Re-Forming the United States

UPDATE: The urgency of re-forming the United States is underscored by “Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution.” The author, Michael Stokes Paulsen (Distinguished University Chair and Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) School of Law), restates the entire Constitution in the form of twenty provisions that reflect the current state of constitutional law as established by decisions of the Supreme Court. Paulsen’s version of the Constitution is true, depressing, and enraging.

Paulsen wrote his paper before U.S. District Judge Gladys Keesler opined that the central government may regulate mental activity.  Judge Keesler’s view, which is applauded on the left, is the last straw. The juggernaut that rules from Washington is nothing more than an alien occupying force. It should be treated accordingly by liberty-loving Americans.

The specter of constitutional revitalization haunts “liberals”:

Imagine that, a few years from now, Americans are suddenly plunged into a constitutional crisis. Imagine an economy still muddling in recession; a government rendered inept by the complete collapse of the Senate as a serious institution of deliberation or a continued division between House and Senate; a conservative Supreme Court gripped by a passion to restore the pre-New Deal version of the Commerce Clause (which treated commerce merely as the physical movement of goods across state lines); a militant Tea Party movement convinced that the Tenth Amendment imposes real limits on the lawmaking power of Congress, and is not simply a hollow “truism” saying that Congress can only do what it is constitutionally empowered to do. These days, conjuring up such a vision is not so hard. Imagine that somehow the belief took hold that what the Constitution needed was not a revision here or there, but wholesale replacement. (Jack Rakove of Stanford University, in “American Ratification,” Harvard Magazine, January-February 2011)

How much misrepresentation and distortion is packed into that paragraph? Let’s see:

1. The United States has been in constitutional crisis since the 1930s, when the Supreme Court — frightened by the Great Depression, cowed by FDR, and then reshaped by him — allowed Congress and the States to exceed their constitutional authority. To the Rakoves of this world, a constitutional crisis is what happens when there’s a movement to honor the spirit and letter of the Constitution.

2. The state of the economy, the state of the Senate, and a “divided” House and Senate (i.e., not both controlled by Democrats) are hardly the stuff of a constitutional crisis. The standing of the Constitution is — and should be — unaffected by such things, unless one believes (with the New Deal Supreme Court) that the law should bend with economic winds, and that it is the rightful place of Congress to actively involve itself in every nook and cranny of Americans’ lives.

3. The pre-New Deal version of the Commerce Clause is the correct one, contrary to Rakove’s desire for an all-powerful state.

4. The Tenth Amendment isn’t “hollow.” It underscores — for the benefit of the willfully obtuse, like Rakove — the express limits that the original Constitution places on Congress’s power. In leaving no doubt that the States and the people retain the powers not specifically assigned to Congress, it removes (or should remove) any ambiguity about the limited role that Congress (and the federal government) should play in the lives and businesses of Americans. It says that the Constitution means what it says. It is “hollow” to Rakove and his ilk only because they don’t want the Constitution to mean what it says.

5. In that vein, I must add that the “militant Tea Party” movement seeks to honor the entire Constitution, not just the important Tenth Amendment. Rakove wants to believe — or wants his readers to believe — that the Tea Party movement is made up of morons who don’t understand what’s in the original Constitution. Well, the true morons are the Rakoves, who believe that their expansive view of governmental power can’t be turned against them.

6. Rakove posits two options for dealing with the so-called crisis: a revision here or there, or wholesale replacement of the Constitution. There’s a third option: wholesale rewriting to reassert, in no uncertain terms, the meaning and purposes of the Constitution. That’s what Rakove and his ilk really fear, because they’re wedded to the judicially created, left-statist version of the Constitution that has replaced the real thing without benefit of an amendment.

For non-Rakovians — that is, for devotees of the real Constitution — I counsel the following steps:

  • A sufficient number of States (at least one-half of them) would declare their independence from the United States, on the ground that the central government has breached its contract with the States by persistently abusing its powers over many decades.
  • Those States would then convene a constitutional convention to re-form the United States, by adopting a new Constitution that — in no uncertain terms — restates the principles of the original Constitution and ensures their enforcement through additional checks on the central government.

With regard to the second point, Article V of the new Constitution would include this:

A judgment of any court of the United States of America may be revised or revoked by an act of Congress, provided that such any revision or revocation is approved by two-thirds of the members of each house and leads to a result that conforms to this Constitution.

There is this, in Article VI:

Each State retains the right to secede from this Union, but secession shall in each case be approved by three-fourths of the members of each house of a State’s legislature and ratified by the executive of the State within thirty days of its approval by both houses of the State’s legislature.

Articles VII and VIII, Keeper of the Constitution and Conventions of the States, open thusly:

The responsibility for ensuring that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches adhere to this constitution in the exercise of their respective powers shall be vested in a Keeper of the Constitution. The Keeper may review acts of Congress, the executive branch, and judicial branch that have the effect of making law and appropriating monies.

*    *    *

Delegations of the States shall convene every four years for the purpose of considering revisions to and revocations of acts of the government that is established by this constitution. Such conventions (hereinafter “convention of the States”) may revise and/or revoke any act or acts and/or any holding or holdings, in the sole discretion of a majority of State delegations present and voting.

Article IX would authorize petitions and subsequent elections for the revocation of a broad range of governmental acts and the expulsion of members of Congress, the President, Vice President and justices of the Supreme Court. Also, a constitutional convention may be called pursuant to a successful petition.

I understand that I am proposing a radical step, but I believe that it is impossible to reinstate the real Constitution in any other way. Perhaps the threat of radical measures would have a sobering effect on those who are content with the status quo or incremental progress… but probably not.

See “The Constitution: Myths and Realities“.