Posts tagged with: constitution

Last week I wrote a commentary titled the “The Folly of More Centralized Power,” making the case against ceding anymore power to Washington and returning back to the fundamental principles of federalism.

Rep. Amash (R-Mich.), a member of the freshmen class in Congress, made that case as well. Amash was asked about his Washington experience so far in an interview and declared,

When I was in the state government, I thought things were dysfunctional there in my opinion. Now I’ve discovered things in Congress are much worse than in state government and the state government runs fairly smoothly by comparison.

In speeches and townhalls, Rep. Amash has stated that the federal government has enumerated powers and it is not supposed to expand beyond that specific scope. I quoted the Virginia Constitution in my commentary. The line I cited was originally from the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776. It reads, “That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”

Blog author: rnothstine
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
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My commentary this week addresses the importance of federalism and our fundamental founding principles in relation to the problems that plague the nation. There was once plenty of commentary and finger pointing in regards to setting a new tone of political and civil discourse in the nation. However, the more the Washington power structure is threatened by those unsatisfied with where the leadership is taking us, the more those demanding a return to first principles will be splattered with, at times, revolting words and admonishment from those who think they know best. The commentary is printed below:

The Folly of More Centralized Power

by Ray Nothstine

Americans’ satisfaction and feeling of connection with Washington has dwindled to an all time low. According to a recent Rasmussen survey, only 17 percent of likely voters believe that the federal government has the consent of the governed. The numbers are hardly surprising. Congress recently cut a deal to saddle Americans with trillions of dollars in more debt. Shortly thereafter, one congressional member lashed out at a town hall last weekend demanding the tea party, which has been pushing back against big government, “go straight to hell.”

President Barack Obama, whose approval has sunk to a new low, is trying to recast himself as a Washington outsider as he heaps more blame on Congress, which is not exactly winning any popularity contests these days either. In The Washington Post, a political strategist offered this assessment: “The best place for a politician to be in 2012 is not on the ballot.”

Disenchantment with Washington is of course nothing new, but many Americans have grown weary of leaders calling for added federal spending and demands for shared sacrifice by way of tax increases. Washington’s inability to balance budgets and restore fiscal responsibility, a problem magnified by a crippled economy, has also bankrupted the public trust. Citizens who take summer vacations to the nation’s capital can easily connect the dots as they observe a Washington Beltway that is booming with jobs and opportunity as tax dollars siphon into the region, even while their own communities are ravaged by job loss and businesses struggle under regulatory burdens.

Earlier this month Salon Magazine ran a piece titled “The Real Confidence Crisis,” which proclaims that the solution to a broken government buried in debt by entitlements, runaway spending, and disorder is — more government. In other words, government must only be managed properly to work for us again.

Similarly, Time Magazine in 2010 published an article asserting that Washington was ineffective because bills were written to pass Congress, not to be effective. The problem solvers of our national ills only need to convince people that government can be competent again. All that America needs is a new generation of skilled technocrats to babysit the federal bureaucracy.

In contrast to this solution, in Federalist No. 45, James Madison declared, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite.” Madison further articulated the case against the centralization of power not specifically enumerated to the federal government by saying, “The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the state.”

The Acton Institute’s Principles for Budget Reform make the point that in order to solve the debt crisis and political crises that plague us, “it is incumbent to ask again the basic questions about the role of government, at federal as well as state and local levels.” Madison, the architect of the U.S. Constitution, also had a role in the development of Virginia’s Constitution. Included in that document are the lines, “That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”

Furthermore, those looking to the federal government to solve the nation’s ills and meet their needs will continue to be disappointed. People feel disconnected from their federal government not only because they are separated geographically, culturally, ideologically, but also because they believe that their access to the political process has been severed. They doubt whether their representatives actually have the best interests of the nation in mind.

Now more than ever, as Washington multiplies our country’s ailments instead of curing them, politicians will continue to attempt to shift the blame for a financially and morally broken government in their effort to cling to power. The fight for Washington to surrender power will produce an epic conflict, however. It’s not just the vitriolic rhetoric that evidences the upcoming battle; centralized power is now so sacred that, against any proposals to limit the powers of the state, some professional clergy stand guard, ready to encircle the bureaucracy in prayer and offer their bodies for arrest.

Some in our churches and in government may disparage the tea party, and even wish its members a speedy banishment to Hell. But the tea party might be the powerful reminder we need to remind us that Washington can’t create Heaven on Earth. The sooner we take that advice seriously, and get our house in order, the better off we’ll all be.

Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis are  posing the question, “What Would Jesus Cut?” in an effort to skew the federal budget debates toward the usual big government solutions favored by the religious left.

Recently, Claiborne wrote an article for the Huffington Post, exploring the idea of withholding a portion of his taxes to demonstrate his disapproval of military spending. He announced that he is going to withhold 30 percent of his taxes to protest all U.S. defense spending. Mark Tooley, at the Frontpagemag.com, has given thoughtful push-back questioning how Claiborne got the 30 percent figure along with articulating logical flaws in Claiborne’s ideology:

It’s not clear where Claiborne got the 30 percent figure.  U.S. military spending in 2011, including Iraq and Afghanistan operations, is supposed to be about $671 billion out of an over $3.8 trillion budget.  So the military will consume under 18 percent of federal spending.  Maybe Claiborne is playing the usual game of excluding “entitlement” spending from the total…

Claiborne, like much of the Evangelical and Religious Left, wants to reinterpret Christianity primarily into a resistance movement against the “empire,” which is chiefly America.  By doubling the actual amount of U.S. defense spending as a percentage of the federal budget, and deducting 30 percent from his IRS bill, Claiborne is striking his own blow against the empire.   No doubt America will survive without Claiborne paying all his taxes.  But what would happen if all American Christians ignored the teachings of their own faith and didn’t pay their taxes in protest against all military defenses?  What evils would then prevail?  How many would die?  What chaos and suffering would then ensue?

Here at the Acton Institute we have developed the Principles for Budget Reform resource page where we not only explore the problems with the federal budget, but provide solutions that are fiscally and morally responsible. Furthermore, we have questioned Wallis, Claiborne, and the “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign by providing reasoned critiques which can also be found on the resource page.

In light of today being Tax Day,  we asked whether the “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign might not be counter-posed with the question, “What Would Jesus Cut…from the Constitution?” Our new ad can be found on the Principles for Budget Reform resource page. We’re making the ad freely available for use as a poster or as an advertisement in your local paper, church publication or bulletin, or school newspaper.

If you listen to the radio, you’ve probably noticed the commercials promoting the U.S. Census. Where I live, stations are intermittently broadcasting commercials for the 2010 Census almost every time I’ve turned the dial. One of the commercial messages contains a story about crowded buses and the need for folks in communities to complete the census so they get more money from the federal government and can buy more buses. Huh?

The advertising budget just to promote this enterprise was initially publicized at $350 million. That included ad plays during the Super Bowl broadcast in February. Some members of Congress tried to find out from Census Director Robert Groves how the money was being spent following an audit, news of which revealed huge sums being wasted  including a $15 billion head count campaign that will involve over 140,000 temporary workers some of which were let go after being paid for doing nothing.

In an article relating some of this information the reporter gives us a clue as to something rotten in our country with her description of the Census as “a tradition that has occurred every ten years beginning with the first one in 1790 under Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.” Tradition? Whoa!

Okay, I’m breathing slowly…. I’m better now.

The census is NOT a tradition; it’s a Constitutional mandate. It is required by law: Article I, Section 2. The purpose? To formally establish the number of all persons born or naturalized [citizens] in the states for the expressed purpose of determining that state’s representation in Congress’s House of Representatives. The specific language in The Constitution is “enumeration” from the Latin: ‘counted out’ – and no bus purchases are mentioned.

If you’ve received the official form and looked closely you likely have noticed that two questions asked of responders have to do with your origin and race. Specifically “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish” origin, and “White; Black, African American or Negro; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chanmorro; Samoan; Other Pacific Islander; and my favorite “Some other race.”

Who are the bus riders in that group?

More relevant to all of us, why in an age of equal opportunity, race neutrality, race blindness, race equity and God knows what else, do we ask responders to a questionnaire that by law should only be aimed at counting heads, information that aims at differentiating by group?

“…and all went to be taxed, everyone unto his own city.”

The passage from Luke speaks of a tax but likely the collectors made a count to assure themselves that all were paying at the door. Caesars are like that. Taxes among the tribes of the Old Testament were commanded by God, then kings, and then lawful rulers. “Lawful” conjures up …. conforming to, permitted by or recognized by law. There’s contract law, property law, trust law, tort law, criminal law and that illusive one – Constitutional Law.

(Barak Obama in comments about his healthcare proposal seems to have the same nonchalant attitude for law as the reporter who used the word tradition. That’s not good.)

The census form is addressed to “those living at the house, apartment or mobile home” without any stipulation that they be citizens. Does it make sense to you that the House of Representatives whose numbers are based on a state’s population be required to be citizens of The United States for seven years while the population base of his district needn’t be legal citizens but only residents? Me neither.

More interesting is that a notice three weeks ago alerting me to the census form’s imminent arrival contained messages for those needing help completing the form printed in Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and what I’m guessing is Laotian.

The question begs asking. If court cases sustaining equal opportunity in schools contain phrases such as this: “An educated citizenry is the predicate of a thriving democracy, Mueller v. Allen, 463 U.S. 388, 395 (1983)”, how do people understand the subtleties of a country’s laws without understanding and speaking its language?

And there’s another point to make: if completing the census will, as Robert Groves writes in his letter, “help each community get its fair share of [federal] government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs” why don’t we make it easy for everyone concerned and just keep the money within our states in the first place, using it for local projects the cost of which we can control locally without the worry about things like Mr. Groves’ 140,000 temporary workers. Think about it.

That’s all for now, I have a bus to catch.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, September 17, 2009
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Today is Constitution Day in the United States.

It seems appropriate to remember especially this day the 10th Amendment to the Constitution:

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.

What a wonderful expression of federalism, a component feature of which is the concept of subsidiarity, or rather, coordinated and variegated sovereignty. Lord Acton said that federalism “is the best curb on democracy. [It] assigns limited powers to the central government. Thereby all power is limited. It excludes absolute power of the majority.” He also noted that federalism is “is coordination instead of subordination; association instead of hierarchical order; independent forces curbing each other; balance, therefore, liberty.”

I’m not greatly familiar with them, but it might be worth checking out the Tenth Amendment Center today. There’s more background on the Bill of Rights at the Stand to Reason blog today.

My essay on the Constitution, judicial activism and the “living document” trope is here at The American Spectator. Here’s one passage:

This brings us to the central irony. The very people most inclined to gush about our “living Constitution” treat it like a Mr. Potato Head:

Ooh, states rights. Let’s pop that off and replace it with a metastasizing Commerce Clause. Oh, and look here in my pocket. A constitutional right to redefine the age-old institution of marriage. Oh and let’s tack this one on, too — a constitutional right to kill a half born baby and throw whatever’s left in the garbage. If anyone complains, we’ll call it “the constitutional right to privacy.”

It’s time to pause and take the living-document metaphor seriously. Living things have an internal logic, have functional constraints. They aren’t endlessly malleable. You can’t replace grandpa’s liver with a second heart just because you think livers are passé — unless you intend to kill grandpa.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I explore the differing mainstream cultural views of gun rights and abortion in the United States and Europe. The point of departure is last month’s Supreme Court decision in DC v. Heller (07-290) striking down the District’s handgun ban (SCOTUSblog round-up on the decision here).

In “Guns, Foreign Courts, and the Moral Consensus of the International Community,” I write that the “tendency to invoke foreign jurisprudence is becoming more troubling as it becomes clearer that the moral consensus that once united Western nations has almost entirely broken down.”

As Paul J. Cella commented on a number of related stories at home and abroad, “We are only a tendentious opinion from one of the Liberal Usurpers on the Court, or their creature Kennedy, under the spell of the New York-DC elite adulation — one tendentious opinion citing foreign law, or sweet mystery of life, or mystical evolving standards, away from the same tyranny that would send the homeowner who defends his wife against thugs to jail, while showering the thugs with sympathy.”

At the same time the Court was deciding Heller, it ruled “that imposing the death penalty for child rape violates the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.” La Shawn Barber has details on the difficulties surrounding that decision, but in relation to the topic of my commentary I want to point out that the EU Constitution in its original form as circulated for ratification in 2004, under Article II-62, titled “Right to life,” held in part, “No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.” At the same time this article made no explicit or special mention of abortion.

For more insight into the disconnect between the UN/EU on the one side and the US on the other over gun rights, see Kenneth Anderson’s illuminating post, “International Gun Control Efforts?” (HT: The Volokh Conspiracy).

As Mike Huckabee was wont to say, we wouldn’t have the First Amendment without the Second. And if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have knives (that explode?!).

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
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The prolific Thomas Woods has a new book out (with co-author Kevin Guzman): Who Killed the Constitution?

Woods is the author of the Templeton Enterprise-award-winning The Church and the Market, a volume in the Lexington Books series, Studies in Ethics and Economics, which is edited by Acton’s Sam Gregg.

I haven’t yet read Woods’ latest, but his work is always interesting and forcefully argued. And I’m inclined to agree with any effort to reassert some constitutional limits around our legal/political affairs.

Here’s Publishers’ Weekly:

Woods and Gutzman (two bestselling authors in the Politically Incorrect Guide series) appeal to both left and right in this constitutionalist jeremiad. Liberals will agree about the unconstitutionality of the draft, warrantless wiretapping and presidential signing statements. Conservatives will agree about the unconstitutionality of school busing, bans on school prayer and Roosevelt’s suspension of the gold standard. The common thread is the authors’ brief for a federal government strictly limited to the powers explicitly granted by the Constitution. The authors’ exegeses of the Constitution and court decisions, heavy on original intent arguments, are lucid and telling.

A sneak preview: Woods is the author of the forthcoming volume 13 in the Christian Social Thought Series, not yet available for purchase. He marshals Catholic social teaching, history, and economics in the cause of a powerful critique of distributism.

I did a brief interview yesterday with Greg Allen of The Right Balance and have a couple more scheduled for next week. It’s kept me thinking about some of the issues surrounding the debate about Christianity, democracy, and Iraq.

In the piece I wrote I pointed to some of the rather guarded opinions of representatives from the Christian tradition, namely John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, on the possibility of finding the “best” form of government.

But I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the biblical data, and it occurs to me that it was during Solomon’s reign that Israel enjoyed its greatest prosperity. We read, for instance, “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree.”

This led me to wonder a bit about how we should characterize the rule of the kings in Old Testament Israel. Clearly it’s a monarchy, but what sort?

We see the protection of private property, and a king who is subject to the rule of law and is specifically held accountable to Torah, when necessary by its public expositors the prophets. Calvin noted the intimate relationship between the prophets and Torah. Speaking about understanding the prophetic books, he writes, “the shortest way of treating this subject is to trace the Prophets to the Law, from which they derived their doctrine, like streams from a fountain; for they placed it before them as their rule, so that they may be justly held and declared to be its interpreters, who utter nothing but what is connected with the Law.”

While the prophets lacked the direct relationship with the executive power such that they could enforce Torah adherence, they certainly represented the divine perspective on Torah violation and its consequences (no doubt they were strict constructionists). In that sense they functioned as a sort of judicial check on the monarch’s power, similar to the way our Supreme Court is supposed to function.

If we view Torah as a sort of constitution, then in OT Israel we have an ancient kind of constitutional, and therefore limited, monarchy.

In his review of Sanford Levinson’s Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It) in the Claremont Review of Books, Randy Barnett highlights some of the same features of the US political structure as particularly unique that Lord Acton emphasized. In conclusion Barnett writes of our Constitution:

It is counter-majoritarian by design. Precisely because the founders feared majoritarian fecklessness and abuse, they inserted the veto points to which Levinson objects. Most people today—whether left, right, or libertarian—still fear majoritarian rule. They believe they have more to fear from their political opponents gaining power than they have to gain from putting their friends in office. Indeed, many Americans revere the Constitution precisely because of its counter-majoritarianism—the checks and balances adopted by the founders.

Or in the words of Lord Acton, “Americans dreaded democracy and contrived their constitution against it.”

Here are some other relevant observations from Lord Acton on democracy, federalism, and the Constitution:

For it is a most striking thing that the views of pure democracy…were almost entirely unrepresented in [the American] convention.

Democracy generally monopolizes and concentrates power.

Federalism is the best curb on democracy. [It] assigns limited powers to the central government. Thereby all power is limited. It excludes absolute power of the majority.

Federalism: The only barrier to Democracy.

Federalism: It is coordination instead of subordination; association instead of hierarchical order; independent forces curbing each other; balance, therefore, liberty.

The great novelty of the American Constitution was that it imposed checks on the representatives of the people.

The true natural check on absolute democracy is the federal system, which limits the central government by the powers reserved, and the state governments by the powers they have ceded.

Barnett notes too the resistance to advocating the American form of federalist democracy for other nations.

“While most Americans prefer the safety of our counter-majoritarian Constitution, our constitutional ‘experts’ are happy to urge others to live the truly majoritarian ideal. Now Sandy Levinson is urging Americans as well to adopt a more majoritarian constitution. But maybe the time has come instead to let the rest of the world in on our little secret,” he writes.