Constitutional Relevancy?

This past Sunday, September 17, was the 230th anniversary of the conclusion of the Philadelphia convention of 1787.  Upon the conclusion of the convention, as he was leaving “Independence Hall”, the aged Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well Doctor Franklin, what have you got for us?”, to which he replied, “A republic madam, if you can keep it.”  Actually, what he and the other delegates to the convention had given to their fellow Americans and us, their descendants, was a constitutional republic.

Yet, this week, we must ask, “After 230 years, are we still a constitutional republic?  Is the Constitution still relevant in our day and time?”  To these two questions I would answer with a resounding “No”!  Consider the following (with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy):

If the party in power can use secret courts to get an order to wiretap and spy on their opponents with no repercussions, you might not live in a constitutional republic.

If government agencies can plant applications on the computers of reporters who are reporting on governmental malfeasance and tap their phone conversations (e.g., James Rosen and Sharyl Attkinsson), thus violating both the first and fourth amendments, you might not live in a constitutional republic.

If the government records the conversations and all electronic communications of every citizen in massive meta-data fusion centers, again violating the fourth amendment, you might not live in a constitutional republic.

If elected officials constantly create unconstitutional agencies and empower them to act as legislator, executor and judge over your property, business and personal affairs, you might not live in a constitutional republic.

If elected officials listen more to those who fill their campaign coffers instead of their constituents, you might not live in a constitutional republic.

If certain officials in high positions of power use their position to influence policies and negotiations with foreign powers to grossly enhance their financial well-being at the expense of the liberties and security of the rest of the country (e.g., Hilary Clinton), with no fear of prosecution, you might not live in a constitutional republic.

If elected officials and even members of the Supreme Court have no inkling as to the tenets of the Constitution, even mocking it (e.g., Nancy Pelosi’s response regarding the unconstitutionality of “Obamacare”), you might not live in a constitutional Republic.

If the government routinely eschews the limitations imposed upon its authority by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, you might not live in a constitutional republic.

I could go on and on with these, but I think it’s a sufficient number that you get the picture.  Our elected (and unelected) government officials pay lip service to the Constitution they take an oath to uphold and defend, but they seldom live up to that oath.  So, is our Constitution relevant today as to the operation of our national government?  I think, sadly, the answer is rather obvious.

-September 22, 2017


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The First Amendment and Social Media

Lately there has been much criticism levied at social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., and companies who have censored certain postings or statements made by individuals (or employees in the case of employers).  I have heard many conservatives claim that these sites and employers are violating the first amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and think that the government should step in and do something about it because those being censored are political conservatives.  Such criticisms and allegations regarding violations of the first amendment are completely off base.

Do I like that conservatives are censored in this manner?  Absolutely not.  Do I think such censorship is a violation of the first amendment?  Again, absolutely not.  The first amendment states “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”   This guarantee is unambiguous – it is a prohibition against Congress from censoring speech and the press, not private companies such as social media sites and employers.

Conservatives who make this charge need to pause and reflect upon what they are asserting.  They are in effect appealing to the government to force a private company and/or employer to allow individuals who use the companies’ services or who are employed by them to permit their preferred form of expression.  Constitutionalists should understand that the government has no authority under the Constitution to do any such thing.

It is hypocritical for conservatives to make this complaint and appeal to the government while at the same time arguing that the government has no authority to tell bakeries they must provide a cake for a gay wedding or that the government has the authority to tell a company or individual what they can or cannot do with their private property, and so forth.  You cannot argue on the one hand for the government to interfere with a private entity’s business operations when it goes against your preferences while at the same time telling it that it has no authority when it interferes in matters that go against your principles.  That old adage of “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” comes to mind, does it not?

Again, please do not think I applaud the censorship of these firms; I do not.  I find them to be hypocritical as well and cowardly as they cannot handle honest dialogue and debate.  However, as one who believes in trying to consistently adhere to our constitutional principles of limited government and individual right to self-determination, appealing to the government in this case is a slippery slope we as conservatives and constitutionalists do not want to go down.  The solution is to turn to other venues of service, if possible, and if not, to not use them.  Difficult to do and most likely not a successful alternative, but if you cherish the thought of limited government as well as non-governmental interference in your private affairs, this is the position you must regrettably take.

-September 15, 2017


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Infrastructure and the Constitution

We hear much these days about the need for Congress to pass an “Infrastructure bill” in which the national government will spend billions upon billions of dollars to repair roads and bridges of all types in cities and states across the country.  There’s only one teensy weenie problem with this – it is completely unconstitutional.

Are our roads, bridges, airports, et al, in dire need of repair?  Absolutely.  So what’s the issue with this “good intention” and the Constitution?  Simple.  The only reference to roads in the Constitution is found in Article I, Section 8, which states that “Congress shall have Power to…establish Post Offices and Post Roads.”  We no longer have roads designated as “post roads”; interstate highways, bridges, train trestles, airports and the like do not qualify for federal funds under the Constitution because they are clearly not defined to be “post roads.”

Yet, those wanting to pass this bill, including President Trump, will claim that this is for the “good” of the country – that such spending would fall under the guise of providing for the general welfare.  To this I say, “Baloney.”  Airports, bridges, highways, interstates are not part of the “general welfare” clause of Article I Section 8 of the Constitution, and I have no less than James Madison, the “father of the Constitution”, as my authority on that.  In The Federalist #41, he wrote:

“Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars.”

 In other words, the general phrase “general welfare” in the opening clause of Article I, Section 8 is defined and limited to the enumerated items that follow in the remainder of the article, and the only roads authorized to be established (and therefore paid for) by the federal government are “post roads.”

Furthermore, in 1822 Congress passed a bill to repair the Cumberland Road that had been built using federal money under President Jefferson’s administration.  Initially the road was used as a “postal” road, but later came to be more like our modern-day interstate highways, with the states putting up toll booths, etc. on it.  So, when this bill reached the desk of President Monroe, he vetoed it as being an unconstitutional appropriation of taxpayer money.  In his veto message to the House of Representatives he stated:

“Having duly considered the bill entitled “An act for the preservation and repair of the Cumberland road,” it is with deep regret, approving as I do the policy, that I am compelled to object to its passage and to return the bill to the House of Representatives, in which it originated, under a conviction that Congress do not possess the power under the Constitution to pass such a law.

 A power to establish turnpikes with gates and tolls, and to enforce the collection of tolls by penalties, implies a power to adopt and execute a complete system of internal improvement. A right to impose duties to be paid by all persons passing a certain road, and on horses and carriages, as is done by this bill, involves the right to take the land from the proprietor on a valuation and to pass laws for the protection of the road from injuries, and if it exist as to one road it exists as to any other, and to as many roads as Congress may think proper to establish. A right to legislate for one of these purposes is a right to legislate for the others….”

 Clearly, then, any kind of an infrastructure bill is unconstitutional.  What then can we do?  Have the states pay for the building and repair of these roads, structures and entities, or follow the advice of Present Monroe who gave this answer at the end of his veto:

“Having at the commencement of my service in this high trust considered it a duty to express the opinion that the United States do not possess the power in question, and to suggest for the consideration of Congress the propriety of recommending to the States an amendment to the Constitution to vest the power in the United States,…”

This, I understand, is a harsh stance, and federal money has been spent in this manner for decades and decades and is a “good” thing; but, as stated by an unknown Federalist author in the Alexandria Gazette on July 5, 1819:

“”[The] peculiar circumstances of the moment may render a measure more or less wise, but cannot render it more or less constitutional.”

-September 1, 2017

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