Constitution

Announcement Mystery Topic Challenge #4

The topic for Mystery Topic Challenge #4 is:

If you were President/Prime Minister for a day, with the power to do absolutely anything (Supreme Court? What Supreme Court?), what would you do and why?

Tax Reform Promises Treats, Delivers Tricks, by US Rep. Ron Paul

Representative Charles Rangel’s recently announced plan to address the impending Alternative Minimum Tax’s application to middle-class Americans demonstrates limited economic understanding.

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) began in the late 1960's because 155 wealthy taxpayers had become savvy enough with loopholes that they managed to avoid income taxes altogether. Very few Americans avoided taxes completely this way, nonetheless, policy was enacted that now threatens 25 million Americans.

Rangel's plan boasts loudly about repealing the AMT, but under the Democrats’ pay-as-you-go rules, actual tax cuts are not allowed. Congress must replace any tax revenue reduction with an increase somewhere else, and of course, there are no rules preventing tax hikes. Thus, a new 4% surtax on incomes over $150,000 for singles and $200,000 for couples is proposed to "pay for" the estimated lost revenue. This simultaneously raises $36 billion MORE than simply leaving the AMT alone, and creates a huge new marriage penalty tax. It won't be long before $150,000 is an average income, and middle class taxpayers will again face the situation we see coming today from inflation and the AMT. Overall, the Rangel tax plan is estimated to increase taxes by $3.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

Peter Namtvedt's picture

The General Welfare Clause

The Founding Fathers would have been surprised (again) by the confusion they have caused by the clause "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." We have our Libertarian understanding of what people understood that to mean at the time, but the intent of the members ratifying the constitution was in fact varied. This troubling clause was interpreted in an increasingly non-libertarian way through history. Amendments to the constitution would be in order.

American Freedom Agenda Act of 2007, by US Rep. Ron Paul

Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing a comprehensive piece of legislation to restore the American Constitution and to restore the liberties that have been sadly eroded over the past several years.

This legislation seeks to restore the checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers to prevent abuse of Americans by their government. This proposed legislation would repeal the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and re-establish the traditional practice that military commissions may be used to try war crimes in places of active hostility where a rapid trial is necessary to preserve evidence or prevent chaos.

Peter Namtvedt's picture

Equal Protection of the Laws

Much adulation has been given the "equal protection of the laws" clause of the constitution. Some of it is no doubt deserved. But it will hardly do as the ultimate protection of our liberty rights, as compared to the due process protection, let alone the privileges and immunities clause. Neither the individual liberties recognized in the original constitution of 1787 (the privilege of habeas corpus, no bills of attainder, nor ex post facto laws or the freedom to travel), or the Bill of Rights should be regarded as the ultimate defense. After all what "equal protection" guarantees is just that everyone will enjoy the same justice and must suffer the same injustices. It could be a lot of protection or it could be hardly any. It could be like living with a government that truly secured our liberties, or it could be like living with a government that could do anything it wanted.
Peter Namtvedt's picture

Constitutional Problems: Privileges and Immunities

Our Constitution contained a "bill of rights" before it was even amended:"The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States." Article IV, section 2. People who read it in 1878 understood it to be equivalent to the full panoply of natural rights, which was far greater than even the later First through the Tenth Amendments in content. The Founding Fathers and every educated person in the United States at that time has this understanding of natural rights. To rely on other constitutional statements in the defense of individual rights is to propose what would be a weaker and incomplete defense of our liberties. The due process clause and the equal protection clause alone allow for abridging of natural rights as long as the right procedure is followed and the same procedure applies to all citizens. This is less than full natural rights. Unfortunately it took less than 100 years for people to forget the meaning of those words, which were once packed with meaning. The constitution still excludes many decisions from majority rule, whether of the people or congress or the supreme court. Some that were originally protected are now exposed to voting. Instead of abridging of, or infringing on rights, government regulates some rights, ignores some rights in favor of laws on the basis of "rational review," and others are regarded as ink-blots. The privileges and immunities clause is now practically gone.
Peter Namtvedt's picture

Constitutional Problems: Due Process

Do we have inalienable rights? The administration of justice is according to established rules and principles 1) that a person cannot be deprived of life or liberty or property without appropriate legal procedures and safeguards, and 2) that the same laws and legal procedures and safeguards apply equally to all people (everyone is subject to the exact same laws and procedures). The core of this is the doctrine of the due process of the law. This applies to everyone, without exception. Depriving anyone of fundamental liberties can only be done by applying the law of the land, i.e., the same law that is applied to everyone. The trouble with the clause is partly that it allows government to deprive you of things, even if you are found "not guilty" of a crime (see "takings" at the end of the Fifth Amendment). Another trouble with the due process clause is that it has been applied to cases where other constitutional protections provide an even better defense of liberties. And to neglect those protections, and perhaps to go even farther and to rely more on the equal protection of the laws clause, is to make fundamental liberties into alienable properties. The principle that everyone is born with certain inalienable rights is then but a poetic statement in the Declaration of Independence and is not a constitutional principle.
Peter Namtvedt's picture

Constitutional Problems: the Contract Clause

The Contract Clause is just one of several clauses in the U.S. Constitution that are troubling. The meaning they had among the people who had read the Constitution when it was adopted is no longer the meaning today. Several aspects are ignored, some have been broadened so as to include other meanings far from those of the time the Constitution was adopted. This is the second of these bi-weekly articles that will cover 10 such troubling clauses, which deals with the Contract Clause, that only intended fairness in the right of private parties to have protected contracts they enter into, not just in the interest of each party against the other, but also from state laws that would harm either party. This protection has been attacked in court decisions over time until it is now primarily at the private contract level, often allowing debtor relief (at the cost of the lender) and allowing state alteration of its own contracts, which harms contracting citizens.
Peter Namtvedt's picture

Constitutional Problems: the Commerce Clause

There are several clauses in the U.S. Constitution that are troubling. The meaning they had among the people who had read the Constitution soon after it was adopted is no longer the meaning today. Several parts are either no longer considered to be in use or are ignored or have been broadened so as to include other meanings far from those of the time this nation was formed. First of these bi-weekly articles that will cover 10 of these troubling clauses, is this article on the Commerce Clause, which only intended fairness in the transportation of goods between the states, Indian tribes and other nations and today knows no limits.

Protecting Marriage from Judicial Tyranny, by US Rep. Ron Paul

Mr. Speaker, as an original cosponsor of the Marriage Protection Act (HR 3313), I strongly urge my colleagues to support this bill. HR 3313 ensures federal courts will not undermine any state laws regulating marriage by forcing a state to recognize same-sex marriage licenses issued in another state. The Marriage Protection Act thus ensures that the authority to regulate marriage remains with individual states and communities, as the drafters of the Constitution intended.

The House of Representatives Must be Elected!, by US Rep. Ron Paul

Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.J.Res. 83, which amends the United States Constitution to allow appointed persons to fill vacancies in the House of Representatives in the event of an emergency. Since the Continuity of Government (COG) Commission first proposed altering our system of government by allowing appointed members to serve in this body. I, along with other members of Congress, journalists, academics, and policy experts, have expressed concerns that having appointed members serve in the House of Representatives is inconsistent with the House’s historic function as the branch of Congress most directly accountable to the people.

Even with the direct election of Senators, the fact that members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years (while Senators run for statewide office every six years) means that members of the House are still more accountable to the people than members of any other part of the federal government. Appointed members of Congress simply cannot be truly representative. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton eloquently made this point in Federalist 52: “As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people. Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured.”

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