Questioning Congress’s legislative authority to implement treaties

by Amanda Frost, SCOTUSblog

Bond v. United States is back before the U.S. Supreme Court, and this time it raises a question that has long interested academics:  What are the limits on Congress’s power to implement treaties?  Missouri v. Holland, decided in 1920, held that Congress could enact legislation implementing a treaty even if such legislation was otherwise outside the scope of its Article I, Section 8 authority.  The decision is now canonical, and it has been widely accepted by most academics and followed by courts.  Then, in a 2005 article in the Harvard Law Review, Professor Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz challenged Missouri v. Holland’s rationale and asserted that it should be overruled.  His arguments are now front and center before the Court in Bond.

The facts of Bond are unusually colorful.  After Carol Anne Bond’s husband had an affair, Mrs. Bond sought revenge by sprinkling toxic chemicals around the car and mailbox owned by the woman involved.  Prosecutors charged her with violating a federal statute implementing the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (also known as the “Chemical Weapons Convention”), to which the United States is a signatory.  Mrs. Bond argued that Congress lacked the authority to criminalize her conduct, asserting that the statute is a “massive and unjustifiable expansion of federal law enforcement into state-regulated domain.” 

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What It Means to Be Sovereign

Declaration of Independence - with Jefferson statueGovernment in the United States requires the understanding of three terms: Self-government, sovereignty, and social compact.

Sovereignty is the inherent and independent right to do all that is necessary to govern oneself. In the United States, the People are sovereign. In fact, only the individual is truly sovereign, because only the people, and not government, have inherent rights to life, liberty, and property, along with the right to protect and preserve it.

In the United States, we enjoy self-government; that is, government originates from the people, for the people – “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Government arises out of social compact. In other words, because man is a social creature, he forms together into communities. And in order that communities run smoothly and common services be provided to protect everyone’s rights and property, governments are instituted. And so, individuals delegate some of their sovereign power of self-defense and self-preservation to a government. That is why the bulk of government is always supposed to be closest to the individual, where it is most responsible and most accountable. Our rights and liberties are most protected when people have the frequent opportunity to see their elected officials and look them in the eye, and when those officials see a personal story behind acts of legislation, etc.

This is exactly what our Declaration of Independence tells us about our individual sovereignty. In the first paragraph, we are told that our sovereignty is based on Natural Law and God’s Law – “to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.” The only rightful power our government has is the power that the People – by the consent of the governed and according to the precise language and intent of our Constitution – have temporarily delegated to it. In that grant of power, in a system based on the Sovereignty of the Individual, there is always a mechanism to take that power back. That is why the Declaration explicitly states that the People have the right to “alter or abolish” their government (when it become destructive of its aims). In fact, that right is so important and so fundamental, it is listed with the other inherent rights that individuals possess. In other words, what the Declaration is saying is that the People of the “united States” have the right to reclaim the sovereign power that they temporarily delegated to that government to govern and protect their liberties.

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Tsarnaev not guilty of federal charges?

by Jon Roland, Constitution Society

The Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been charged with multiple federal offenses, but none of them are authorized by the U.S. Constitution for offenses committed on state territory, as the acts in Boston were. If the federal courts were constitutionally compliant, they would be compelled to dismiss them all, and let the State of Massachusetts prosecute him under its laws.

The following is a summary of the main federal charges:

  1. Use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and conspiracy.
  2. Bombing of a place of public use resulting in death and conspiracy.
  3. Malicious destruction of property resulting in death and conspiracy.
  4. Use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
  5. Use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence causing death.
  6. Carjacking resulting in serious bodily injury.
  7. Interference with commerce by threats or violence.
  8. Aiding and abetting.

Contrast this with the following, taken from the second of the unanimous Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, written by Thomas Jefferson, summarizing original understanding of the U.S. Constitution:

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Breakdown in Americans’ Respect for the Rule of Law?

Some commentators and compilers have sensed what they believe is a weakening of the rule of law in the United States.  I’ve documented an example in one state.

Conduct surrounding the George Zimmerman case provides additional cause for concern, including prejudicial comments by President Obama and rioting subsequent to acquittal.

To his credit, President Obama did express support for the verdict once it came in, although he inappropriately coupled it with promotion of his political agenda.

Adherence to the rule of law is critical to survival of a free society. This, in turn, requires adherence to five basic standards:

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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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Majority Wrong, Justice Thomas Right, in Arizona Immigration Case

NOTE: This is the first of several short commentaries on recent Supreme Court decisions.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that portions of Arizona’s immigration law violate federal statutes. In his dissent, Justice Thomas relied heavily on my own research.

The Independence Institute did not participate in that case. So how did it happen that I was cited? In 2010 the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law published my article on the original meaning of a constitutional provision relevant to the decision. The provision is Article I, Section 4—which the Court called the “Elections Clause,” but is more accurately entitled the “Times, Places and Manner Clause.” The Clause provides that the states may regulate the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives,” but that Congress may override most of these regulations.

In the article, I discuss exactly what the Founders meant by the phrase “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections,” and how Congress’s power over its own elections should be interpreted.

The recent case involved whether Arizona’s requirement that voters show proof of citizenship when registering to vote violated federal law. The Court had to decide how widely to read a federal statute and how widely to read Congress’s authority under the Times, Places and Manner Clause.

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Answering to a Higher Law

We spend a great deal of time defending the principle of state nullification of unconstitutional acts here at the Tenth Amendment Center. The philosophical basis for state nullification rests on delegation of powers and the structure of the system created by the Constitution. But other forms of nullification exist, finding their legitimacy in even higher authorities.

At the insistence of southern delegations, especially South Carolina’s, the final version of the U.S. Constitution included a fugitive slave clause in Article IV Sec. 2

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

Granville Sharp was not pleased.

Sharp represented James Somersett in a famous English case that led to the conclusion that slavery was unsupported by existing law in England. In his ruling, Lord Mansfield essentially argued slavery was incompatible with common law.

The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.

When Sharp learned of the fugitive slave clause in the Constitution, he fired off a letter to Benjamin Franklin saying he was “sincerely grieved.” He went on to declare the constitutional clause was “null and void…It would be even a crime to regard [it] as Law.”

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Surprise: Law Professor Misinterprets Supremacy Clause

Have you ever read an article that you were not sure what stance the author takes on the subject but presents both sides of the argument at once? I had the distinguished experience recently when I was reading the article titled “Sheriffs, State Lawmakers Push Back on Gun Control” on the Newsmax website (see: http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/Gun-Control-Pushback/2013/01/17/id/471825). It was a little confusing until I got about half way through it and read a quote by Sam Kamin.

Sam is a constitutional law professor at the University of Denver. One would think that if someone was a law professor that they would actually know and understand the law. Or in this case, a constitutional law professor – who should then know and understand the constitution. It is highly unfortunate when people like Sam misspeak about a subject. Their title gives them some credibility so people think what they say is true because they are supposedly an “expert”. But, when they make a mistake it is still a mistake.

The Supremacy Clause of Article VI, Clause 2 reads:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

Sam makes the comment that state legislatures can pass any laws they want but that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution makes such actions unconstitutional. He further states that when there is a conflict between state and federal law, the federal government is supreme. Nothing could be farther from the truth. His blanket statement implies that the state laws are not necessary and state governments are not necessary because the federal government and its laws are supreme.

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Pennsylvania Town Working To Nullify Federal Gun Control

With the Obama administration winning a second term and gun control publicly on the national agenda, more and more people are standing up at the state and local levels to protect Constitutional freedoms. This is exactly what is occurring in the small town of Gilberton, Pennsylvania.

Chief of Police Mark Kessler will propose a ’2nd Amendment Preservation’ Ordinance during the January 24, 2013 meeting of city council. According to the text of the ordinance, it will be ‘nullifying all federal, state or local acts in violation of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States along with section 21 Right to Bear Arms of the Pennsylvania constitution.’

The ordinance continues on with some strong words for the authoritarians in Washington D.C. who wish to trample upon the Constitutional rights of Americans saying, “It shall be the duty of the Governing body of Gilberton Borough and within all of its boundaries within the State of Pennsylvania to adopt and enact any and all measures as may be necessary to prevent the enforcement of any federal, state or local acts, laws, orders, rules, or regulations in violation of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States along with section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution or any violation of this ordinance.” You can read the rest of the bill by clicking HERE.

Police Chief Kessler says that he intends for this bill to send a message to the Federal Government that the spirit of resistance is alive and well within the American people

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Federalism and the 10th: The State Reclamation Begins

The state governments are now beginning in earnest to do something about the encroaching federal government. Way back in 1994 when the “Republican Revolution” was taking place in Congress the Republican Governors Association (RGA) “adopted” a sort of “declaration of independence” for themselves.  From Congress we got the “Contract with America” and from the RGA…

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