Saturday, September 17, 2011

Happy Constitution Day

It's a good day to reflect on the structure of our constitution. Specifically, the fact that the document was intended to constrain the federal government through a number of mechanisms. First, Congress was only granted enumerated powers. Note the amplification of the Tenth Amendment:
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.
It was never intended that the sweep of federal power would be unlimited. Progressives have attacked this notion for well over a century. Today we see it in Elena Kagan's confirmation hearing in which she can think of no constraint that Congress might face in regulating commerce. If Congress can compel any action under the guise that it somehow affects interstate commerce, Congress could grant the President the power to make us "eat our peas" or any other stupidity.

Another constraint is the separation of powers. The President is granted authority as Commander in Chief, but the power to declare war is reserved to the Congress. This is to limit the ability of the President to wage war on his own recognizance. It seems that this has become a dead letter to the Democrat party, which argued so assiduously for the war powers act. The President in turn can veto new legislation from the Congress. Sometimes this results in gridlock, which I think would have pleased the founders, because they designed a document in which large changes could only come when there is a consensus. Finally, because we have a federal system in which states retain sovereignty, federal power is further constrained. I was arguing health care with a friend of mine who was born a British citizen. He seemed to think that of course health care was a national responsibility. But he lacked understanding that in our system of government, the states were in fact the ones who had the responsibility for this part of the social safety net; part of the reason I found Obamacare unconstitutional. I pointed out that the unabridged name of his native country is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That it is a single kingdom means that there is only one sovereign government. Our full name is the United States of America. The plural form of the word state implies that each state retains sovereignty and responsibility. This is different from most other nations.

Further constraint comes from the power of the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of laws passed by the Congress. Although this is not found explicitly in the document, the power of the courts to review the law and hear appeals constrains the executive branches ability to obtain convictions through dint of greater spending on their own legal resources.

One of the greatest successes of the tea party movement has been to restore a discussion of constitutionality to our national political discourse. The constitution is both a conservative and a libertarian document. It is conservative in that it preserves our political structure through separation of powers and a difficult amendment process. It is libertarian in that it constrains the power and authority of the federal government, guarantees individual rights and in turn constrains the states as well. A political alliance of conservatives and libertarians, fighting socialism and progressives would of course turn to the plain meaning of such a document as the first line of defense against the forced march down the "road to serfdom" that the statists desire for our citizens. (I don't mean to impugn all liberals here; but those that are true believers in leftism have shown their colors over the years.)


  1. Check out these jokers calling themselves Constitutional Progressives.

    How bout that great "progressive" moment in Kelo v. New London when the left wing of the Supreme Court ruled that city councils can take your house to give it to their developer buddies? Progressive WIN!

  2. As we know, the slave state has ruled for most human history. There has been 150 years of acheivement because one people declared themselves independent and the constitution is the document binding this free people. Those who lust for power and ownership of other people's labor are waging war upon it and shall for eternity.