James Madison

Republican Senate Candidate Advocates Revolt Against U.S. Government

IowaPolitics.com
The Iowa Senate race is one of the closest in the nation, and what it seems to have come down to is the following two questions: Number 1, did Bruce Braley act like a jerk when he and his neighbor had a dispute over the fact that the neighbor's chickens were crapping on Braley's lawn? And number 2, is Joni Ernst a radical extremist? You can argue that only one of these questions has anything to do with what Iowa's next senator will be doing in office, and you'd be right. But the latest bit of information on Ernst is, if you actually understand the issue, quite a doozy : State Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, once said she would support legislation that would allow "local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement" Obamacare. Ernst voiced her support for that, as well as supporting legislation that would "nullify" Obamacare in a Iowa State Legislative Candidates survey for Ron Paul's libertarian-aligned Campaign for Liberty in...

Daily Meme: Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Our theme today is desperation, which seems to be gripping our nation's capital. Last night the House of Representatives voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress because she asserted her right not to answer their questions, a final desperate attempt to get people angry about yet another scandal that didn't turn out nearly as scandalous as they had hoped. Republicans may carry around copies of the Constitution in their pockets, but that Fifth Amendment can be awfully annoying. Republicans are also desperate for America to understand that their select committee on Benghazi will not just be a bunch of grandstanding and feigned outrage, producing nothi ng . "The goal here will be to select serious, sober-minded members who will make this about finding answers to some troubling questions and will not make this a partisan shouting match," an anonymous aide told Politico . "We’re not going to convene a kangaroo court." What would ever have made people think such...

How John Paul Stevens Would Amend the Constitution

AP Images/Manuel Balce Ceneta
What made John Paul Stevens's contributions in his 35 years on the Supreme Court so invaluable was not just the votes he cast but his fiercely intelligent idiosyncrasies. On issues ranging from the fundamental incoherence of trying to use different categories of scrutiny to apply the equal protection clause to the Establishment Clause, to problems presented by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, to racial discrimination in the War on Drugs, Stevens carved out unique positions that have generally aged much better than the alternatives. So it's gratifying that Stevens has not retired in silence, instead providing valuable commentary on constitutional controversies including the right to vote and the American criminal justice system . Stevens's new book , Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution , represents another valuable and accessible contribution to the country's constitutional discourse. The premise of the book is accurately captured by the title, which...

The Supreme Court v. Civil RIghts

The disturbing failure to prosecute alleged rapists in Maryville, Missouri, represents an all-too-common failure of American legal systems. In The Nation , Jill Filipovic has a must-read article highlighting another part of the problem: the Supreme Court. The Court's conservative justices have taken a federal remedy away from sexual-assault victims, in a case that represents a pattern in the Republican war on civil-rights enforcement. As Filipovic details, U.S. v. Morrison resulted from a case in which Virginia Tech student Christy Brzonkala was allegedly raped by two members of the school's football team, one of whom for all intents and purposes conceded that he had nonconsensual sex with Brzonkala. One alleged assaulter was acquitted entirely by the school's disciplinary process. Morrison had a one-year suspension for sexual assault lifted, and then had a one-year suspension under Virginia Tech's Abusive Conduct policy (after the alleged assault he had told Brzonkala "you better not...

A Supreme Court Darkly

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The Supreme Court decision yesterday that gutted the Voting Rights Act is potentially the most profound since Brown v. Board of Education . It’s more important than Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore , or the judgment last year that upheld the Affordable Care Act, because it denies the federal government the power, and state governments the obligation, to enforce democracy in any sense that anyone understands the word. In particular yesterday’s decision overturns nearly half a century’s guarantee of democracy for those Americans who had been denied that guarantee since the Republic’s founding. Within hours of the decision, at least four states that already had a history of vote suppression began introducing bills in their legislatures favoring more punitive voter-identification laws, fewer polling places in minority districts, and shorter hours in which to exercise the right that a democracy allegedly holds most sacrosanct. The court’s judicial action yesterday was created from bad faith and...

When Fear Threatens Freedom

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Throughout American history, whenever the United States has felt threatened, our response has been repression. In hindsight we come to realize that the nation was not made any safer from the loss of civil liberties. This is a crucial lesson to be remembered as the country deals with the terrible tragedy of Monday’s bombings in Boston. The impulse to take away constitutional rights to gain security must be resisted because, in reality, complying with the Constitution is not an impediment to safety. If history repeats itself, there are likely to be calls to make it easier for police to search people and their possessions without warrants or probable cause or even reasonable suspicion. Once more, there will be proposals to allow the authorities to detain individuals, even indefinitely, on suspicion of their supporting terrorism. There are sure to be calls to allow law enforcement to more easily intercept electronic communications, even of those conducted entirely within the United States...

The Gun Debate's Inconvenient Truths

Flickr/Brett Weinstein
T he current yelling match about guns is distinguished by two truths disconcerting to each side. As loony as the argument sounds after a history of 224 years, the faction that opposes any oversight or management of gun rights is correct about one thing. The Second Amendment doesn’t exist to protect people’s right to hunt. It doesn’t exist to protect people’s right to shoot a thief or intruder. Derived from a similar stipulation in the English Bill of Rights of the 1600s, the Second Amendment exists for the same reason as the rest of the Bill of Rights—to further define the relationship between individual freedom and state power, and in this case to prohibit the state from unilaterally disarming the citizenry. It’s an important principle of human freedom, however fueled it may be in this day and age by the paranoia and derangement of a social fringe. The left focuses obsessively on the Second Amendment’s language about maintaining a militia because the Second Amendment is the one...

Limits of a Libertarian First Amendment

I had a few thoughts I wanted to share in response to Glenn Greenwald’s thoughtful reply to Mike Konczal and Jeremey Kessler’s Bloggingheads discussion re Citizens United . 1) I certainly agree that there’s something distinguishable between right-wing libertarianism and the First Amendment views of Mr. Greenwald, the ACLU, and Eliot Spitzer. The support for public financing is an extremely important difference, and I would be very curious to know what types of public matching or leveling, if any, Mr. Greenwald believes would be consistent with the First Amendment. The word “libertarianism” is not entirely out of place though. There was a pretty clear turn toward civil libertarianism in First Amendment doctrine in the 1920s and 30s, led by one of the most liberal justices to ever sit on the Court, Louis Brandeis. And it’s a view that won over many on the Roosevelt Court and Warren Court as they made First Amendment into the highly speech-protective doctrine we currently recognize. In...

27th Amendment or Bust

How the newest amendment to the Constitution was ratified, and why it's so hard to change the law of the land. 

(Flickr/The COM Library)
One afternoon in March 1982, an undergraduate student at the University of Texas named Gregory Watson was poking through the stacks of the Austin Central Library, researching a term paper he was going to write on the Equal Rights Amendment. He happened upon a book published by the Government Printing Office that included a copy of the Constitution, as well as several amendments that had been passed by Congress but not yet ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states. One such amendment limiting Congress' ability to give itself a raise caught his attention. Over the following ten years, it would become Watson's obsession, his life, and ultimately—20 years ago this month—the 27th and most recent Amendment to the United States Constitution. While the story of its enactment is an encouraging testament to the individual citizen’s power to enact change, the amendment's legality remains a gray area for legal scholars and it sets a troubling precedent for other amendments to be...

Don't Blame "Corporate Personhood"

(Flickr/watchingfrogsboll)
A merican politics is in trouble. A tsunami of unaccountable, untraceable political money is overwhelming the Republican race for the presidential nomination and threatens to do the same to the fall election. For many people, especially progressives, the culprit is easy to name: the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission , which swept away any limits on election-advocacy ads by corporations, unions, and “independent” political-action committees (PACs) and issue groups. Many progressives believe that Citizens United “made corporations people” and that a constitutional amendment restricting “corporate personhood” will cure this political ill. Citizens United is a bad decision. This obvious fact may even be dawning on the Court’s conservative majority, which is taking a surprisingly leisurely look at American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, in which the Montana Supreme Court directly challenged Citizens United , in essence telling the...

Calling for a Convention

Amending the Constitution is our best bet for fixing Congress.

To keep money from corrupting our democratic politics, we need constitutional change. No doubt lots can be done by statute alone—meaningful transparency rules, such as the Disclose Act, and small-dollar public funding, such as the Fair Elections Now Act. The Supreme Court, however, has all but guaranteed that these won’t be enough. Transparency by itself won’t build trust; public funding can only be voluntary; and independent expenditures are all but certain to swamp even the best reforms tolerated by the Court. If we’re ever going to get a Congress “dependent,” as James Madison put it in Federalist Paper No. 52, “upon the People alone,” and not “the Funders,” it is clear that Congress will need new constitutional authority. Yet it is also clear that Congress won’t ask for this authority itself. The chance that this Congress, or any Congress elected in the current environment, could muster 67 votes in the Senate to alter Washington’s economy of influence is zero. Congress is the...

The Constitution: A Love Story

It's time for liberals to reclaim our founding document from fanatics who worship its name but not its meaning.

When the 112th House of Representatives opened this past January with a reading of the United States Constitution, the intended political message was clear—the Republican Party was back to rescue the Constitution. Less clear was what Constitution Republicans were vowing to save. The version they ordered read was, in fact, stripped of language the leadership considered “superseded by amendment,” even though those measures are still in the text. Some are embarrassing. The provisions protecting slavery, for example, call into question the infallibility of the Founding Fathers. Since one of the standard conservative talking points is that the “original intent” of the framers is an infallible guide to wisdom, the fallible parts were better left unmentioned. As a matter of fact, the new majority was more eager to amend the Constitution than to read it. The reading of the censored Constitution actually took place on the second day of the House session. The leadership found time on the first...

Rick Perry Abandons Marriage Equality Federalism

Well that was quick : "I probably needed to add a few words after that 'it's fine with me' and that it's fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue," he said. "Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn't changed." Perry said he supported changing the Constitution in order to ban gay marriage, a position that he characterized as supportive of states' rights even as it would overrule New York's own decision on the matter. So Perry is okay with states deciding marriage issues on their own, up until the Constitution can be amended in order to prevent consenting adults in love with each other from forming marriage pacts recognized by the state. This is consistent from a federalist point of view but morally reprehensible in the sense that Perry supports amending the Constitution in order to reflect his personal prejudices about who is entitled to what fundamental rights. But I suppose you couldn't expect much from the kind of person who...

A Human Touch.

The thrust of E.J Dionne 's point is right , though I have a small quibble: But on reflection, I offer the Republicans two cheers for their fealty to their professed ideals. We badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows - and how Americans have argued about these questions since the beginning of the republic. This provision should be the springboard for a discussion all of us should join. [...] An examination of the Constitution that views it as something other than the books of Genesis or Leviticus would be good for the country. Of course, historical criticism reveals that the books of Genesis and Leviticus, like the Constitution, are messy works, written and compiled by a variety of people, with different ideas and competing conceptions of the right and good. This doesn't make them any less sacred, only human. So, to amend Dionne a little, what we want is an examination of the Constitution with an eye toward the human, and an appreciation of the...

The Constitution, Radicalism, and the "Mainstream."

Over at Slate , Dahlia Lithwick and Jeff Shesol give us the lowdown on the latest in conservative creativity, a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would allow states to band together to repeal any federal laws they didn't like. So for instance, if legislatures in two-thirds of the states decided that $7.25 is just way too much for people to be paid, they could nullify the federal minimum wage. Sounds like a great idea! What I really love is that the website for the plan wants you to "join the movement to restore the Constitution," by dismantling the rather carefully crafted balance the Constitution strikes between state and federal power. What's new about this isn't that a bunch of cranks are coming up with new ways to free themselves from government's authority -- we've always had that. What's different is that some of these cranks have gotten elected to offices at the state and even federal level, and the rest of their party is too terrified of primary challenges to stand...

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