Founders Turning in Their Graves

“A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

So said the ever-quotable Benjamin Franklin upon emerging from the Constitutional Convention debates in 1787.  Franklin’s now-famous statement to an inquisitive Philadelphian causes us today to pause and reflect.  Have we kept the republic that Franklin and his contemporaries bequeathed us?

A recent poll answers this query with an emphatic “No!”.  According to a Gallup survey, 71% of Americans believe that the Founders would be disappointed in the United States today.  This comes on the heels of another Gallup survey showing that Congress’s approval rating has hit its lowest mark ever at 10%.  President Obama doesn’t fare much better, garnering only 36% approval.

Are Americans beginning to realize that the government they have bears no resemblance to the one designed by the framers of the Constitution?  If the 71% are correct in saying that the Founders would be embarrassed by America today, the next logical question we should ask is “Why?”.

Could it be because we’ve completely abandoned the structure of government that they fought the British for and then jealously guarded while debating the Constitution?  Maybe we can find the answer in what some founders said about how American liberty would be preserved.

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Some Utah Republicans Get It, Some Don’t

Some sentences are so contradictory, so self-evidently oxymoronic that they stop you in your tracks.  For example, maybe you have a friend who says something like, “I’m a vegetarian, but I really love cheeseburgers.”  Hearing this, you’re likely to give your friend a bewildered look and say, “Dude…huh?”

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, the reported response of some Utah politicians elicited a similar reaction.  As reported by The Universe, “Prominent Utah Republicans overwhelmingly applauded the Supreme Court for recognizing same-sex marriage as a states’ rights issue but expressed disappointment that the Supreme Court is not in harmony with the Congressional majority that favors DOMA.”

Dude…huh?

How can it be simultaneously acknowledged that regulation of marriage is  a state issue and bemoaned that a federal law that nationalized the issue was struck down?  What can account for such an obvious contradiction?  As always, the devil is in the details  It is enlightening to understand which Utah Republicans acknowledged this issue as the domain of the states and which didn’t.

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Abortion: A State Issue, a National Nightmare

News broke recently that Florida Senator Marco Rubio plans to sponsor a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.  With Rubio’s reputation recently taking a hit in conservative circles, a cynic might be excused for considering this a political move instead of a principled stand.  Principled or not, there are two questions that Rubio has apparently not considered: is it rational to argue this issue at the national level and is such a bill constitutional.

To answer if it is rational, let’s run through a quick hypothetical scenario.  Let’s say you’re walking down your street and come upon one of your neighbors lying dead in his driveway with a knife sticking out of his back.  As your neighbors crowd around the scene, you see someone dialing their phone.  Who do you think this person is calling?

Maybe they’re calling the President of the United States.  After all, many murders happen across the country every day, clearly making this a national issue that demands the president’s attention.  Or, if not the president, maybe they’ve dialed the offices of federal senators and representatives to let them know about the murder.  When it’s time to prosecute the assailant, where does the trial take place?  Well, an issue as important and widespread as murder certainly demands the attention of the Supreme Court.

Preposterous, right?  Of course a local crime commands a local response.  It would be irrational to use national machinery to address a local or state issue like a violent crime of one individual towards another.

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Jackson County, Michigan Passes 2nd Amendment Preservation Resolution

By a 9-0 vote on June 18, the County Commissioners in Jackson County, Michigan unanimously approved a resolution in support of the 2nd Amendment.

The resolution promises to reject any attempt by the federal government to violate the 2nd Amendment and pledges non-compliance from the county if such an attempt were to happen.

It reads, in part:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, in the State of Michigan, believes it important to protect the individual’s right to keep and bear arms as stated in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, and that any attempt to place restrictions on any lawfully possessed firearms that are legal and unrestricted shall be rejected.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Jackson County Board of Commissioners supports the constitution of the United States, specifically the second amendment, and shall refrain from supporting any legislation that attempts to infringe on these inalienable rights.

Local support will play a vital role in the success of those who want to protect the right to keep and bear arms. The resolution is a great first step, as it gets the commissioners on record in support of the 2nd Amendment. But, since it’s non-binding, it will require another step to have concrete effect. Cities within the county – and the county board itself – should follow up this resolution with ordinances prohibiting any cooperation with federal agents attempting to enforce acts violating the Second Amendment. Such an ordinance will give these statements teeth.

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Spying on Kids to Improve Education?

Bill Gates has an idea.  In order to improve academic performance, teachers should be monitored all day, every day.  A preposterous waste of resources and manpower, you say?  Well, not to worry, because said monitoring will be done by video cameras.  Installed in every classroom in America.  And, if you act today, all this can…

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Federalism is for Liberals

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Emily Bazelon makes the claim that “states’ rights are for liberals”, citing the examples of state support for marriage equality and the legalization of marijuana as examples.  Well, guess what, Emily.  You’re right!  States’ rights, or federalism, definitely is for liberals.

Of course, federalism is also for conservatives.  And libertarians.  And socialists. Federalism is really for anyone who doesn’t think that a group of central rulers are best-equipped to make decisions that affect the lives of 300 million people spread out over thousands of miles with differing priorities and values.

That the American left is realizing the value of federalism is a welcome change from the long-held misconception that a belief in decentralization was the exclusive calling card of conservatives (and for recognizing this we will even forgive Bazelon for continuing the left’s fascination with trying to link the principle of federalism with racial bigotry, which has been repeatedly refuted).

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Federal Laws: To Infinity and Beyond!

How many federal laws are on the books?  500?  1,000?  5,000?  Go ahead, take a guess.

Give up?

Yeah, well, so does the Library of Congress.  In an attempt to answer the frequent question of how many federal laws there are, Senior Legal Research Specialist Shameema Rahman recently reported that “trying to tally this number is nearly impossible.”  Well, that’s great.  Congress has officially passed so many laws that their own repository of documentation can’t even keep track of them all.

As it turns out, the federal government hasn’t been able to keep track of their own laws for quite some time.  Rahman reports that, “in an example of a failed attempt to tally up the number of laws on a specific subject area, in 1982 the Justice Department tried to determine the total number of criminal laws. In a project that lasted two years, the Department compiled a list of approximately 3,000 criminal offenses.”

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Is Obamacare on Life Support?

Remember a couple of months ago when the Obama administration sent letters to four states promising to use federal agents to enforce Obamacare if the states failed to?  Well, it appears that smug arrogance may have been a bit premature.

Reuters reported last month that many of the Affordable Care Act’s supporters are getting concerned that the states are not doing enough to support the legislation and that, without their help, enough people may not sign up.  It turns out that there is good cause for these concerns because “most states have balked at the exchanges and the Medicaid expansion.”  The exchanges are the infrastructure on which Obamacare is built and the states’ refusal to create them has created complexity for the federal government’s efforts to implement it.

Talking about the federal government’s limited ability to advertise the program, one advocate said, “It’s going to require a very robust effort in the private sector.”  The expectation of this would appear to be an unwarranted exercise in optimism given the fact that the public “is highly skeptical…about the most complex social legislation since…the mid-1960s.”  A recent poll shows that only 37% of Americans think that Obamacare is a good idea while 49% believe that it is bad.  Only 38% of respondents think they will be better off as a result of the ACA.

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Book Review: Reclaiming the American Revolution

After lying dormant for the better part of 150 years, nullification has been gaining momentum in recent years.  My own awareness of nullification, the idea that the states have the constitutional right to block federal enforcement of unconstitutional acts, was originally almost wholly due to the work of historian Thomas Woods, who literally wrote the book on Nullification in 2010.  As great as that book was, Woods’s work was preceded by six years by another author who offered the first book-length treatment of nullification in a century.

This was William Watkins’ 2004 book, Reclaiming the American Revolution.  Watkins, an attorney who specializes in constitutional law, opens his book by taking the reader through the events that led to the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison respectively.  These resolutions were a response to the Alien and Sedition Acts, a series of unconstitutional laws passed earlier in 1798.

After laying out the historical background for these laws, including the so-called Quasi-War with France, Watkins discusses some of the ways that they were used to shut down opposition to President John Adams and his Federalist party.  The most notable instance of prosecution under the Acts was that of Benjamin Franklin Bache who, besides being the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, was also a journalist who used his newspaper to criticize the Federalists.  Bache’s tragic story begins with his arrest for violating the Sedition Act and subsequent death from yellow fever while awaiting trial.  Other stories of prosecution under the Acts, while not as tragic, are equally as troubling in their violations of the First and Tenth Amendments.

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San Diego Mayor Calls for Jury Nullification

Don’t look now, but nullification is about to spread to the courtroom.  NBC 7 in San Diego reported this week that the city’s mayor, Bob Filner, has called for jurors to refuse to convict the operators of licensed marijuana dispensaries who have been arrested under anti-drug laws by the federal government.  State and local laws in San Diego permit the sale and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has injected himself into a federal criminal case against the operator of a medical marijuana dispensary, intensifying his standoff with federal prosecutors on cannabis enforcement issues.

Filner’s urging jurors who’ll be chosen for the trial to reject federal law in favor of state statutes under a centuries-old legal concept known as “jury nullification”– whereby jurors can refuse to convict people under laws they believe should not be applied.

“It’s time, like with Prohibition, to step back and say this was a stupid thing to do,” Filner said outside the courthouse. “Let’s step back, and juries ought to take the lead and say that to the federal government…and if the federal government isn’t listening to the mayor, maybe they’ll listen to the jury.”

Against the articulated wishes of the community, the federal government continues to raid these dispensaries and arrest the people who operate them, actions that clearly violate both the Constitution and the sovereignty of the state and local governments.  Filner in decrying this federal usurpation stated, “This is way overdoing it when local laws, state laws allow compassionate use of medical marijuana.”

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