the Constitution to specifically prohibit the imposition of poll taxes. President John F. Kennedy supported the “uncontroversial” amendment. The lack of controversy stemmed from the fact that only five States had such taxes.

Federal courts had previously held poll taxes were not prohibited by the Constitution, so an amendment was necessary. Congress proposed the amendment in August 1962 and it was ratified less than a year and a half later in January 1964.

The Twenty-fourth Amendment only applied to federal elections but not long after its ratification, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that poll taxes in State elections were unconstitutional because they discriminated against the poor. Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966) at,45&as_vis=1.

Virginia passed a law which gave voters a choice between paying the poll tax “or filing a certificate of residence six months before the election.” Congressional Research Service, “Abolition of the Poll Tax” at The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this law conflicted with the new amendment because it created a significant barrier to voting as the only alternative to paying the poll tax. Harman v. Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528 (1965) at,45&as_vis=1.

Additional source: Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (Basic Books: 2000)

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.

June 1, 2012

Essay #75

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 XXII:

1: No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President, when this Article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.


2: This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States by the Congress.


Amendment XXII: Reform or Revision?

Until 1940, presidents honored the George Washington precedent of serving for only two terms. In that year Franklin Roosevelt defied tradition and won a third term, then later a fourth term. Roosevelt died in office in 1945. Presidential term limits became a huge issue in the 1946 watershed election, and a new generation swept into office, many of them returning soldiers. The new congress was young, idealistic, and committed to change. One of their first priorities was the XXII Amendment, which was ratified by the states in early 1951. Since then, we have had eleven presidents, but so far only four have been restricted from another term by this amendment.

There have been many proposals to reform or revise the XXII Amendment. Congress has repeatedly submitted bills to repeal the amendment, but none has ever made it out of committee. Some have proposed that the restriction be revised to consecutive terms, and others want a super-majority of both houses to have the ability to override the restriction.

The XXII Amendment ought to be left in place without revision.

The president is often called the most powerful person in the world. To a great extent, that is true. Over the centuries, presiden­tial power has increased enormously, both domestically and inter­nationally. This was not the intent of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. The president was supposed to be a co-equal partner in a three-branch government focused on the needs of Americans.

The greatest increase in presidential power came from the growth in government. As the national government grew, from around 4 percent of gross domestic product in the 1920s to 25 percent in 2010, presidential power grew exponentially because all but a smidgeon of that money ended up in the executive branch. The bigger the national government grows, the more powerful the executive is as an indi­vidual.

In United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp (1936), the Supreme Court ruled that the president has almost unrestricted powers in international affairs. The Court said that this singular authority over foreign affairs is “the very delicate, plenary and exclu­sive power of the President as sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations—a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress.” One of the few excep­tions to this exclusive power is Senate approval of treaties.

This ruling by itself did not make the president the most powerful person on the world stage. Three other developments made that happen. The first was that the American free enterprise system built the largest, most robust economy in the world. The second development was the vacuum of power after World War II. The Soviets were dangerous, and their ambitions for empire threatened the world. Someone had to step into the breach. The third development was the devastating power and global reach of modern weaponry.

Both inside and outside the United States, the president is enormously powerful. The Framers of the Constitution feared concentrated power, and they were especially fearful of concentrated power in single person. The Framers would have immediately searched for ways to curtail this power, and term limits would be at the forefront of their consideration. We need an ironclad XXII Amendment to bolster the idea that this power is only on loan for a limited period.

Power corrupts. Let us hope it takes longer than eight years.

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.

May 30, 2012

Essay #73



Guest Essayist: Lawrence J. Spiwak, President of the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies

Amendment XXI, Section 1:

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

Ending Prohibition:  Are there Lessons to be Learned?

In this essay, my intention is not to focus on the fact that the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, but to explore briefly what lessons we can learn from the experience.

To quickly summarize the facts, the 18th Amendment was enacted in 1919, which prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States.”  However, as detailed in the excellent Ken Burns documentary, Mark Thornton’s seminal book entitled The Economics of Prohibition, and elsewhere, despite its altruistic intentions, Prohibition didn’t decrease alcohol abuse but increased it; Prohibition didn’t eliminate crime but created it; and Prohibition certainly didn’t increase prosperity but robbed the treasury of taxes.  As a result, Prohibition was repealed in 1933 by the 21st Amendment.  (Significantly, because of fear of grassroots political pressure from the temperance movement, the 21st Amendment is, thus far in American history, the only constitutional amendment ratified by state conventions rather than by the state legislatures.)

Given this debacle, I think there are at least a few lessons I think we can learn:

To begin, Prohibition provides an excellent example—albeit a bit dysfunctional one—of the amendment process spelled out by Article 5 at work, in that we as a society were able to self-correct a policy gone horribly wrong.  Indeed, although I’m sure Prohibition was enacted with the best of intentions, the Prohibition experience nonetheless epitomizes the “law of unintended consequences.”

That said, here is an interesting question to ponder:  let us assume that rather than elevate Prohibition to the full fledged level of a Constitutional Amendment, we only went so far as to pass a law that prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States.”  Would it have been easier for us to self-correct Prohibition via either a new law through the legislative process or a Constitutional challenge in the courts?  Probably.  As a result, Prohibition also teaches us to exercise some degree of caution and careful thought before we seek to undertake another effort to amend the Constitution.

Yet, but perhaps most importantly, Prohibition forces us to recognize the old maxim that if we are to be a society of laws, then the public must believe in the legitimacy of the law.  Indeed, in undertaking research for this essay, I came across a telling quote by wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. from 1932, whereby he wrote:

“When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”

So what is it about Prohibition that caused many Americans literally to lose faith with their own Constitution?  Certainly, we have a lot of laws that constrain personal behavior (e.g., prohibitions against murder; prohibitions against fraud and theft; prohibitions against treason), but everybody generally accepts these constraints as necessary to ensure a functioning society.  What was it about Prohibition that, to use Mr. Rockefeller’s words, “created a vast army of lawbreakers…”?

Although I’m sure different people can provide different answers to this question, I come out with the view that Prohibition failed because Americans simply came to realize that the government had no business sticking its nose into their personal lives and interfering with their proverbial “pursuit of happiness.”  Thus, because many Americans viewed the law as violating their basic civil liberties, they saw no reason to comply with the law.

To illustrate my point, let’s take the following extreme hypothetical example.  As many readers of Constituting America are well aware, American’s cherish their Second Amendment right to bear arms.  Now, let’s assume that a huge “firearms temperance” movement sweeps the nation and, as a result, a new Constitutional amendment is enacted that repeals the Second Amendment and prohibits the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of firearms within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States.”  In such a hypothetical case, while law abiding citizens could no longer own guns to hunt or to protect their families, do we honestly think that gun-related crimes would disappear or that a vibrant black market for firearms would not instantly blossom?  Of course not.  In such a case, I have no doubt that after a few years of many unintended consequences, there would be a forceful movement to repeal my hypothetical amendment too.

In sum, Prohibition teaches us that while it is possible to correct bad policy decisions, any time we seek to elevate an issue to the level of a Constitutional Amendment we should do so with both great discipline and respect for individual liberty.  If we do not learn the lessons from Prohibition, however, then we are doomed to repeat them in the future.

Lawrence J. Spiwak is president of the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies (www.phoenix‑, a non‑profit research organization based in Washington, DC.  He is a member in good standing in the bars of New York, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.  The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of the Phoenix Center or its staff.

May 25, 2012

Essay #70

Guest Essayist: David J. Bobb, Director, Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., and lecturer in politics

Amendment XX, Section 3:

If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified, and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

On January 6, 2001, Vice President Al Gore presided over his own political funeral.  On that day, a joint session of Congress certified the final Electoral College vote that put George W. Bush into the White House.  Vice President Gore had the unenviable task of wielding the gavel at the certification of his Republican foe’s victory.

Imagine now not a political funeral at the end of a presidential election, but an actual funeral—for a president-elect—in between the November election and the January certification of electoral votes.  That’s the main scenario the third section of the Twentieth Amendment is designed to address.

Largely unrelated to the first two sections of the Twentieth Amendment, which shortened the time of the lame-duck presidency, the third section of the amendment has prompted, it seems, more unanswered hypothetical scenarios than it has answered.  Although it sought to address gaps left by previous efforts to address presidential secession, this section (and the fourth that follows) still leaves much to constitutional and legislative conjecture.

As legal scholar Akhil Amar pointed out in Senate testimony in 1994, the main problem with the Twentieth Amendment, left unanswered by the Twenty-Fifth or any legislation on the matter, is that “it is not self-evident that a person who dies before the official counting of electoral votes in Congress is formally the President elect.”  The very term “President elect” is left ambiguous, then, with the result, according to Amar, of a possible confusion about the electoral status of the decedent.

What’s worse, Amar further wonders, is what would happen if the presumed presidential election victor dies before the Electoral College meets in December?  “What is a faithful elector to do here?” Amar queries.  The elector gets no guidance from the Constitution, although Congress did refuse to count three electoral votes cast for candidate Horace Greeley, who passed away after he earned the votes but before the College had met.

Push the dismal early death scenario even earlier, and the problems mount.  What if a candidate perishes just before the November election?  Or what would happen if both president-elect and vice-president elect are simultaneously slain, in advance of the congressional certification of the electoral count?

The scenarios are endless, and while the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 tried to plug holes that existed, there are numerous scholars today that are convinced that more legislative fixes are still required.  In one notable recent move, the Continuity of Government Commission—a joint effort of the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution—offered suggested remedies to problems in presidential succession that since their 2009 proposal have not been adopted by Congress.

Despite the questions that abound about this amendment’s third section, there exists a notable irony that almost came to fruition just after the passage of the Twentieth Amendment.  As the Continuity of Government Commission’s report details, had President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt not escaped an assassin’s bullet that claimed the life of the mayor of Chicago, the Vice President-elect, John Nance Garner, would have assumed office under the terms of the Twentieth Amendment’s third section.

David J. Bobb is director of the Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C., and lecturer in politics.


May 23, 2012

Essay #68

Guest Essayist: Marc Lampkin, Shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and graduate of the Boston College Law School

Amendment XX, Section 2:

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3rd day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.

The XXth Amendment is fairly straightforward.  Often referred to as the “Lame Duck Amendment” the XXth Amendment’s purpose is to update gaps in the original draft of the Constitution setting the time and dates for the Congress and the President — in particular the amendment changed when terms of elected federal officials begin and end in order to line their terms beginning and ending with the election process.

The amendment’s purpose is to limit the chances that when Congress meets the legislators casting the votes were duly elected, rather than retirees or those who had failed to win re-election.

The primary sponsor of the XXth Amendment was Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska.  Senator Norris believed it to be his greatest legislative achievement.  It was passed on March 2, 1932.

When the Constitution was originally ratified, the outgoing Congress under the Articles of Confederation had set March 4, 1789 as the date for which the new federal government would begin.  On an ongoing basis the Constitution provided that the Congressional session would begin on the first Monday in December.

In addition, the second session would begin a month after the election and continue until March 3.  This had the effect of allowing Members to serve during the second session even if they had retired, were defeated, or simply had not chosen to run for re-election.

Initially the schedule made sense as it accommodated the travel and weather difficulties that faced the new nation.  At the time of the founding, roads were bad and travel long distances was often difficult.  Having four months from Election Day to the start of the session seemed prudent.  However, over time, the improvement in road building and the use of trains and boats made such a delay unnecessary.

In addition, the time delay had other pernicious effects.  When President Roosevelt was first elected he was required to wait four months before he could begin any steps to respond to the Great Depression.   Many across the nation believed that the provisions in the Constitution setting the dates for a 19th century world were particularly unhelpful in the 20th century.

This led to the push for passage of the XXth Amendment.

In addition to limiting “lame-ducks” from setting policy at the national level, the XXth Amendment also means that there was a shorter period between the election and the convening of the new Congress and that the outgoing President would have time to consider the outgoing Congress’ legislation.

Marc Lampkin is a Shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and is a graduate of the Boston College Law School

May 22, 2012

Essay #67

Guest Essayist: Frank M. Reilly, Esq., a partner at Potts & Reilly, L.L.P.

Amendment XX, Section 1:

The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.

Terms of the President and Congress

Prior to the 20th Amendment, the Constitution did not specify the beginning and ending dates of the terms of the President, Vice President, and Congress.  The Constitution defined the length of the terms of the various offices, and Congress ultimately enacted laws to set March 4 as the term starting date of all elected federal officeholders.   Our nation’s earliest federal elections were held prior to December of each even numbered year, and in 1845, Congress set the first Tuesday following the first Monday of November of each even numbered year as a uniform federal election date.  As a result, officeholders remained in office after the November elections for about four months until the 4th of March of the following year.  During the 18th century, such officeholders began to be called ̎lame ducks ̎.

From the late 18th century and into the 20th century, the lack of efficient and speedy transportation made the election process necessarily slow.  Today’s ability to almost instantaneously report election returns did not exist in the days without electricity, telephones, electronic voting devices and the Internet.  It could take days or weeks of horseback travel by electors from remote areas of the country to assemble to cast that state’s electoral votes for President and Vice President.  It could take as long for members of Congress and the elected executives to then travel to Washington to take office.  Thus, the four month ̎lame duck ̎ period between election day and the start of new terms of newly elected (or re-elected) officeholders was a practical necessity.

Sometimes either Congress or the President took actions during those ̎lame duck ̎ periods that the public, or incoming officeholders, felt were unfair and that should have waited until the newly elected representatives could take office.  For example, the famous case of Marbury vs. Madison, in which the U.S. Supreme Court claimed its authority to interpret the Constitution, was a dispute over a staff appointment made by President John Adams after President Thomas Jefferson was elected, but before Jefferson took office.

Transportation and technology advances ultimately reduced the need for a long transition period after an election.  Further, public concern about legislation enacted during ̎lame duck ̎ sessions of Congress, motivated Nebraska Senator George W. Norris to propose the 20th Amendment.  After over a decade of debate, and immediately preceding Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first election as the 32nd president, Congress passed the resolution proposing the amendment on March 2, 1932.  The states ratified the amendment by January 23, 1933, the shortest period of time between a congressional proposal of an amendment and its ratification by three-fourths of the states.

The amendment, rather than a change in the law by Congress, was necessary because it shortened the terms of incumbent officeholders, the length of whose terms the Constitution had been specifically set.  The amendment shortened the ̎lame duck ̎ period by half to about 2 months, with Congress taking office on January 3 and the President taking office on January 20 after each of their elections.  The first president affected by this change was Franklin D. Roosevelt following his second election in 1936.

Legislative history shows that the purpose of the 20th Amendment was to not only shorten the 4 month ̎lame duck ̎ period, but also to prevent  ̎lame duck ̎ sessions of Congress.  However, the 20th Amendment contains no specific language to prohibit ̎lame duck ̎ sessions, and Congress has met in many such sessions since after the states adopted the amendment.  Political debate about lame duck ̎ sessions, however, has been raised on several recent occasions.

On November 13, 1980, a ̎lame duck ̎ President Jimmy Carter nominated future Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer as a justice of the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, and the ̎lame duck ̎ Senate confirmed the appointment in December, 1980.  In December 1998, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President William J. Clinton during a ̎lame duck ̎ session.  Some argued that these actions violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the 20th Amendment, but no one challenged the actions in court.

In 2000, some discussed the potential interplay between the 20th Amendment, and the 12th Amendment, which requires that the House of Representatives select the president if no candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes cast for president.  During the time in which the presidential election results between George W. Bush and Albert Gore, Jr. were still undetermined, some scholars questioned whether a ̎lame duck ̎ House of Representatives could select the president if neither Bush nor Gore received a majority of the electoral votes, or whether the issue would have to wait until the newly elected House of Representatives convened.

While the 20th Amendment’s original intent has been publicly debated, there are no reported court cases involving the amendment.

Frank M. Reilly, Esq., is a partner at Potts & Reilly, L.L.P., Attorneys & Counselors in Austin and Horseshoe Bay, Texas

May 21, 2012

Essay #66

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

Amendment XIX:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


The Nineteenth Amendment

The Nineteenth Amendment prohibits the federal government or state governments from denying individuals the right to vote on the basis of sex. It also grants Congress the power to impose this rule through legislation.

The Constitution introduced in 1787 was a gender-neutral document: It actually did not prohibit women from voting. The Framers gave individual states the power to determine who could participate in elections. All states granted men suffrage. In 1797, though, New Jersey made history by recognizing the right of women to vote. Never before in all of recorded history had women exercised the right to vote.

Because the Constitution did not prohibit women from voting, no constitutional amendment was technically necessary for women to exercise suffrage. This is evident in the variety of strategies that the women’s suffrage movement used to secure the right to vote.

The first strategy involved the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Section 2 of that amendment prohibited denying “male inhabitants” the right to vote, suggesting that the Constitution granted only men the right to vote. Proponents of women’s suffrage argued that the Citizenship Clause and the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prevented states from denying women the right to vote in federal elections. In Minor v. Happersett (1874), however, the Supreme Court dismissed this argument.

The second strategy focused on convincing individual states to remove voting qualifications related to sex. These efforts were eventually quite successful. Wyoming entered the Union in 1890 with women’s suffrage, becoming the first state since New Jersey to allow women to participate in elections on an equal basis with men. By the time the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, 30 states already granted voting rights to women for members of the House, members of the Senate, or the President.

The third and final strategy involved amending the Constitution to prevent states from imposing sex-based voting qualifications. The first of such amendments was proposed in 1869. In 1897, a California Senator proposed what would become the Nineteenth Amendment. The Amendment was ratified in 1920 with essentially the same wording as the Fifteenth Amendment.

There has been little litigation over the Nineteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court addressed the amendment directly in Breedlove v. Suttles (1937), a case in which Georgia law exempted women from a tax but required men to pay it upon registering to vote. The Court ruled that the amendment protected the right of both men and women to vote but did not limit a state’s authority to tax voters.

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

May 18, 2012

Essay #65


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

Amendment XVIII:

Section 1: After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation

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

Amendment XVIII, Section 2

The Prohibition amendment only lasted in force for fourteen years from 1920 to 1933 (though it was ratified in 1919 by its terms it did not become effective until one year later) remains the only amendment to have been repealed in its entirety. The substance of the amendment has already been addressed so is there any more to learn from this footnote in constitutional history?

There is one important lesson we can learn from the amendment’s enforcement section about federalism and the respective roles of the national and state governments

Section two of the 18th Amendment provides: “The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” This language is unique among the constitutional amendments. Beginning with the Civil War Amendments, drafters often began to include some kind of enforcement language in amendments, typically specifying that Congress could pass legislation to ensure the amendment’s intent was carried out. The 18th Amendment provided for “concurrent” jurisdiction between the national government and the States.

The concept of jurisdiction is central to our constitutional system. Because we have a federal system, with authority and responsibility divided between two different entities—the national government and the States—and because ours is a government of enumerated powers in which the Constitution gives to the national government authority to do only what that document specifies it may do, a grant of authority to carry out a new role must be specified in an amendment to the Constitution unless the amendment’s effect is self-executing.

The significance of the enforcement provision of the 18th Amendment is first that is specifies the branch of the national government responsible for enforcement is Congress and that it is to carry out this responsibility through legislation. Even this Progressive Era enactment respected the separate roles of branches of the national government. Consistent with every other aspect of the Constitution, this amendment was to be made effective not by judicial opinion or administrative branch lawmaking. So, the 18th Amendment reminds us that under the United States Constitution lawmaking is the prerogative of the legislative branch.

Second, the amendment specified that Congress will be exercising power concurrently with the States. Since the States had already been making alcohol policy previous to the 18th Amendment, it is clear that the amendment’s proponents recognized their inherent power to do so and only amended the Constitution so as to provide a new power of Congress; a power that (a) it did not have before and (b) it could not have unless specifically provided (enumerated) by an addition to the Constitution.

Thus, though the amendment is no longer enforceable it still provides a helpful reminder of the way in which our system is intended to function. While the powers of the national government and to be “few and defined” (Federalist 45), the states are free to do whatever they are not specifically prohibited from doing by the Constitution or the reserved powers of the people themselves.

Even the most cursory glance at current political controversies would remind us of exactly how important this reminder is.

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.

May 17, 2012

Essay #64

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

Amendment XVII:

1: The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

2: When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

3: This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.


Many Americans wonder why it is that the federal government continues to expand its power at the expense of the states and local governments.  As the Supreme Court observed in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, 469 U.S. 528 (1985),“the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913 … alter[ed] the influence of the States in the federal political process.” Ironically, it was state legislatures that insisted on adopting the Seventeenth Amendment even though it virtually guaranteed their loss of power. The Seventeenth Amendment inflicted a near death-blow to federalism.

The first sentence of the Seventeenth amendment substitutes “elected by the people thereof” for the words “chosen by the Legislature thereof” in the language of the first paragraph of Article 1, Sect. 3. The amendment also provides the procedure for filling vacancies by election, but permitting states by legislation to allow the state’s governor to make temporary appointments.

Prior to the 17th Amendment, the Constitution provided for US senators to be elected by the legislature of each state in order to reflect that the Senate represented the states, as contrasted with the House which represented the people of each state.  Originally, U.S. senators did represent their own states because they owed their elections to their state legislature, rather than directly to the voters of the state. The Senate, thus, carried forward the (con)federal element from the Articles of Confederation, under which only the states were represented in the national legislative body.  As noted in The Federalist, the fact that state legislatures elected U.S. senators made the states part of the federal government.  As intended, this arrangement provided protection for states against attempts by the federal government to increase and consolidate its own power. In other words, the original method of electing senators was the primary institutional protection of federalism.

In the decade prior to the Civil War, over the issue of slavery, and increasingly after the Civil War, some state legislatures failed to elect senators. That development, plus charges that senators were being elected and corrupted by corporate interests prompted some states to adopt a system of de facto election of senators, the results of which were then ratified by the state legislatures.  Proposals for a constitutional amendment providing for direct popular election of senators were long blocked in the Senate because most senators were elected by state legislatures.  Over time, the number of senators elected de facto by popular election increased.  Also, states were adopting petitions for a constitutional convention to consider an amendment to provide for popular election of senators.  As the number of states came closer to the number requiring the calling of a Constitutional Convention, the Senate allowed what became the Seventeenth Amendment to be submitted to the states for ratification.

A major factor promoting direct popular election of senators was the Progressive Movement.  This movement generally criticized the Constitution’s system of separation of powers because it made it difficult to enact federal legislation. The Framers had done so in order to protect liberty and to create stability in government.  The Progressives, on the other hand, wanted government to be more democratic and, therefore, to allow easier passage of national legislation reflecting the immediate popular will.

By shifting the selection of senators to the general electorate, the 17th amendment not only accomplished those purposes; but it also meant that senators no longer needed to be as concerned about the issues favored by state legislators. Predictably, over time, senators voted for popular measures which involved “unfunded mandates” imposing the costs on the states.  Senators were able to claim political credit for the legislation, while the states were left to pay for new national policies not adopted by the states.  Such unfunded mandates would have been unthinkable prior to adoption of the 17th amendment.

Ironically, more than the required number of state legislatures ratified the Seventeenth Amendment, with little or no realization that they were diminishing the power of their own states and undermining federalism generally.  Many legislators apparently thought they had more important matters to attend to than devoting time to the struggles that often revolved around electing a senator. Such an attitude might have been understandable at a time when the federal government had much less power vis-a-vis the states.  What those legislators did not appreciate was that the balance of power favorable to the states was due to the fact that state legislatures controlled the U.S. Senate.  Over time, since adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment, the balance of power has inevitably consistently shifted in favor of the federal government.

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


Guest Essayist: Marc Lampkin, Shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and graduate of the Boston College Law School

Amendment XVI:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Power to Tax Incomes

The 16th Amendment is an excellent example of why it is important to act judiciously and cautiously when it comes to amending the Constitution.  Most Americans recall that when our nation was founded, the framers did not agree to allow the federal government to tax the income of its citizenry.  In fact they specifically included a proviso that provided that neither income taxes nor any other type of direct taxes could be collected by the federal government.  Instead of collecting taxes in that manner, up until passage of the 16th Amendment the federal government was funded primarily by indirect taxes – duties and sales taxes.

One of the reasons that the founders wanted to limit the type of taxing authority of the federal government was that it was a way to ensure that the individual citizen was protected from an overbearing federal authority.  The consensus was that if Congress had the power to assess taxes directly on individuals they could single out certain individuals or all individuals for excessive taxation and there would be no upper limit on the amount assessed.

Sales taxes or import duties were indirect taxes that while affecting the livelihoods of individuals could be more readily avoided if individuals felt they were unfair or unwise.  Nevertheless, a direct tax combined with Congress’ power to control the military meant that taxation power could reach any individual for any reason and it was for that reason viewed as a threat on liberty.

Although this understanding waned after the first 50 years or so of the Constitution’s ratification, the Supreme Court acted vigilantly to ensure that federal lawmakers accepted the restraint on Congress’ taxing power.  However, there was at least one period when the Court relented – the Civil War.  The Supreme Court upheld the Revenue Act of 1861.  This law assessed a 3% flat tax on almost all income.

Nevertheless, subsequently the Court returned to form and refused to allow Congress to continue income taxes or other direct taxes.

Around the turn of the century far more conversation among policy makers focused on ways to increase revenues for the treasury.

Fairly quickly a rift was revealed.  More Democrats than Republicans supported the idea of an income tax.  Moreover, when the measures were introduced GOP Senators would delay or filibuster action on the measure.  This practice over about a decade led to some of the first campaign themes that one party – the Republicans – was “the party of the rich.”

By the time President Taft came to office, due to the failure of the GOP to explain to the public why it thought a federal income tax as a concept was a bad idea, most Americans generally held favorable views about the income tax and were suspicious that the Republicans were solely motivated by a desire to protect wealthy individuals from taxation.

Additionally due to the shellacking the GOP took in the federal elections of 1892, it was felt by party leaders that the GOP’s position advocating steady increases in tariff rates on household goods was a non-starter.  It was in this environment that President Taft began publicly advocating alternatives to tariff funding for the federal government including advocating an income tax.

Some of his critics in the Democratic Party thought they saw an opening to once again push the income tax but the same pattern of the last decade continued.  A bill would be introduced and then quietly killed in the Senate.  Only difference was that now the bills being introduced were by Republicans and but since nothing changed in terms of enactment the Republicans were given a pass in the political arena.

In April 1909, Texas Senator Joseph W. Bailey, a conservative Democrat who also opposed income taxes, came up with a plan that would ultimately upset the apple cart.  He decided to embarrass the Republicans by trying to get them to publicly admit that they actually opposed income tax bills.

The progressives within the GOP including Teddy Roosevelt, Hiram Johnson, and Robert La Follette waxed enthusiastically on behalf of the bill.  This placed President Taft in an awkward position.  He wanted to be seen as being for an income tax, yet he wasn’t ready to actually enact one.

Perhaps his plan was too clever.  In any event, the strategy that he came up with to once again kill the measure would ultimately fail.  Recognizing that the same plan of having GOP members block it wouldn’t work with so many “progressive Republicans” supporting the measure, the new strategy was predicated on making the income tax measure a Constitutional amendment.  Taft and his team counted on conservative state legislatures refusing to go along with the idea and letting it stall out in the hinterlands.

As part of the plan, President Taft formally requested the amendment and the House and Senate duly acted.  The House vote was 318-14 and the Senate voted unanimously. However, the states didn’t balk as anticipated.  In February of 1913 it was ratified just 4 years after Congress has submitted it to the states.

Today income taxes are the principle source of income for the federal government.

Marc Lampkin is a Shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and is a graduate of the Boston College Law School

May 10, 2012

Essay #59



Guest Essayist: Colin Hanna, President, Let Freedom Ring

Amendment XV:

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

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

The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed by Congress on February 26th 1869, and ratified by the States on February 3rd, 1870.  Although many history books say that it “conferred” or “granted” voting rights to former slaves and anyone else who had been denied voting rights “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” a close reading of the text of the amendment reveals that its actual force was more idealistic.  It basically affirmed that no citizen could rightfully be deprivedof the right to vote on the basis of that citizen’s race, color or previous condition of servitude – in other words, that such citizens naturally had the right to vote.  That is how “rights” should work, after all; if something is a right, it does not need to be conferred or granted  and cannot be infringed or denied.

It is worth noting that the Fifteenth Amendment only clarified the voting rights of all male citizens.  States have the power to define who is entitled to vote, and at the time of the signing of the Constitution, that generally meant white male property owners.  The States gradually eliminated the property ownership requirement, and by 1850, almost all white males were able to vote regardless of whether or not they owned property.  A literacy test for voting was first imposed by Connecticut in 1855, and the practice gradually spread to several other States throughout the rest of the 19th Century, but in 1915, the Supreme Curt ruled that literacy tests were in conflict with the Fifteenth Amendment.

Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment sets forth the means of enforcing the article: by “appropriate legislation.”  It was not until nearly one hundred years later, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that the enforcement of the Fifteenth Amendment was sufficiently clarified that no State could erect a barrier such as a literacy test or poll tax that would deny any citizen the right to vote, as a substitute for overtly denying voting rights on the basis of race or ethnicity.  The Civil Rights Act of 1957 had taken a step in that direction, but practices inconsistent with the Fifteenth Amendment remained widespread.  The Nineteenth Amendment. ratified in 1920, had granted women the right to vote.  The only remaining legal barrier to citizens is age, and that barrier was lowered to 18 by the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, ratified in 1971.  Many people do not realize that a State could permit its citizens to vote at a lower age than 18, and none has.

The moral inconsistency between a Declaration of Independence that proclaimed that all men (and, by widely accepted implication, all women) were created equal, and a Constitution that tolerated inequality based on race and gender, required more than 150 years to be resolved.  The ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 was one of the major milestones along that long path.

Colin Hanna is the President of Let Freedom Ring, a public policy organization promoting Constitutional government, economic freedom, and traditional values. Let Freedom Ring can be found on the web at

May 8, 2012

Essay #57

Guest Essayist: Timothy Sandefur, Author and a principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation

Amendment XIV, Section 4:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

The fourth section of the Fourteenth Amendment is rather obscure, or was until recently.  It declares that “[t]he validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.”  In a 1935 case, Perry v. United States, the Supreme Court held that the do-not-question provision applies to all federal debts, and bars the federal government from repudiating debts.

Barring the repayment of Confederate debt was not only a blow to southern rebels, but to their supporters worldwide.  The Civil War was vastly expensive, and raised the national debt to over a billion dollars, and its financial consequences reverberated for decades afterwards.  The victorious Union was especially bitter about international support for the Confederacy; in one instance, that anger nearly led to war with Britain, which refused to pay U.S. claims for damages inflicted by an English-built Confederate warship called the CSS Alabama.  That dispute was only resolved in 1871 by a treaty.

In the years since, this section has rarely given rise to much debate—until the summer of 2011, when Congress began debating the Obama Administration’s request to extend the nation’s “debt ceiling.”  Federal law requires Congress to authorize incurring more debt to pay for federal programs, and by last summer, when the national debt stood at more than $14 trillion, Republicans in Congress resisted allowing more red ink.  They demanded concessions from the White House, and refused to agree to the tax increases demanded by the President.  In mid-July, as the negotiations grew strained, some of the President’s supporters argued that Congressional refusal to allow further debt would violate the Fourteenth Amendment.  South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn urged Obama to invoke Section Four and raise the debt ceiling by executive order, and Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and even former President Bill Clinton (who, like Obama, was once a law professor) agreed.  They argued that failing to raise the debt limit would increase the risk of a national default, which would amount to an unconstitutional “questioning” of the debt.

But Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe disagreed.  In an article in the New York Times, Tribe explained that the Amendment does not bar Congress from making financial choices that might increase the risk of default.  And even if it did, other constitutional provisions give Congress—not the President—the responsibility for borrowing money.  Worse still, the government would probably lose more than it would gain from unilateral presidential action, because investors would then fear that the Administration might take other unprecedented actions undermining their investments.  To his credit, President Obama showed little interest in invoking the Fourteenth Amendment, and within a month, Republicans and Democrats had reached a compromise.

Still, the debt ceiling debate revealed an important point about the Constitution.  Some of its provisions seem to hibernate for years, little studied by law students, and rarely the subject of lawsuits, until a crisis draws public attention back to clauses that were written in anticipation of future problems.  The Constitution is a promise, not only about how the government will operate on a daily basis, but about how we will act when the unexpected occurs.  It must, as Justice George Sutherland once said, be obeyed as much when it pinches as when it comforts.

Timothy Sandefur is a principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation and author of Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st Century America (Cato Institute, 2006) and The Right to Earn A Living: Economic Freedom And The Law (Cato Institute, 2010).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Essay # 54

Guest Essayist: Timothy Sandefur, Author and a principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation

Amendment XIV, Section 3:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

America has never faced another crisis, like the Civil War.  Art historian Robert Hughes has called it “America’s Iliad,” and that is an apt term, because the War was not only a bloody struggle for the nation’s future; it was also the emblematic crisis of the American soul.  All of the cross-currents and crises of our Constitution can be found to intersect there, or to be prophesied in its still resounding clashes.  This is true not only of such legal controversies as whether a state has the power to secede, or whether the president can suspend the writ of habeas corpus in an emergency, but also of much more personal issues as the sense of betrayal and recrimination that arose from a struggle of brother with brother, of father with son.  Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment reflects this personal element of the War.  It bars any person from serving in state or federal office who, having taken an oath to serve as a state or federal officer, had broken that oath to serve the Confederacy.  The Amendment gives Congress power to remove the disability by a two-thirds vote.

This provision was not just aimed at Confederate soldiers, but also at prominent citizens, as well.  Former President, John Tyler had given up his citizenship when the war began and was elected to the Confederate Congress; former Vice President John Breckenridge became a Confederate general, and Justice John Campbell resigned from the U.S. Supreme Court to become Jefferson Davis’ Assistant Secretary of War. Leaders of the victorious union realized that, as with so many military conflicts, a triumph at arms would prove futile in the long run if the enemy’s political leaders were allowed to retain political power, and they saw the removal of the Confederacy’s elite from political power as a necessary step toward reconstructing the nation on the principles of equality and liberty for which the union had fought.

Yet the goal of reconstruction was not merely to exclude the former confederates, but to reintegrate them into American society, and barring people from participating in society would prove counterproductive.  Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson preferred simply requiring former Confederates to swear that in the future they would support the Constitution. And a year before the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, the Supreme Court struck down a particularly harsh oath requirement imposed by the state of Missouri, which barred people from certain private occupations if they had participated in the rebellion.  That prohibition, declared the Court in Cummings v. Missouri, amounted to retroactive punishment in violation of the ex post facto clause.  The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, therefore, held open the opportunity for former confederate leaders to return to the mainstream of political life in the restored union.

Yet section 3 had stranger consequences for reconstruction than its authors could have imagined.  In May, 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was arrested in Georgia and held on charges of treason.  Some Republican leaders insisted he be prosecuted, but moderates were more interested in moving on, and the Johnson Administration sought some way to postpone the prosecution.  As Judge C. Ellen Connally explained in a 2009 Akron Law Review article, Chief Justice Salmon Chase found an opportunity for such delay in section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Chase, who along with another federal judge, presided over Davis’ treason trial, argued that the case must be dismissed because, like the Missouri law at issue in Cummings, the Amendment’s prohibition on serving in public office was a criminal punishment.  That meant Davis could not also be tried for treason without violating the constitutional ban on “double jeopardy.”  The other judge disagreed, which sent the issue to the full Supreme Court for resolution—but before the Court could decide, President Johnson issued a general amnesty, bringing a permanent end to Davis’ prosecution.

A civil war is a great tear in the fabric of a nation, which can never be wholly mended.  Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment is a testament to the profound political and personal wounds that “America’s Iliad” inflicted on the country.

Timothy Sandefur is a principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation and author of Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st Century America (Cato Institute, 2006) and The Right to Earn A Living: Economic Freedom And The Law (Cato Institute, 2010).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012 

Essay # 53 

Guest Essayist: Timothy Sandefur, Author and a principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation

Amendment XIV, Section 2:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

The end of the Civil War brought radical changes to the United States Constitution.  Leaders of the victorious Republican party hoped now to make the principles for which they waged such a punishing war into a permanent part of the Constitution.   The Fourteenth Amendment renounced the “states’ rights” theories that so prevalent before the war, by declaring first that all Americans are citizens of the United States first and foremost, and only secondarily of the states where they reside.   States had formerly, enjoyed authority to determine both state and federal citizenship; now the nation would determine both.   Second, the Amendment prohibited states from depriving Americans of their “privileges or immunities”—i.e., of the rights that belong to all Americans—or of equal protection of the law, or of life, liberty or property without due process of law.  These new guarantees ensured that the theory of “paramount national citizenship,” for decades the backbone of the Republican anti-slavery crusade, would be enshrined forever in the nation’s highest law.

But the Amendment was not concerned only with these crucial abstract principles.  It was also a matter of practical politics.  The second section of the Amendment—pointing toward the future Fifteenth Amendment—punished any state that deprived people of the right to vote.  Southern states, after all, could be expected to take steps to bar their former slaves—now citizens—from exercising their new rights as citizenship.  Rather than banning such interference outright, as the Fifteenth Amendment would do, this provision declares that if a state deprives “any of the male inhabitants” who are 21 or older from voting in a federal or state election, that state will lose seats in the House of Representatives.

This provision that overrode the Constitution’s infamous “three-fifths” clause, whereby Congress was apportioned on the basis of the white populace along with “three-fifths” of the slaves, and it marked the first steps toward a democracy in which all races could participate.  Of course, there was also a steely political reality behind Congress’s choice of language: if southern states were restored to the union, and apportioned Congressmen on the direct basis of population, the Republicans might soon find themselves outvoted in Congress, destroying their unique opportunity for constitutional reform.  Thus the Amendment permitted states to deprive people of the right to vote on account of their having “participat[ed] in rebellion, or other crime.”

The inclusion of the world “male” was also a calculated political move, and it also sparked a clash among the Amendment’s friends.  Never before had the U.S. Constitution conditioned the right to vote on sex, and in fact, at the time the Constitution was originally ratified, some states allowed women to vote.  But no state allowed women to vote in 1868, and had the Amendment been written in language that included female suffrage, the proposal would have faced far more opposition within the Northern political coalition.  But adding a provision that explicitly allowed states to disenfranchise women put the nation’s imprimatur on discrimination, and offended many of the same female activists who had helped lead the Abolitionist movement.  Some of them—including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—now opposed any guarantee of voting rights that was not gender-neutral.  The former slave Frederick Douglass was more pragmatic.  He believed strongly in women’s suffrage, but that was a goal for another day.  “Woman has a thousand ways to attach herself to the governing power of the land and already exerts an honorable influence on the course of legislation.”  But “the Negro is mobbed, beaten, shot, stabbed, hanged, burnt, and is the target of all that is malignant in the North and all that is murderous in the south.”

Although section 2 was largely rendered obsolete by the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments—which barred states from discriminating on the basis of race or sex when it comes to the right to vote—it has still played an important role in shaping the power of states to deprive certain groups of voting rights.  In a 1974 case, the Supreme Court ruled that states may disenfranchise felons, pointing out that the Fourteenth Amendment explicitly allowed this.  And in 1970, Justice John Marshall Harlan, whose grandfather had been the lone dissenter in Plessy v. Ferguson, relied partly on the language of section 2 to conclude that the Fourteenth Amendment did not allow Congress to interfere with a state’s power to determine voter qualifications.

That the Amendment’s language regarding the right to vote was so quickly superseded by the Fifteenth Amendment should come as no surprise.  The Fourteenth Amendment was just one step in a long-overdue effort to make the Declaration of Independence’s promise of equal liberty a reality for all.

Timothy Sandefur is a principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation and author of Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st Century America (Cato Institute, 2006) and The Right to Earn A Living: Economic Freedom And The Law (Cato Institute, 2010).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Essay # 52

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

Amendment XIV, Section 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 30, 2012

Essay #51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 25, 2012 

Essay #48 

Guest Scholar: Hans Eicholz, Historian and Senior Fellow with Liberty Fund, Inc., an educational foundation based in Indianapolis, Indiana

Amendment XII:

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;

The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Circumstances allowing the Senate to choose the Vice-President

The twelfth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was born out of the immediate political experience of the fledgling republic as it strove to apply the provisions of its written fundamental law just over a decade after ratification.

Historically the powers associated with the executive branch have been among the most dreaded of all governmental functions. In the political struggles of seventeenth century England, the friends of both English and American liberty drew lessons about the need to constrain the prerogatives of monarchs and tyrants. That understanding shaped the indictment against the King of England in the Declaration of Independence, and shaped an important part of the debate over the original Constitutional provisions respecting the election of the American President and Vice-President.

What method of appointment would best assure the selection of leaders with the temperament and virtues necessary to remain under the law? This was the essential question discussed in the Philadelphia Convention when the second Article of the Constitution respecting the selection of the presidency was originally crafted.

Initially, no distinction was to be made in casting ballots for the election of the President and the Vice-President, but each elector was to nominate two individuals. It was hoped that such a process would filter out the influences of local prejudice if each elector were required to vote for a second person not of his or her state. Some consideration, it was believed, would then likely be given to criteria beyond merely local interests. Thus Madison observed, “The second best man in this case would probably be the first in fact.” It was hoped that such a mode of selection, combined with an electoral college, would result in a process far removed from political intrigue and discourage political commotions.

In point of fact, however, that process resulted in considerable discord when the electoral vote was equally split, as happened in the election of 1800 between the two Democratic-Republican candidates of Jefferson and Burr. The equal division of electoral college votes caused the election to be thrown into the House of Representatives.

At this point, and against all expectations, Burr attempted to negotiate with the Federalist representatives in Congress, to obtain the highest office. Eventually thwarted in his machinations, Burr’s dishonorable conduct negated Madison’s initial hopes, revealing that a man of lesser character could yet hold the second position, and if the process of election was not remedied, might at some later election, even take first place through political intrigue and backroom negotiations! For this reason, the Congress set in motion the process to amend the Constitution in the selection of both President and Vice-President on the 9th of December 1803.

The primary alteration of the 12th Amendment required the explicit designation of the office for which each candidate was being designated. It preserved, however, certain aspects of the older provisions of Article II.

The process of the electoral college was maintained to ensure the independence of the executive from the legislative branch.

In matters of tied elections, it continued to send the selection of the Presidency to the House of Representatives, but with the selection of the two officers now split, the selection of a Vice-President in cases of an electoral tie, would go directly to the Senate.

In both cases, this process arose from the general principle of the Founders that in addition to the popular element reflected in the selection processes of the electoral college, regional considerations should continue to have their influence. The United States was not to be seen as simply one homogeneous national democracy, but was also a federal union of distinct state governments, a vital part of ensuring against the over concentration of power.

To this end, when breaking a Presidential tie, the House was to assemble its delegates by states and each state was to determine its votes as one: “the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote.”

Likewise, the Senate, being already organized on the federal principle, would break an electoral tie vote for Vice-President. Indeed, under the old system, the Senate was to perform this function in the event that the next most popular electoral candidates after the Presidential selection, were also tied. This portion of the 12th Amendment merely preserved that order of selection.

Hans Eicholz is an historian and Senior Fellow with Liberty Fund, Inc., an educational foundation based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

April 20, 2012 

Essay #45 

Guest Essayist: Tara Ross, Author, Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College

Amendment XII:

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;

The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Amendment XII: Reforming the Electoral College

America’s first four presidential elections were governed by Article II of the Constitution. The process worked well initially, which is perhaps unsurprising in retrospect. Nearly everyone expected that the revered General George Washington would be the nation’s first President. These expectations came to fruition when he was unanimously elected twice, in 1789 and 1792. The first contested presidential election did not occur until 1796.

This contested election nearly revealed a flaw in the voting process. But the next election, in 1800, brought the flaw more sharply into view, and it laid the groundwork for the introduction and ratification of the Twelfth Amendment. The provisions of this Amendment would replace Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution.

The problem stemmed from the fact that the original constitutional provision did not allow presidential electors to differentiate between their votes for President and Vice-President. Electors were simply expected to cast two ballots for President. When these votes were tallied, the first place winner became President and the second place winner became Vice-President. Such a process made sense in 1787, before the appearance of political parties. It made less sense after, as demonstrated during the election of 1800.

That year, the Democratic-Republican Party nominated Thomas Jefferson for President and Aaron Burr for Vice-President; the Federalist Party nominated John Adams and Charles Pinckney. Today, such nominations might seem rather routine, but in 1800, the practice of nominating separate candidates for President and Vice-President was relatively new.

When the vote was tallied, it was discovered that Jefferson and Burr had tied. Although the electors had intended to elect Jefferson for President and Burr for Vice-President, they were not permitted to distinguish between their votes for the two offices. The result was an electoral tie that threw the election into the Constitution’s secondary election procedure, known as the House contingent election.

At the time, the House was still controlled by the outgoing Federalist Party. Many Federalists did not like Jefferson and hoped to thwart his election by supporting Burr. Meanwhile, the Democratic-Republican congressmen continued to support their intended presidential candidate, Jefferson. A stalemate continued for the better part of a week. Neither Jefferson nor Burr could obtain the nine state votes needed for victory. Six days and thirty-six ballots later, one Congressman finally yielded, paving the way for Jefferson’s victory.

In the wake of such events, it was not long before a constitutional amendment was proposed to separate the voting for President and Vice- President. Such a solution might seem obvious to modern ears, but it was controversial in the early 1800s. The minority party, the Federalists, argued that the election process, as it then stood, made it possible for the minority party to have a representative in the executive branch. Some Democratic-Republicans also hesitated to change the election procedure. The Article II process had helped them in 1796 when John Adams, a Federalist, was elected President. Despite Adams’s victory, Jefferson had been able to defeat the Federalist vice presidential candidate, Thomas Pinckney.

The proposed constitutional amendment failed to pass the Senate by a single vote when it was first proposed in 1801. In 1803, however, the Twelfth Amendment finally gained enough support to pass both the Senate and the House. North Carolina became the first state to ratify the amendment on December 21, 1803. The amendment became effective when New Hampshire ratified it on June 15, 1804. Tennessee ratified it later, on July 27, 1804. Three states rejected the amendment.

The election process was tweaked and adjusted following the election of 1800, yet today it remains largely as the Founders created it. As a first step, the states cast electoral votes in the nationwide presidential election. If no candidate wins a majority of these state votes, then the House of Representatives must decide which of the top candidates will be the next President.

Tomorrow’s post will explain how this process—created by Article II and slightly modified by the Twelfth Amendment—continues to operate in presidential elections today.

Tara Ross is the author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College. More information about Tara can be found at or on Facebook or Twitter.

April 18, 2012 – Essay #43


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

Amendment XI:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 17, 2012 

Essay #42 


Guest Essayist: 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: George Landrith, an attorney and President of Frontiers of Freedom

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 Tenth Amendment:
Protecting Freedom Against Big Government

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 Tenth Amendment protects Americans from big, intrusive federal government action. The heart of the Tenth Amendment is that the federal government has only those powers explicitly listed in the Constitution and all other powers are reserved to the States and to the people, and therefore explicitly denied to the federal government.

In contrast, state governments have all powers not explicitly prohibited or withheld by the state constitution or by the U.S. Constitution. Thus, states have broader powers and can, do things that Congress cannot do. For example, states can require young students to attend school and drivers to purchase automobile insurance.

Too often those in Congress and the White House assume that the federal government can do whatever the majority wishes. However, the Founders clearly and explicitly intended to prevent the majority from doing whatever it wished. Thus, they gave the federal government a very limited and carefully chosen list of powers and they reserved all other powers for the states and the people. They also provided an elaborate system of checks and balances – all to limit the power of the majority to impose its will.

The Founders felt so strongly about limited federal power as a bulwark of liberty that they added the Ten Amendment as the final exclamation point in the Bill of Rights – the federal government could not trample the rights of the people by assuming powers that it did not have, and that had been reserved to the states and the people.

At the heart of the debate over Obamacare before the Supreme Court is the question – does the federal government have the authority under the U.S. Constitution to require citizens to purchase a product? If the justices can read and understand the simple language of the Constitution, they will strike down the law because the federal government does not have the authority to do what it attempted to do in this statute.

This author is not a supporter of the Massachusetts healthcare law, but it is constitutional. There are significant differences between the Massachusetts law and ObamaCare, but perhaps the biggest difference is that Massachusetts had the authority to pass its healthcare law. That doesn’t mean it was a good idea, it just means it was constitutional. But the federal government did not have the authority to pass Obamacare. Obamacare exceeds the enumerated and limited powers given to the federal government and the limitations of the Tenth Amendment.

The Tenth Amendment is also an explicit statement of the governing principle of federalism. Federalism is the idea that there is a national government with limited powers and there are state governments with broader powers, both receiving their authority from the people. Simply stated, federalism recognizes the fact that the states are not merely political subdivisions of the federal government, but that they are separate governmental units that derive their power directly from the people and not from the federal government.

These are not old fashioned or outdated ideas. They constitute real and practical protections against the bullying powers of big government on the federal level. The Founders put in place checks and balances, limitations on power, and divisions of power – all designed to keep federal government from becoming too big, too powerful, and too intrusive. The Tenth Amendment is key to their wise designs to limit the power and scope of the federal government.

George Landrith is an attorney and the President of Frontiers of Freedom

April 13, 2012

Essay #40

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

Amendment IX:

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

In the waning days of the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, George Mason of Virginia, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and Luther Martin of Maryland began pressing for the addition of a comprehensive bill of rights to the final draft of the Constitution.  Roger Sherman of Connecticut immediately rejected their plea.  A bill of rights, he said, was unnecessary because “The State Declarations of Rights are not repealed by this Constitution; and being in force are sufficient….”  Sherman, a man who Thomas Jefferson regarded as one of the finest statesmen of the founding generation, reasoned that because the Constitution was mute on civil liberties and because it was a document with delegated and enumerated powers for the general purposes of the Union—the States United—the general government could no more legislate on matters of trial by jury than it could on the minutia of state law.  Gerry’s proposal to form a committee to draft of a bill of rights was unanimously defeated (votes were by State), and as a result Mason said he would rather cut off his right hand than sign the document.  This exchange began the process for codifying the language of the Ninth Amendment.

During the ratifying process in the State conventions, several leading proponents of the document made arguments against a bill of rights that mirrored those Sherman gave in the Philadelphia Convention.  James Wilson of Pennsylvania, perhaps the most ardent nationalist among the founding generation, said in the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention that “A bill of rights annexed to a constitution is an enumeration of the powers reserved.  If we attempt an enumeration, every thing that is not enumerated is presumed to be given.  The consequence is, that an imperfect enumeration would throw all implied power into the scale of the government, and the rights of the people would be rendered incomplete.”

Alexander Hamilton of New York, the most famous nationalist of the founding period, echoed Wilson in Federalist No. 84.  Adding a bill of rights, he said, “would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than were granted.  For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”   Both Hamilton and Wilson contended that a bill of rights would destroy liberty rather than protect it by allowing scheming men to enlarge the power of the central authority.  In short, if a particular liberty was not protected by the list of rights, they believed it could be assumed that the government had the power to abridge that liberty.  And, since all powers delegated to the general government were enumerated in the Constitution, they wondered why open that Pandora’s Box?

Thus, the modern Ninth Amendment was born.  As proposals for a bill of rights flooded into James Madison’s hands in the months after the Constitution was ratified, he quickly realized that individuals needed assurances that their liberties would not be circumscribed by the Constitution nor would they be left to flutter in the wind should ambitious men usurp power from the States or the people.  The Tenth Amendment protects the States and most importantly the federal compact among the States.  The Ninth does the same for the people individually by implicitly recognizing the validity—and to the founding generation supremacy—of the several State declaration of rights.  It is an enhancer.  The original preamble to the Bill of Rights expressly stated that they were “restricting clauses” on the general government only.  The Ninth Amendment ensured that the powers of the general government as operating on individuals would be further checked by the States.  State declaration of rights often tended to be more detailed and comprehensive and therefore served as a more effective shield for the people.

Madison said in 1789 that Hamilton’s argument against the Bill of Rights was “one of the most plausible…I have ever heard against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against.”  He was referring to the Ninth Amendment.  Of course, the powers of the general government in the modern era have spiraled out of control and today the two most ignored Amendments in the Bill of Rights are the Ninth and Tenth, arguably the most important Amendments to the founding generation.  The States have always stood at the vanguard of individual liberty.  American citizens should remember that their first line of defense against both the State and Federal government rests in their separate State bill of rights.  The founding generation believed that those declared rights coupled with the Ninth Amendment would prevent the modern leviathan in Washington D.C.  We need to protect their legacy.

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 11, 2012 

Essay #38 

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: Matthew Mehan, Publius Fellow and U.S. History Teacher

Amendment VIII:

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

The adoption of this terse amendment, the shortest of them all, inspired very little debate among our founding fathers. These sixteen words reflect the hard-won and long-defended consensus of free society that just government remains so only if its punishments correspond proportionally to the crimes committed.  The 8th Amendment stands as a testament to the humanism of our Constitution, which makes clear that the government of a free people must be known not for its severity, but instead for its measured humanity.

Each of the three components of the amendment aim to limit one of the government’s discretionary powers: (1) setting bail; (2) imposing fines; and (3) sentencing.  The amendment implicitly recommends that the legislature specify proportional guidelines for these broad powers: how much bail; how high the fines; and how long or difficult the sentence.  The wisdom of having such an amendment stems from abuse of these powers dating back as far as the expansion of monarchical courts under William the Conqueror. William’s descendent, King John, saw these powers greatly limited by the Magna Charta, which sought to reign in the king’s unlawful use of royal courts.  And the language of the 8th Amendment is taken almost word for word from the 1689 English Bill of Rights, which reaffirmed these limitations on the monarch, in this case, the Stuart dynasts.  And in our own day, for the “excessive fines” clause to be applied, the Supreme Court ruled as recently as 1993 that “there must be a payment to a sovereign as punishment for some offense.”  From its historical origins to the present day, the amendment’s primary focus has remained the same: the restriction of the sovereign government in favor of the liberty of a defendant.  The 8th Amendment goes further than enumerate a federal power; it advises the legislature to do what the common law has always done, namely specify, as Blackstone put it, “the nature, though not the quantity or degree, of punishment…for every offence….”  By doing so, the amendment protects the liberty of all, “for,” as Blackstone continues, “if judgments were to be the private opinions of the judge, men would then be slaves to their magistrates; and would live in society, without knowing exactly the conditions and obligations which it lays them under.”

A humane and just government, therefore, must permit reasonable accommodation for pre-trial liberty for those accused of a crime but not yet convicted.  Thus, (1) “excessive bail shall not be required” because, if a citizen is innocent until proven guilty, then the citizen ought to have his or her liberty by means of reasonable bail even when accused.  The Supreme Court has upheld some exceptions for those accused of particularly dangerous crimes, but overall, the amendment and subsequent case law have protected citizens’ pre-trial liberty and right to post bail.

A humane and just government must not (2) impose “excessive fines.”  The 8th Amendment has been used by the courts to limit fines and penalties on the basis established in a 1998 case that those fines were “grossly disproportional to the gravity of a defendant’s offense.”  By limiting the potentially capricious punishment of excessive fines, the amendment has made for a more peaceful and predictable civil society, one freer from unforeseen onerous fines, which confiscate property and lead to possible imprisonment.

And finally, a humane and just government does not (3) inflict “cruel and unusual punishment.”  The Supreme Court first saw this clause as a bar on brutal punishments extant at the time of the founders, horrors such as disembowelment or being dragged to execution.  But the Warren court and due process has expanded this clause’s application to a whole host of considerations as to what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” including deciding whether capital punishment is a disproportional penalty for certain crimes.  While perhaps our founders would not have approved of its modern and wider application, nevertheless, the 8th amendment continues to function as a warning to government lest it become too severe or capricious in its task of punishment.

Matthew Mehan is, among other things, a U.S. history teacher in Washington DC.

April 9, 2012

Essay #36

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: 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: Nathaniel Stewart, Attorney

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.


Sixth Amendment Overview

The Sixth Amendment is the centerpiece of constitutional criminal procedure.  It forms the framework, the underlying first principles governing the process by which our society will try and treat those accused of a crime.  As the English legal philosopher, William Blackstone, famously quipped, “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” expressing the ancient axiom—dating even to Genesis—that the law should be made to punish the guilty, but not the innocent.[1]

The Sixth Amendment sets out the legal strictures and protections designed to protect society from its criminals, and protect the innocent from society.  To secure these protections, the Amendment prescribes three sets of rights: (1) the right to a speedy trial; (2) the right to a public trial; and (3) the right to a fair trial.

The Founding-generation was well aware that a speedy trial was a fundamental right of Englishmen.  It was approved by the First Congress without discussion.  The right to a speedy trial protects several related liberty interests, namely, the individual’s interests in avoiding a prolonged pretrial detention and in minimizing reputational damage due to an unjust or false accusation.  It protects the innocent from suffering a de facto punishment—a lengthy pre-trial detention—before ever having the chance to defend himself.  Furthermore, ensuring a speedy trial also helps to facilitate a fair trial—one designed to discover the truth of the matter, not just a verdict—since a prolonged delay may harm the accused’s legal defense as memories fade, evidence is lost or destroyed, or witnesses die or move away.  The Founders made sure that the government could not merely charge the accused with a crime, infringe upon his liberties, damage his public reputation, and then fail to give him a legal forum for mounting a defense and clearing himself of the allegations.  A defense must be afforded quickly, for as another old saying goes, “justice delayed is justice denied.”[2]

The right to a public trial is “a trial of, by, and before the people.”[3] As one legal scholar succinctly put it, a trial should be “a public thing, the people’s thing,” and included in the right to a public trial are “the rights to (a) a trial held in public, (b) featuring an impartial jury of the people, (c) who come from the community where the crime occurred.”[4] The Founders would not sanction secret criminal proceedings, and there was a deep Anglo-American tradition that trials be open and public spectacles.  The Supreme Court acknowledged as much when it wrote: “by immemorial usage, wherever the common law prevails, all trials are in open court, to which spectators are admitted.”[5] Public trials serve a number of purposes in a number of ways, chief among them an added protection for the innocent.  As Professor Amar has noted, “Witnesses for the prosecution may be less willing to lie or shade the truth with the public looking on; and bystanders with knowledge of the underlying events can bring missing information to the attention of the court and counsel.  A defendant will be convicted only if the people of the community (via the jury) believe the criminal accusation—believe both that he did the acts he is accused of, and that these acts are indeed criminal and worthy of the community’s moral condemnation.”[6]

Finally, the Sixth Amendment’s protections provide the accused with a fair trial, affording him protections against an erroneous guilty verdict.  We see this expressed in the constitutional right to an attorney—that is, the right to defense counsel—and “to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation,” as well as the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him,” and the right to obtain “witnesses in his favor.” The process for trying the accused is to be fair and impartial.  If the government can martial its lawyers to prosecute, the accused must be entitled to the same.  If the government can prepare its case for accusation, the accused must know of the charges.  If the government can bring forth witnesses to testify against the defendant, the defendant must be allowed to confront them in open court and before a jury of his peers, and he is entitled to call witnesses on his own behalf.  These procedural protections, too, are part and parcel of a Constitution constructed with deliberate checks and balances designed to preserve both liberty and order in a free society.

The constitutional right to a speedy, public, and fair trial at least helps to ensure—though it cannot guarantee—a just result, and it encourages the public’s continued confidence in a criminal justice system whereby all men are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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

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March 30, 2012

Essay #30

[1] See, Genesis 18:23-32: “Abraham drew near, and said, ‘Will you consume the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it?[3] … What if ten are found there?’ He [The Lord] said, ‘I will not destroy it for the ten’s sake.’”

[2] Often attributed to William Gladstone.

[3] Akhil Reed Amar, “Forward: Sixth Amendment First Principles,” 84 Georgetown L. J. 64 (1996).

[4] Id.

[5] In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257 (1948).

[6] Akhil Reed Amar, “Forward: Sixth Amendment First Principles,” 84 Georgetown L. J. 64 (1996).


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: 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: Michelle Griffes, Manager of Programs and Curriculum Development at the Bill of Rights Institute

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.

Movies and television shows have popularized Fifth Amendment protections like “grand jury indictment,” “double jeopardy,” “pleading the Fifth,” and “due process,” but do Americans truly know what these clauses protect? Do Americans understand what their lives would be like without the protections of the Fifth Amendment? In order to explain the Fifth Amendment in its entirety, we will explore each of the five clauses of the Fifth Amendment, the basic history of the clause, and the protections provided by the clause.

The first clause in the Fifth Amendment reads: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury.” According to the Handbook for Federal Grand Jurors, a grand jury hears evidence against an accused person from the United States Attorney or Assistant United States Attorney in order to determine whether he or she should be brought to trial. The U.S. Attorney then has to approve the indictment as a check on the grand jury. [1] Grand juries were first recognized in the Magna Carta in 1215. As British subjects moved to North America,, they brought English common law practices, including grand juries, with them. Eventually, indictments for capital crimes by grand juries were ensrhined in the Bill of Rights.

The second clause in the Fifth Amendment states: “Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This clause is commonly known as “double jeopardy” and prevents a defendant from being charged for the same crime after acquittal, conviction, certain mistrials, or multiple punishments. The portion of the clause that refers to “life and limb” is derived from the possibility of capital punishment. [2] Protections against double jeopardy can be found as far back as the Old Testament and ancient Roman law. [3] Double jeopardy can be complicated by the differences between criminal and civil cases and state and federal cases. O.J. Simpson, for example, was acquitted in a criminal murder case, but he was found guilty in a civil case. Hate crime statues also challenge double jeopardy protections, with some arguing that trying defendants for a hate crime after acquittal in a criminal case constitutes double jeopardy.

The Fifth Amendment also promises: “nor shall [any person] be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This is the famed “pleading the Fifth” assertion we often hear in American vernacular. The clause protects individuals from answering questions or making statements that might be used as evidence against them. [4] This protection was expanded outside the courtroom with the United States Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona, 1966. The Court ruled that the self-incrimination clause also applied in police interrogation. [5]

“[No person shall] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” is the fourth clause of the Fifth Amendment. Due process was first protected under the Magna Carta in which King John promised that he would act in accordance with the law through procedures. The U.S. government provided for due process rights in the Fourth Amendment and in the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In order to ensure justice, established procedures must be followed before depriving people of life, liberty, or property. These procedures include the rights to a speedy jury trial, an impartial jury, and to defend oneself. [6]

Property is first mentioned as part of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, but private property is mentioned again in the final clause. The clause states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” If the state or federal government decides to take private property for public use, they must compensate the owners for that use. This is known as the “takings clause” or “eminent domain.”[7] Supreme Court has held that just compensation is measured by the current market value of the property. [8]

While Americans may hear about the Fifth Amendment protections regularly, they may not really understand the specific rights enumerated in each clause. The Fifth Amendment provides for grand jury indictments in capital crimes, protections against double jeopardy and self-incrimination, and protections of due process rights and just compensation for public use of private property. Each of these rights has a history in English common law or as far back as the Roman Empire, and the Founding Fathers believed that they needed to be explicitly provided for in our own government documents to ensure their protection.
1. Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Washington, D.C. “Handbook for Federal Grand Jurors.”

October, 2007.
2. Find Law. “Cases and Codes, U.S. Constitution: Fifth Amendment.”
3. David S. Rudstein. “A Brief History of the Fifth Amendment Guarantee Against Double Jeopardy.” 14 Wm. & Mary Bill of Rts. J. 193 (2005),
4. Find Law. “Fifth Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination.”
5. The Oyez Project. “Miranda v. Arizona, 1966”
6. Cornell University School of Law. “Due Process.”
7. Missouri Bar Center. “What is Eminent Domain?”
8. The Oyez Project. “United States v. 50 Acres of Land, 1984.”

Michelle Griffes is the Manager of Programs and Curriculum Development at the Bill of Rights Institute, an Arlington, Virginia-based educational non-profit. Michelle obtained degrees from Michigan State University in Public Policy and Olivet College in Elementary and Secondary Education. The Bill of Rights Institute teaches students about the Founding Documents through teacher professional development seminars, curriculum production, and student programs including the annual Being An American Essay Contest.

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March 21, 2012

Essay #23

Guest Essayist: Gordon S. Jones, Utah Valley 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.

“…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The power to take private property is not one of the “enumerated” powers set forth in the Constitution. But as a practical matter, one of the things that makes a government a government appears to be the power to take property. That right is called “condemnation,” or the power of “eminent domain.”

The theory is that without government, any private property is subject to confiscation by anybody stronger. Governments (and especially ours) exist to protect property from such arbitrary takings. The Declaration of Independence identifies “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as among the “inalienable rights,” but the Founding Fathers, relying on English theorist John Locke, understood “happiness” to include the right to private property. Early uses of this phrase actually say “life, liberty, and property.” Alexander Hamilton described “the security of property” as one of the primary purposes of government.

With the “takings” clause of the Fifth Amendment, Founding Father James Madison was only trying to provide property owners with at least the assurance that proper procedures would have to be observed in takings, and that owners would at least get something for their loss.

There are a number of concepts that need to be explored in understanding the Takings Clause: what is a “taking,” what is “public use,” and what is “just compensation”?

If the government takes your farm and builds a military base on it – occupies it – that is obviously a “taking.” But what if you own property on top of a mountain, and you want to build five houses on it that you can sell for $1 million each. Government tells you that you can only build one house there, and that house will sell for only $1.5 million. Has the government “taken” $3.5 million from you?

If a Forest Ranger discovers a spotted owl nesting in your tree farm, you may not be allowed to cut the trees. Has government “taken” the value of the timber?

These are the kinds of questions governments and courts ask in deciding whether property has been “taken.” It would be nice to think that, after more than 200 years, we had clear answers to these and similar questions, but the fact is, we don’t. One Supreme Court Justice said that government could impair the value of property by regulation without paying compensation as long as it didn’t go “too far.” Not exactly the clearest standard.

What about “public use”?

If your county government takes your property and builds an airport on it (or a school or hospital), most would agree that the property had been taken for a “public use.” On the other hand, what if the property was taken and sold to a private developer who built an office building on it? Would that be a “public” use? Probably not, but if the property were in a run-down (“blighted”) area of town, and the development eliminated a row of crack houses and re-vitalized the economics and livability of the neighborhood, the courts might find such a taking justified (and therefore constitutional).

Again, you might think that there is a lot of “wiggle room” in these judgments, and you would be right. Some years ago, the State of Hawaii forced private landowners to sell their land to tenants. The Supreme Court upheld the forced sales as being for a “public use.” We might think such a judgment obviously wrong, but we might change our mind if we knew that in Hawaii at that time 72 owners had inherited from ancient times more than 90 percent of the private land in the islands.

A more questionable case occurred in 2005, when the city of New London, Connecticut took several private homes and sold them to a private developer for an office building. There was no question of “blight” in this case, but the city argued that it would get more tax revenue from the office building than it was getting from the private homes, so that the “public” would benefit. This case (Kelo vs. New London) generated a firestorm of opposition, moving many states to strengthen the safeguards on their eminent domain procedures. Critics of the Kelo decision argue that it has changed the words “public use” to the much looser “public purpose.”

Finally, what is “just compensation”? If the city wants to build a road across my property and offers me $1 million for it, I might consider that “just,” and be happy to take it. On the other hand, if my grandfather is buried there, no amount of money could tempt me to sell willingly.

Governments have set up procedures for determining what the “fair market value” is for any property subject to condemnation. These involve the use of real estate appraisers, economists, and planning forecasters. They also typically involve extensive negotiations, which can be expensive for a private landowner – so expensive that the landowner eventually gives up and gives in to the government, which has all the resources of the taxpayer to call on to finance its battle.

The right to own property is part of what the Founding Fathers called the “natural law,” one of the “inalienable rights” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution was written for the purpose of “ensuring” those rights, so we should be very suspicious of governmental power that infringes the enjoyment of property rights. But it is obvious that completely unfettered use of property by one person could infringe the rights of other property owners. At the present time, the system we use to reconcile conflicting – or potentially conflicting – rights is the power of eminent domain, hedged up, as it must always be, with the procedural safeguards guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment: that the “taking” be for a “public use,” and that it be accomplished by “just compensation.”

Gordon Jones, a long-time policy analyst in Washington, studied constitutional Law with Robert Horn at Stanford University, has his Master of Philosophy in Political Science from George Washington University, and teaches Law and Politics at Utah Valley University.

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March 20, 2012

Essay #22

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

Amendment V:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 15, 2012 

Essay #19 

Guest Essayist: Allison R. Hayward, Vice President of Policy at the Center for Competitive Politics

The Right to a Grand Jury

The grand jury occupies a unique place in our justice system.  It does not prosecute, but the power of a federal prosecutor depends on the grand jury.  It does not judge, but it can expose or shield defendants from judgment.  It can protect citizens against baseless prosecution, but the reasons for its decisions are shrouded in secrecy.  The grand jury originated in medieval and monarchist England, remained important enough at the Founding for the Framers to enshrine it in the Fifth Amendment, but today grand juries are only employed in the United States.

A grand jury consists of 16 to 23 members.  The United States attorney (the prosecutor in federal criminal cases) presents evidence to the grand jury for them to determine whether there is “probable cause” to believe that an individual has committed a felony and should be put on trial. If the grand jury decides there is enough evidence, it will issue an indictment against the defendant.

The grand jury conducts its work in secret. Jurors cannot be required to explain to anyone, even the courts, why the proceeded in a case. Ideally, secrecy protects against a defendant fleeing the jurisdiction.  It allows for free deliberations without threat or pressure from outside.   It also discourages witness tampering.   And finally, if the jury finds probable cause is lacking, the accused individual suffers no loss of reputation.

Grand juries possess broad powers of inquiry. They have subpoena power, and can compel testimony by providing immunity.  At the same time, their proceedings are not adversarial.  The jury is not assessing the guilt or innocence of any person.

As the Supreme Court stated, ”it is axiomatic that the grand jury sits … to assess whether there is adequate basis for bringing a criminal charge.” U.S. v. Williams, 504 U.S. at 51.

The insular quality to grand juries has provoked criticism.  Because the prosecutor is the one official present during deliberations, critics complain that grand juries can become a rubber stamp — aiding unscrupulous or ambitious prosecutors, who may be pursuing interests hostile to the administration of justice.  While the grand jury is enshrined in the Constitution, Congress has the power to amend the rules by which juries are run.  For instance, Congress could require prosecutors to present any evidence exonerating a defendant, give a defendant the right to appear before the jury, or guarantee a counsel’s assistance for any defendant or target of an investigation.

Allison Hayward graduated from Stanford University with degrees in political science and economics, and received her law degree from the University of California, Davis.  She clerked for Judge Danny J. Boggs of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Hayward is Chairman of the Federalist Society’s Free Speech and Election Law Practice Group. She also serves on the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics.  She is an active member of the California and Washington, D.C. bars, and she is a certified FINRA arbitrator.

March 14, 2012 

Essay #18 

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: 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: William Morrisey, William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College

Amendment III

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

Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, author of perhaps the best commentary on the Constitution, wasted little time with the Third Amendment: “This provision speaks for itself.”  So it does, but a few words of background can explain why the United States Congress and the people they represented thought it worth adding.

During the French and Indian War the British found themselves harried by what we would now call guerrilla strikes.  They had some regular army bases—some of the best of them along the border with Quebec. But given the character of the war they were fighting they needed to move forces quickly into undefended areas to counter French and Indian raiders.  And so they would occupy an unsecured and threatened area—protecting the lives and property of the local citizens in exchange for the commandeered use of the locals’ property for that purpose.

After the war, this practice (as our saying now goes) got old in a hurry.  By 1765, Benjamin Franklin complained that “there are no want of barracks in Quebec, or any part of American; but if an increase of them is necessary, at whose expense should that be?”  Surely not that of private citizens. To Franklin’s complaint about property rights, Samuel Adams added a political one: “where military power is introduced, military maxims are propagated and adopted, which are inconsistent with and must soon eradicate every idea of civil government.”  By occupying the property of private landowners, the British Army acted as if a law unto itself.

Colonists’ outrage heightened in Adams’s own Boston, where the early stirrings of armed resistance to British occupation provoked the Parliament to pass the Intolerable Acts (as the colonists called them), making any public gathering an act of treason and formally providing for quartering troops in private homes.  Upon founding the Union in 1774, Americans saw their representatives in the Continental Congress pass a law in favor of “the better providing suitable quarters for officers and soldiers in his majesty’s service, in North America.”  Once resolved upon independence, the colonists listed the British practice among the grievances proving the tyrannical character of George III’s rule.

The lack of such a provision numbered among the several complaints lodged against the 1787 Constitution by the Anti-Federalists during the ratification fight.  After the Constitution passed—barely, in several states—James Madison and the first United States Congress took up the matter of amendments.  One of the strongest advocates of what would become the Third Amendment was Thomas Sumter of South Carolina; the Carolina Gamecock had won his nickname by inducing Lord Cornwallis to get out of the deep south, moving on toward his unlucky fate at the hands of Washington and the French Navy at Yorktown, Virginia.  Beyond property rights and politics, Sumter went to the intimate heart of the matter: property occupied by soldiers “would lie at the mercy of men irritated by a refusal”—men expecting obedience to the orders they issue—“and well disposed to destroy the peace of the family.”  With that gentlemanly description of ungentlemanly conduct ringing in their ears, the Congressmen gladly passed the amendment.

Notice the important caveat.  Times of extreme emergency may require the risk and burden of quartering troops in private homes.  Accordingly, Congress provided that the practice might be renewed by legislative act.  The lives, liberties, and property of American citizens, even the sanctity of the family, might under certain conditions be more at risk from an enemy force than from the forces charged to defend them.  Then and only then would a Congress or a state legislature dare to enact such a measure.

Although one shouldn’t read much into the order of the first ten amendments (famously, the First Amendment is first only by accident), the placement of the Third Amendment does make good sense.  It follows the Second Amendment stipulation of the right to bear arms; an American household usually can defend itself if family members are rightly armed and trained.  It precedes the Fourth Amendments stipulation of security against unreasonable searches and seizures.  The right to be free of military occupation in one’s own home from one’s own citizen-army sits well between the rights of self-defense and of the orderly rule of law.

Will Morrisey holds the William and Patricia LaMothe Chair in the United States Constitution at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan, where he has taught since 2000.

March 7, 2012 

Essay #13 

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 

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.

In the American political tradition, we often refer to the freedoms of religion, speech, press, and assembly as our “first freedoms”; first not only because they are protected by the First Amendment to our Constitution but also because the freedom to speak, write, worship, and assemble peacefully is central to any conception of liberty worthy of the name. As Justice Benjamin Cardozo noted in an important Supreme Court case in 1937, the “freedom of thought and speech” is the “matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.”

But simply declaring, as the First Amendment does, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” or “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of people peaceably to assemble” does not immediately settle our current debates about the shape this freedom should take in political life. For the government will, as it always has, make some speech—libel, fraud, perjury, etc.—subject to criminal sanctions. The question we are constantly wrestling with is where the line between protected an unprotected speech is to be drawn. Just last week, for example, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States v. Alvarez, a case challenging a congressional act that made it a crime to claim falsely to have won a military honor.

Xavier Alvarez, an elected member of a local government board in eastern Los Angeles County, told a group of people in 2007 that he was a retired marine of 25 years and that he had been awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic military service. Although he and his lawyers admit there was no truth to these claims, Alvarez nonetheless insists he had a constitutional right to make them. Whatever the Supreme Court decides, the outcome will depend on answers to some weighty questions– What is the purpose of the freedom of speech? Why do we have it? And are some types of speech beyond the pale of what is legitimately protected by the Constitution? The same may be said about the limits of religion and assembly, for we are always debating these anew. Is the Obama Administration’s mandate that religious organizations cover contraception, abortafacient drugs, and sterilization in their health insurance policies an affront to religious liberty? Should religious employers be subject to federal anti-discrimination laws? Is there a right to picket at the funerals of military servicemen? Can people simply campout in public spaces without appropriate permits?

To begin to answer these questions, it seems we must think through and understand our entire scheme of constitutional government. In a regime that seeks to protect the rights of individuals and create space for the vital institutions of civil society, we must balance the legitimate need for law and order against principled limits on government power. As the Founders were well aware, a legislature, made of ambitious and imperfect men, will, if left unchecked, draw “all power into its impetuous vortex.” The freedoms in the First Amendment stand as a bulwark against this type of concentration of power, first by protecting the liberty of conscience and the rights of religious and civic organizations and, second, by reminding successive generations about the rights that are indispensable to a free society. The power and force of the First Amendment is muted, however, if citizens are not educated and engaged. As the principal author of the First Amendment, James Madison, acknowledged, the “only guardian of true liberty” in a republican regime is, at the end of the day, the widespread “advancement and diffusion of knowledge.”

Justin Dyer, Ph.D. teaches political science at the University of Missouri, and he is the author of Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition (Cambridge University Press).

Friday, March 2, 2012 

Essay #10 


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

It is a commonplace to trace the origins of the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances to Magna Carta in 1215. There, Barons displeased with King John’s pretension to absolute, forced him to agree to specific limitations on his authority in deference to that of the nobility. Chapter 61 of the Great Charter ( provides:

Since, moveover, for God and the amendment of our kingdom and for the better allaying of the quarrel that has arisen between us and our barons, we have granted all these concessions, desirous that they should enjoy them in complete and firm endurance forever, we give and grant to them the underwritten security, namely, that the barons choose five and twenty barons of the kingdom, whomsoever they will, who shall be bound with all their might, to observe and hold, and cause to be observed, the peace and liberties we have granted and confirmed to them by this our present Charter, so that if we, or our justiciar, or our bailiffs or any one of our officers, shall in anything be at fault towards anyone, or shall have broken any one of the articles of this peace or of this security, and the offense be notified to four barons of the foresaid five and twenty, the said four barons shall repair to us (or our justiciar, if we are out of the realm) and, laying the transgression before us, petition to have that transgression redressed without delay. [Emphasis added]

Philip Kurland and Ralph Lerner’s invaluable The Founders’ Constitution contains in its section on the First Amendment the report ( of the 1688 “Trial of the Seven Bishops for Publishing a Libel.” The bishops were accused of libel when they attempted to petition King James II in protest of his declaration of limited religious freedom for Catholics and other dissenters from the Church of England. They were found not guilty after a trial in the Court of King’s Bench in which Justice Holloway told the jury:

Gentlemen, the end and intention of every action is to be considered; and likewise, in this case, we are to consider the nature of the offence that these noble persons are charged with; it is for delivering a petition, which, according as they have made their defence, was with all the humility and decency that could be: so that if there was no ill intent, and they were not (as it is not, nor can be pretended they were) men of evil lives, or the like, to deliver a petition cannot be a fault, it being the right of every subject to petition. If you are satisfied there was an ill intention of sedition, or the like, you ought to find them guilty: but if there be nothing in the case that you find, but only that they did deliver a petition to save themselves harmless, and to free themselves from blame, by shewing the reason of their disobedience to the king’s command, which they apprehended to be a grievance to them, and which they could not in conscience give obedience to, I cannot think it is a libel: it is left to you, gentlemen, but that is my opinion.

The 1689 Bill of Rights ( explicitly protected “the right of the subjects to petition the king” and said “all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal.”

By the time the first amendments to the new United States Constitution were being considered in 1789, the right to petition was well established in U.S. practice. The colonies had widely recognized and employed the right of citizens to petition their government. The Declaration of Independence ( singled out the Crown’s treatment of colonists’ petitions for redress (“Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”) in its list of grievances. The debate over the initial proposal of the First Amendment recognition “that these rights belonged to the people” and the drafters “conceived them to be inherent; and all that they meant to provide was against their being infringed by the government.” The First Amendment’s explicit protection of the right from Congressional interference was not a novel development.

After John Quincy Adams left the presidency in 1829, he became embroiled in the most significant right of petition controversy in U.S. history. He had been elected to Congress and began presenting petitions in behalf of citizens calling for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. In the 1830s, a swelling number of petitions from abolitionists were being presented to Congress and the practice at that time of considering all petitions made the growing number seem unmanageable to some. Additionally, defenders of slavery preferred to silence the clamor over the terrible practice. In 1836, Congress adopted (117-68) a resolution: “That all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers, relating in any way or to any extent whatever, to the subject of slavery, or to the abolition of slavery, shall, without being printed or referred, be laid upon the table, and that no further action whatever shall be had thereon.” Adams called this new “gag rule” “a direct violation of the constitution of the United States, the rules of this House, and the rights of my constituents” and worked for eight years to see it repealed. In 1844, Representative Adams moved a resolution to revoke the rule (which had become a standing rule in 1840) that was adopted 108-80. This marked the high water mark of petitioning and in the aftermath, the right was “little exercised in the aftermath of the gag rule.” David C. Frederick, “John Quincy Adams, Slavery, and the Right of Petition” 9 Law & History Review 113 (Spring 1991).

These stories trace in broad outlines the “rise and fall” of the petition right; more accurately, the slow development, acceptance and constitutionalization, and relatively swift descent into disuse of this valuable right. Since the antebellum period, the right of petition has been largely neglected, though it is occasionally the subject of litigation and the U.S. Supreme Court decided a petition clause case, Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri, in 2011 (

Joseph Story describes the petition right as resulting “from the very nature of [the] structure and institutions” of “a republican government.” (Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution, vol. 3, §1887 at This comment may provide a clue to the relative disuse of the right since the Civil War. With the extension of the franchise to more and more Americans, the ability to directly communicate desires and disapproval to elected representatives by voting and through political parties, has probably eclipsed the importance of petitioning. Coupled with the enhanced status of the right of free speech and advances in communications technology, which fill many of the practical roles (such as providing information to legislatures and allowing citizens to express their opinions) that formal petitions served, the practice of petitioning Congress is not likely to make a resurgence.

This is not to say that the principles it protected are not still vital. The tendency of courts and the executive branch to make decisions previously understood to be only the province of the legislature, threaten the principles of representative government and can serve to exclude all but the most well-connected from influencing government. A proper understanding of what the right to petition was meant to protect could be a helpful spur to citizens to insist that its spirit—the ability of citizens to affect the legislative process—be respected and re-enthroned as a foundation of constitutional government.

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 1, 2012 

Essay #9

Guest Essayist: James C. Duff, CEO of the Newseum and the Diversity Institute, and President and CEO of the Freedom Forum

“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of … the press ….”  Those words, along with all others in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, are engraved in the 74 foot high marble wall on the front of the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.  The words are simple.  Enforcing those words – though not always easy or successful – is crucial to our democracy.

I recently saw a friend touring the Newseum who told me of a Russian visitor’s observation about our freedoms.  The visitor said, “We have freedom of the press in Russia too.  The difference in America is you remain free after you publish.”  His comment is both humorous and profound.

Many countries have a Bill of Rights.  Very few have mechanisms to enforce and preserve those rights.  What distinguishes our system of government from most others in the world?  What breathes life into our Constitutional freedoms?  We are indebted to our founders for the brilliant system of checks and balances of power built into our Constitution.  One of the most important checks on power is an independent and free press, “designed to serve as a powerful antidote to any abuses of power by governmental officials” as the Supreme Court noted in Mills v. Alabama (1966).

How do the mechanics and the design of the “powerful antidote” work?  Suppose Congress does make a law that abridges the freedom of the press.  In the United States, the press is free to challenge the law not only in print and other media, but also in court.  Once in court, an independent Judiciary is free to declare such a law unconstitutional and preserve the press’ freedom.  If Congress attempts to undercut the power of the Judiciary by, for example, requiring judges to explain their decisions to a Congressional committee or face impeachment for an unpopular decision, the press can expose the attempt and bring public pressure to bear on Congress.  Such critical analysis, coupled with an engaged and educated public can prevent the evisceration of an independent Judiciary (in this example) or other intrusions by one branch on another’s responsibilities.  The mechanics are circular and the gears work – most of the time.

Our history is certainly full of examples of a free and independent press exposing abuses of power by governmental officials.  Unfortunately, there are also examples in our history in which we have failed to enforce the freedom of press embodied in the First Amendment.

Only seven years after the ratification of the First Amendment, a Federalist-dominated Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1798, a tool used to suppress the contrary views of Democratic – Republican newspaper editors.  For example, Matthew Lyon, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Vermont and newspaper owner, was put in jail for referring to President John Adams’ “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice.”  It became abundantly clear that the Act was unconstitutional, and a new Congress allowed the Act to expire in 1801 but not before several egregious suppressions of a free press had occurred.

There are several other examples of suppression of the press in our history, notably during periods of war.  Abolitionist newspapers were torched in the 1830’s.  During the Civil War, the Lincoln Administration ordered the closure of several newspapers and the arrests of several newspaper editors who opposed the Union efforts.  During World War I, Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917, President Woodrow Wilson invoked it aggressively to suppress publications opposing to the draft, and in 1919 the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the convictions of Charles Schenck and Elizabeth Baer who had been convicted of violating the act when they printed leaflets urging draftees to resist the draft.  Similarly, the mailing privileges of the Milwaukee Leader were revoked by the Postmaster General during World War I because he concluded that their articles were interfering with the military’s efforts.  The Supreme Court upheld the Postmaster General’s actions.

In retrospect, it might appear that many of these historic suppressions of a free press could not occur in the United States today and that we have made significant progress and learned from those experiences.  During times of conflict, however, our country has compromised on freedom of the press.  Whether these particular examples could be repeated or not, they demonstrate that even with the protections clearly provided in our Constitution, and even with the best form of government ever devised to ensure those protections, ultimately the best defense of our Constitutional freedoms depends on an attentive, educated and engaged citizenry.

That is why the civic education efforts of Constituting America and the Freedom Forum are so vitally important to our future.

James C. Duff is the President and chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum and CEO of the Newseum and the Diversity Institute.  Mr. Duff is the former Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, former Counselor to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and former Chairman of the U.S. Supreme Court Fellows Commission.

February 28, 2012 

Essay #7 


Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 27, 2012 

Essay #6 

Guest Essayist:David J. Bobb, Ph.D., director of the Hillsdale College Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, in Washington, D.C.

The First Amendment:  The Establishment Clause

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment might be less well known today than “the wall of separation between church and state” metaphor used by President Thomas Jefferson in an 1802 letter.  This misinterpreted metaphor has come to define the modern debate over church and state, leading many Americans to believe that the Constitution calls for the strict separation of religion and politics.

In fact, what the Establishment Clause actually accomplished is nearly opposite what the Supreme Court in the twentieth century said it means.  In barring Congress from establishing a national church, the Establishment Clause marked an important commitment of the Founders to civil and religious liberty.  Unlike England, America would not have an official church.  This is good for government, and good for religion.  Congress was prohibited from imposing a one-size-fits-all religious straitjacket on the nation, leaving state governments wide latitude of operation in matters of church and state.

In the 1947 Supreme Court decision in Everson v. Board of Education, the First Amendment policy of federalism was supplanted by the doctrine of incorporation.  Ruling that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is applied not just against Congress but also against the states (through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment), the Court put itself on a quick path to becoming the national arbiter of all disputes over religious matters pertaining to public entitie