In a July 4 commentary about the U.S. Constitution (“Time to update, in order to function)”, the author offered nine amendments he felt were necessary to help our federal government function better. I share his frustration with the federal government and offer a different solution.
Consider this logic:
• If your marriage is in trouble, simply amend the vows and everything will work out.
• If motorists violate the speed limit, amend the speed limit and safety will be restored.
• When people violate the Ten Commandments, amend the Ten Commandments and morality will prevail.
To date, there have been 27 amendments to our Constitution.
Of the 15 amendments ratified since the 12th in 1804, 10 increased the powers of the federal government: the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 23rd, 24th and 26th. Four were housekeeping amendments that further clarified minor election and legislative procedures: the 20th, 22nd, 25th and the 27th.
Would you be surprised to find that five of the first 10 amendments are not even amendments? The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 9th and 10th amend nothing. If they were not there, the meaning of the Constitution would be exactly the same. Those amendments simply affirmed the founders’ recognition of our natural rights that already existed and insisted that the federal government not interfere in any way with them.
Imagine if our election system adhered to the original intent of the Constitution under which the Senate members and the president were elected by state legislators (electors), rather than by the citizens. There would be no more prolonged, million-dollar primary campaigns, no public expenses for election machines, and no endless TV and radio commercials for those elections. Plus, the “electors” already would be in government and would be in a position to cast a more-informed vote than the ordinary citizen today on federal matters.
A better idea would be education on the founders’ intent with the original source documents they gave us, rather than amendments. The most authoritative commentary on that is the Federalist Papers. The most constitutionally literate scholars in this field have meticulously studied these papers in order to re-educate themselves on the concept of “enumerated” powers. Very few folks today understand the concept as the founders did.
For example: Article 1, Section 1, first clause, says: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
That little phrase is of immense importance! It means that only Congress may make laws. Laws are to be made only by representatives whom we can fire every two years and by senators whom we can fire every six years. There is no permission for Congress to delegate that authority to another branch, as it does now with about 130 executive agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, the Office of National Drug Policy, the National Economic Council and the Bureau of Land Management, to name a few. They are not Congress.
The job to regulate is for Congress and Congress alone if the Constitution is to be followed. The founders left all subjects other than those listed in Article 1, Section 8, up to the states to regulate.
A second example is Article 1, Section 8, clause 5, which says the federal government is to “coin” money, not print it. There is no authority to turn our money system over to an outside agency as we have done with the Federal Reserve.
This delegation of authority by Congress is why so many folks have a low opinion of Congress. It puts most legislative authority in the hands of unelected officials, taking the ordinary voter out of the process, while deflecting blame away from Congress for the result.
I believe education on original intent is the better route than amendments that can have unintended consequences. Not one amendment can raise the morality or integrity of elected officials and make them adhere to the oath they took to “support” the Constitution (Article VI, last clause). This is a morality issue, not a political one.
Bob Hilliard is the author of “Handbook for We the People: A Primer on Strict Construction of the Constitution.” He lives in Buffalo, Texas.