April 26, 2010 – Articles IV – VII of the U.S. Constitution – Guest Blogger: Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School
Monday, April 26th, 2010
Articles IV through VII of the Constitution are, even for many educated Americans, terra incognita. People may know about the first three articles, important as they are in defining the separation of powers at the national level among the three branches and in drawing basic divisions between the national government and the states. Despite their brevity, these often-overlooked articles play significant roles.
When the Constitution was adopted, the framers hoped, as the Preamble declares, to form a “more perfect Union.” They recognized (in part out of political calculation) that a union already existed under the Articles of Confederation. They wanted to tweak the system enough to place it on a sounder political and economic footing. Part of their plan was to give more independence to a revamped United States government, as the first three Articles demonstrate. But, given the size of the republic and the dispersion of its population, the national government was expected to remain a comparatively restrained political player. While the suspicion over “consolidation” was often in the open, the enumeration of formally limited powers and the practice of a part-time Congress were evidence of the expected state of affairs.
Quite naturally, then, much was left to the constitutional domain and the political discretion of the states. Inter-state collaboration and cooperation were practical necessities. Half of Article IV deals with that fact of political life. The “full faith and credit” clause of Section 1 and the “privileges and immunities,” “extradition,” and (now superseded) “fugitive slave” clauses of Section 2 are testaments to the Framers’ concerns about potential interstate frictions that might undermine union. All but the last were also in the Articles of Confederation, and the same continue to be significant today.
One area of potential constitutional conflict in the future is whether or not a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage is constitutionally obligated to give full faith and credit to a same-sex marriage granted in another state. Currently, the federal Defense of Marriage Act protects non-recognition of a same-sex marriage granted in another state. But that law itself may be unconstitutional under Article IV. It’s a close case, though there is some judicial precedent for the position that a state need not recognize an act of a sister state that is repugnant to its own public policy.
The other half of Article IV deals with obligations of the federal government to the states. In little more than 100 words, Section 3 sets forth Congress’s powers to create new states and to dispose of territory and property of the United States. That section was the source of critical federal policies during the great westward push under Manifest Destiny through which unorganized territory became organized and, eventually, advanced to statehood.
Section 4 obligates the United States to guarantee to each state a republican form of government, to protect each state against invasion, and to render assistance against domestic violence if asked. The state of Arizona may well ask whether the federal government has breached that second obligation in failing to protect the border against armed marauders, thereby necessitating the state to take stronger actions against illegal aliens. The last part of Section 4 is one explanation for why the federal military response to Hurricane Katrina was so “late.” The federal government was constitutionally obligated to wait for a request from the governor for assistance, a request slow in coming.
Article V may be the most important part of the Constitution, as it provides the formal means of amendment. This was an area of laborious compromise and reflects a combination of experience with the Articles of Confederation and the various state constitutions, and the development of American constitutional theories of popular sovereignty that broke with English constitutionalism.
There are two methods of proposing amendments and two methods for ratification. The method used for all amendments to the Constitution, though not for the drafting of the Constitution itself, is to have a vote by 2/3 of each house of Congress. Though the matter is constitutionally not free from doubt, by long-accepted practice, the president’s signature is not needed. Many framers feared, however, that the Congress would not advance amendments that might curtail federal power. Hence an alternative permits 2/3 of the states to petition Congress for a convention to propose amendments. Though this method has not been used, some proposals have come close. There are almost the needed number of states for a balanced-budget amendment, a matter that is taking on added urgency in view of trillion dollar deficits.
If an amendment is proposed, 3/4 of the states must approve, either by legislatures (a “republican” principle) or state conventions (a “quasi-democratic” principle), as Congress directs. All but the amendment to repeal prohibition have gone the legislative route. These supermajority requirements were a compromise between the English constitutional theory (also used in early state constitutions) that allowed constitutional change by simple majority vote of the legislature and the unanimity requirement for constitutional change under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution, the Framers concluded, must be amendable, but not so freely as to promote instability. Note, though, that the Constitution does not have the “democratic” option of amendment by petition or vote of the people directly, as many states have.
Article VI contains a pillar of our federal structure, the “supremacy clause.” That clause makes the federal Constitution, treaties, and statutes superior to conflicting state laws. The clause is an enhanced version of a blander clause in the Articles of Confederation. It enshrines a principle central to the revised structure of the Constitution, that of a sovereign United States independent of, and—within its delegated functions—superior to, the states. From a political perspective, it is not an overstatement to say that, for better or worse, this is the most significant provision in the development of the current (im)balance that exists between the national government and the states.
Equally important, Article VI expressly binds the state courts to abide by the federal supreme law when there exists a conflict with state law. That provision recognizes that, since the Supreme Court is the only constitutionally required federal tribunal, state courts might operate as inferior federal courts. It also creates a judicial “branch” that straddles the divide between federal sovereignty and state sovereignty more than the political branches do.
Article VII provides for the process of ratification. There are many fascinating historical undercurrents at work in the Article. First, it encapsulates the revolutionary nature of the process that led to the Constitution. It must be recalled that the Articles of Confederation required that the Congress approve any amendment, which then also had to be approved by the legislature of each state. Also, the charge from the Confederation Congress to the Convention was “for the sole and express purpose” of reporting to Congress and the states proposed revisions that still had to be approved by Congress and the states, all in conformance with the existing structure.
The Framers, however, created a completely new structure to replace the Articles. In Article VII, they made it sufficient for initial ratification that only nine states approve. In the resolution to send a courtesy copy to the Confederation Congress, the Philadelphia Convention very pointedly required approval by the states but not the Congress. Moreover, the approval was to be by conventions in the states, not by the legislatures.
The non-unanimity requirement is significant because the Framers faced a practical problem. Rhode Island was so opposed to the project that they had not even sent delegates. They were, therefore, hardly likely to approve. Rhode Island’s non-attendance, by the way, is one reason why the Committee of Style changed the Preamble of the Constitution from “We, the people of [then listed the states]” to “We, the people of the United States.” Moreover, the Articles had taken four years to approve. The concern was that unanimous approval would encourage a similar delay. Delay works against constitutional change, as the supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment found out in the 1970s. The Framers gambled that adoption by nine states would create its own momentum for adoption by the other four. The gamble worked, but it turned out to be a close-run thing.
The requirement for conventions was both practical, in that the anti-Constitution forces were more likely entrenched among the political interests in the state legislatures than among more broadly selected conventions. Conventions also reflected better the emerging American political theory that, while legislatures made ordinary laws, constitutions were expressions of shared fundamental political values that went to the very purpose of government. Constitutions, then, were social contracts resting on more direct exercise of popular sovereignty. They were, in the words of George Washington, “explicit and authentic acts” of the people. Since the entire population of a state could not be brought together to deliberate and vote on the Constitution, a convention selected for that purpose from the people of the state was the next best alternative.
A final oddity in Article VII is that the signatories made a rather sterile declaration of witness. In the Articles of Confederation, the signatories declared that they fully ratify and confirm everything said therein and pledged their constituents’ support. In the Constitution, the signatories merely attest that the “States present” (i.e., no Rhode Island) unanimously approved the Convention’s actions. A number of delegates had left the convention because they personally disapproved of the result, as did some of those who remained to sign. In this manner of attesting, there was no personal commitment of support that could prove politically problematic back home. It is like being a witness to a will signing. The witnesses merely attest that the process, such as having the testator sign the document after declaring it to be his will, was completed properly. The witnesses are not declaring their support for the substance of the will. Therefore, if the testator disinherits his family and gives everything to his golf buddies, the witnesses are not morally implicated.
In the end, it was somewhat of a political miracle that the Constitution was adopted at all. It is not a perfect document, and, had the people then been able to see the political reality in which it operates today, they might well have preferred something else. But it endures for many as a symbol of what should be, not only what is—the idea of the Constitution as much as its function.
Professor Joerg W. Knipprath
Southwestern Law School
Los Angeles, California
An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums.
47 Responses to “April 26, 2010 – Articles IV – VII of the U.S. Constitution – Guest Blogger: Joerg Knipprath, Professor ofLaw at Southwestern Law School”
Daniel Smith says:
Could states like California and Texas, with the approval of Congress, be divided thereby avoiding the presidential problem of 2000.
Shannon C. says:
The supremacy clause allows Federal Law to supersede State’s law. But doesn’t that mean the state’s don’t have to adhere to federal law if that federal law is unconstitutional-such as mandated healthcare?
Shannon C. says:
Do states have the right to secede from the Union?
Susan Craig says:
The provision for states to propose amendments makes a Constitutional Convention a lot more likely in the present situation as I (and I think most) thought it would entail a redo of the entire document. As I read it, at the next Governors meeting they could convene a convention specificly to draft a balance budget amendment or a strengthening of the 10th amendment change to put before congress. This makes the objections to a ConCon less daunting.
I, also, appreciated the reminder of the drafters humanity with the inclusion of the errata sheet in the last article.
Carolyn Attaway says:
@Shannon – according to sources, Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869) was argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1869. The Court held in a 5–3 decision that the Constitution did not permit states to secede from the United States, and that the ordinances of secession, and all the acts of the legislatures within seceding states intended to give effect to such ordinances, were “absolutely null”. However, the decision did allow some possibility of the divisibility “through revolution, or through consent of the States”.
I find the last line fascinating, given all the current legistlation that is being formed in many states since this current administration came to office. It seems the 2 major issues, healthacre and immigration have caused the most uproar given the current number of states suing the federal gov’t over the healthcare mandate and commerce laws, and the new immigration law that was just signed in Arizona.
However, all states appear to be working on their State Legistlation to prepare for any possible future conflicts with Federal Law. For example on April 1, 2009, (as I understand it) the Georgia State Senate passed a resolution 43-1 affirming states’ rights based on Jeffersonian principles; and for other purposes. Acts which would cause a nullification of federal law include, but are not limited to:
Further infringements on the right to keep and bear arms including prohibitions of type or quantity of arms or ammunition; Any act regarding religion; further limitations on freedom of political speech; or further limitations on freedom of the press, and Requiring involuntary servitude, or governmental service other than a draft during a declared war, or pursuant to, or as an alternative to, incarceration after due process of law.
It will be interesting to follow the Supreme Court procedure regarding States Rights in the HealthCare Case. And as I understand it, the healthcare law cannot be challenged until it goes into effect and some one or entity is harmed by the law. Such as a shareholder of a company that goes out of business due to the costs/taxes imposed by the law, they can sue the gov’t for theft. Also, the commerce laws makes no provision to force someone to engage in interstate commerce.
Also, I appreciated the point made about the Federal gov’t being constitutionally obligated to wait for a State Governor’s request for assistance before intervention can be enacted. The contrast between Katrina and Arizona is striking regarding the assistance from the Federal Gov’t.
This is so interesting. Yesterday, my husband and I were having a discussion about the new immigration law in Arizona. I see it as unconstitutional and he see’s it as the state having to do something since the Federal Government has not fulfilled its obligation. We had to agree to disagree on this one.
Robert Shanbaum says:
Shannon C. wrote, “Do states have the right to secede from the Union?”
Apparently not. See, U.S. Civil War, 1861-1865; an example of a Constitutional dispute not settled by the judiciary.
Robert Shanbaum says:
Susan Craig, I don’t see where a “Governors meeting” could enter into any call for a Constitutional convention – a petition by “the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several states” is the requirement. The executives of the states are left out of the process.
Note that there’s no language that suggests that there would be any limit to the amendments that could be proposed at such a convention.
There’s a requirement in the Connecticut Constitution that requires, every 20 years, a referendum on whether to hold a constitutional convention to amend (or conceivably replace) the state constitution. This was most recently held in 2008, when 59% of voters answered “no.”
The reason the question failed, I think, is that it was seen as likely to attract activists – persons having one axe or another to grind – to a disproportionate degree. In the pursuit of one’s objective by that means, one runs a substantial risk of getting something one doesn’t want .
Robert Shanbaum says:
By the way, Shannon C., you may be interested in Andrew Jackson’s response to your question, given 33 years before the issue was settled with finality:
Jackson could run on; here’s the most apposite passage:
But each State having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with the other States a single nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because such secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation, and any injury to that unity is not only a breach which would result from the contravention of a compact, but it is an offense against the whole Union.
Susan Craig says:
State Suffrage? Hasn’t that been abrogated by the XVII amendment? Article V: The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
The only thing that has been changed is that the State has been deprived of its Suffrage by the XVIIth amendment which removed from the state the right to select its Senators.
Mike Lowry says:
Article V is my favorite part of the entire Constitution, for it puts into the hands of the states a way to bring our runaway Congress back under our control. We need additional amendments to:
1. Impose lifetime term limits of 12 years on Congress
2. Impose a requirement for a Balanced Budget
3. Repeal the 16th Amendment and force implementation of a consumption tax(i.e., the Fair Tax.
4. Impose Congressional integrity that: (a) forces a statement of Constitutional authority to be attached to every bill, (b) forces an affidavit that they have read and understand every bill, (c) prevents them from exemting themselves from any law, and (d) prevents them from enacting any program for themselves that is not available to the general public.
Ron Meier says:
Thanks, your comments provide some interesting additional color and current relevance that I had not picked up on my initial reading and note taking.
Susan Craig says:
There is an annual meeting of Governors. If at this years convocation of governors, they got 34 of them to agree that an amendment was needed (say on clarification of the commerce clause, immigration or a balanced budget) would that be a call to convene a Convention for that limited purpose?
Lillian Harvey says:
I was thinking the same thing, Susan, after reading the Articles and Prof. Knipprath’s blog. Given the political climate today, we certainly can not count on Congress to act on behalf of the People as their will appears to serve the interest of their political party and ideology instead. That’s my opinion anyway. I also don’t feel we could count on all the state legislatures for the same reason. But, some guidance on setting up conventions within the States would be a start.
A question for the participants: if you were part of a constitutional convention in your state, what issues would you want addressed? Where do you think our biggest problem is? The one condition I would suggest is that the 50 United States remain intact, as I believe our strength has always been in our unity.
Could the State Legislatures limit the agenda of a Constitutional Convention? For example, could 2/3 of the states approve a resolution calling for a convention, but only to consider specific amendments? Any other topics would be off-limits, and the state delegation would be given strict instrutions to withdraw if any other topic was discussed. The only amendments that could be discussed and acted upon would be those approved by at least 2/3 of the states.
This would be a means to “control” a convention, and prevent it from spiraling out of control and overthrowing theConstitution itself.
This method thus imposes three “filters” (or checks, if you will), on a Constitutional Convention.
First, the agenda items would have to be approved by 2/3 of the states. No other topics would be permitted.
Second, the Convention, made up of delegations from each state that chooses to participate (even if they did not approve a resolution calling for the convention in the first place), would debate each proposed amendment. The Convention would decide (by majority vote) whether to propose an amendment, and would also approve the final language of the amendment. The debate at the convention would thus be a second “filter” (or check).
Third, any proposed amendments would be sent to the States for consideration (either by state legislatures, or by state conventions). This would provide the third “filter.”
Finally, the Convention would be public, and would probably generate a great deal of media coverage and discussion. This openness would serve as a sort of “brake” on the convention, because the public would not accept a radical departure from the Constitution.
Shannon C. says:
Lillian Harvey , I live in Georgia. My desires would be the following Amendments:
1. Balanced Budget
2. Term Limits-one term each, as I am so anti Congress:)
3. Repeal the 16th Amendment and say a human’s labor cannot be taxed (income tax). A consumption tax would be my choice.
4. Reword the 10th Amendment to make it understandable to the Big Government Lovers: If it isn’t in theConstitution, stay out of it!
Susan Craig says:
I feel the relevant portion is as follows; on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; If called for by their governors the individual states legislatures concurring would constitute a call for such a convention and it also says nothing about needing to start from scratch the scope could be as confined as necessary.
Thomas Soyars says:
@Susan — can you point out a section of the Constitution that makes the Arizona law unconstitutional? What about Article IV Section 4. “and shall protect each of them against Invasion” Look sto me like the federal government has failed in their duty and the state is taking it upon itself to remedy the problem. Congress has also failed to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization” (Article I, Section 8).
@Mike Lowry I agree with most of your recommendations but I have a problem with a balanced budget amendment that is too strict. There may be times (war, severe natural disaster, economic upheaval) that would require the government to run a temporarily unbalance budget. I would propose a measure that teh government be required to have a balanced budget over a rolling five year period. That way you could run a deficit in one or more years and be able to make it up in other years. It would give more flexibility but still provide for a balanced budget overall. I would also add an amendment that the federal government cannot pass unfunded mandates onto the states.
@Joerg Knipprath — the best blog yet (in my humble opinion).
Joe Rech says:
-Term limits – three for House, two for senate, two for Pres. Retirement gained in thirds for House, halfs for Senate and Pres.
-Balanced budget – except in times of national emergency (disaster or war)
-Repeal taxes – any current taxes enacted for a specific purpose and that purpose no longer exists, immediate repeal.
-VAT replace income tax, started at some level like 11% and NEVER to exceed 17%, not always levied on all levels of production and not always the same on all products (can be 11% on food, 17% on yachts?)
-limits on other taxes – 25% inheritance tax on $1mil or more, cap gains tax limits 15%
-reiterate oath – support and defend the constitution – not interpret the constitution.
Donna Hardeman says:
Lillian – I agree with Shannon’s List (which is almost identical to Mike’s list). The one thing I would point out, however, is my belief that Congress – either house – be allowed 2 terms. I believe you need some members in Congress who are not “lame ducks” i.e. who know they will have to vote with the will of the electorate if they expect to get elected again. However, by denying the long term benefits of continued “service” we would be denying the chance to get so firmly embedded that political favors, etc. become more important than the people.
Susan – could you clarify your point about Suffrage being denied? I’m responding to what I think you said but am not totally sure I understood you. Suffrage (voting) rights in the U.S. Senate have not been denied to the States. All States still have 2 Senators representing them. What changed was the manner of selecting the Senators. Originally it was the state legislature and now it’s by popular vote.
Shannon C. says:
Suasn Craig, You tell ‘em! Good points. Man, I am so glad this site exists. The only thing I wish was a little different is if the guest bloggers could opine in on a few of these a few times a day to answer a few questions.
Donna Hardeman says:
Susan – you and your husband seem to be on 2 different issues in discussing the immigration law. He is certainly correct in saying Arizona took action because the federal government wouldn’t. You may also be correct in saying it’s unconstitutional. Problem is, I couldn’t find the actual text online so I can only comment on what news is out there. It has been suggested that immigration laws are federal rights and not states’ rights. However, if the Arizonalaw simply mirrors the federal law in making it a state crime to be in Arizona illegally, I don’t think this would pose an issue. Also, it’s been suggested that you can’t racially profile by stopping someone solely for the purpose of checking identification. Jan Brewer claims the law simply requires identification to be carried so proof of legality can be shown if someone is stopped for a crime. This also would pose no constitutional problem. If you figure out where the text is, let me know and I can blog a little more intelligently on the subject. Do you have a specific challenge to the constitutionality?
Carolyn Attaway says:
Hello Shannon C. from a fellow Georgian!
Our State has to have a Balanced Budget, so I agree that those same rules should apply to the Federal Gov’t. The Pay As You Go is a complete disaster and Congress cannot even stick to their own rules.
I think it should be a 2-term limit, just because I personally feel that 1 term is not enough time some really good congressmen need to get issues addressed and completed. However, I feel every congressman should pledge to uphold the Constitution, and that impeachment should be allowed if they abuse their time in Congress.
Along with the 16th, I think the 17th Amendment should be repealed. Senators should represent their State’s interest, and quite going rogue.
The 10th Amendment can be reworded to be more specific, but I think the problem lies with the States giving to much of their power away in exchange for funds. Over time, all those little crumbs they have been throwing away to the Fed. Gov’t, have now been gathered together, and the States are realizing half their bakery is gone, and managed by someone else.
Another amendment that should receive serious consideration is a “Single Topic Legislation” requirement. Several states have a provision that each bill considered by the legislature must have a single topic only. So-called “omnibus” bills are prohibited, as are “earmarks” and “riders” that are unpopular expenditures attached to an important bill. (The Stimulus Package passed last year was a hodgepodge of pet projects. It is unlikely that those projects would pass if they stood alone).
In other words, every proposal considered by Congress would have to stand or fall on its own. This would help reduce deficit spending by forcing Congress to look at each proposal separately, and not as small earmarks on a gargantuan bill.
Debbie Beardsley says:
“Equally important, Article VI expressly binds the state courts to abide by the federal supreme law when there exists a conflict with state law. ” I am taking this to mean that the states must follow Federal law at a minimum. If so, how and why are the states allowed to “decide” to not follow federal law. Ie, California and the medical marijuana or the wonderful mayor of San Francisco declaring a sanctuary city????? Doesn’t this behavior and the lack of action on the part of the government a big slap in the face to the Constitution?
I am loving reading and learning but at the same time it is very disheartening to see how far away from theConstitution we have strayed.
Chuck Plano, Tx says:
In regard to Texas being able to devide itself as was suggested by someone, reference California and Texas dividing in order to prevent a repeat of the 2000 Presidential election, Texas has that right as stated in the Joint Resolution for the annexiation of March 1, 1845 . This right was mantained and specifically quoted in other settlements of border disputes with Mexico in the Treaty of Gadulape Hidalgo and the Treaty of The Gadsden Purchase. This is only one question regarding Texas as Texas entered the United States as a free and Soviourn Nation and yet it’s annexiation was by joint resolution and not a treaty. The Senate rejected a treaty to annex Texas four times in 1844 so did Congress have the right under the Constution to Annex a Nation?? The Constution is silent on this as it refers to territories, article IV Section 3, and not nations.
Andy Sparks says:
@Robert: Does might make right? Historically there have been many occasions where states have threatened secession: some of the western states when it seemed the U.S. would support a Spanish decision to close off the Mississippi during the early days of the Republic, some radicals in the New England states during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson even initially had secessionist language in the Kentucky Resolutions he drafted in 1798 (he was convinced to remove the offending passage before it was submitted). Why would parties threaten to secede if they didn’t think it was a viable option. While the Texas vs. White case put a law on the books regarding the legality of secession in 1869 after the Civil War, it would be interesting to see if it could be held up if challenged. The fact is that the Constitution is fairly quiet regarding the constitutionality of the issue.
Donna Hardeman says:
Guest bloggers coming in at the end of the day to review some of the comments and questions is a supremely good idea. Shannon – I must admit, it had occurred to me also but I’m glad you put it in writing. Maybe this idea could be incorporated into our learning process. We all have great comments and questions but the experts here could help.
Susan Craig says:
States Suffrage has been taken away and another Representative has been put in the Senators place. As I read the original articles the House of Representatives was to have been the representative body of the ‘vox populi’ whereas the Senators were to be the corporate representation of the State as a corporate whole. Now there is no longer a corporate representation of the the State but another directly selected Representative of the people.
Making it so that 2/3 was needed for ratification seems very strategic to me. It seems that the government enjoys that they don’t need everyone’s approval. (As in the 3/5 Compromise in 1787– WHY would being black ever make you less of a person?) I also appreciate that in Article 6 it is stated that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” If religious discrimination isn’t acceptable in government, why is it still so prevalent?
If one state has a controversial law, like legalizing same sex marriage, would holding a convention be the first step towards creating an amendment? After that it would run through both the houses and then to the people…
Lynne Newcomer says:
Hi all, great stuff again.AZ,Govner is a brave soul, she has pushed the hand as no one has managed to.After reading J, Knippraths comments it seems to me that in Art.4 section 4,(protection fom invasion) might be the key in fighting for the Constitutionality of the States new law.However I have this nagging feeling that there is probably grounds to overturn it… in that perhaps it could be construded that the long, long history of NOT inforcing the laws that are on the book already my be percieved as consent.On top of that when an act that is against the law is ignored, people begin to think of it as “their right” to continue an set aside the law they know exists,but have rendered it without any reach.
Is this the reason that the laws have been ignored so long, was this the grounds that were maturing as the years wore on( I know that sounds like conspiracy stuff)but I find no sense is the past lack of willingness to act by DC.
Constituting America says:
hey! It’s Janine Turner. I agree! I would LOVE to get the Constitutional Scholars of the day to chime in at least once more during the day to answer questions. This was my original intent. I am working on it! I am so glad y’all have joined our blog. Isn’t it wonderful to have this opportunity to study our Constitution. I am learning so much – such as why the Preamble states, “We the People of the United States..” That’s a cook piece of trivia. Yes?
Shannon C. says:
Janine, GREAT thing you are doing. As a dad of two little girls, this is so important for their futures.
Can someone tell me if I have this right? The Supremacy Clause, as I understand it, means that federal lawsupercedes state law. However, I take the last sentence to mean in today’s language , “UNLESS the federal law is unconstitutional or goes against an existing state law.”
My point is, just because the federal government mandates somthing like healthcare purchasing, that does not mean it is constitutional.
J.D. Wiggins says:
Please comment on Article VI “Supremacy Clause.” Couldn’t this be used as a back door for making the Second Amendment null and void?
Joerg Knipprath says:
There are a lot of terrific questions here. I wish we could have a seminar to discuss them all. Let me just address a couple. ERL asked whether the states could limit a constitutional convention to a particular topic. If 34 states call for a balanced budget amendment, technically Congress would call a convention to discuss only that topic. But what if the delegates decided to push further? This is unknown territory, and why most constitutional law professors and most politicians oppose this method. It is less the states than the Congress that is likely to fear a run-away convention. Congress could refuse to forward to the states anything that went beyond the charge to the convention. However, there is a precedent for a run-away convention going beyond their charge and then submitting their product directly to the states. That would be the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. Their action is based on the 18th/19th century theory of popular sovereignty that the people, as soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice James Wilson said at the time, “The people may change the constitutions whenever and however they please.” Kept within the context of Article V, this is not even that radical. Could the people change the Constitution outside Article V, simply by gathering in convention (say, a huge town hall meeting over the internet)? That issue was argued before the Supreme Court in 1849, arising out of just such an attempt to adopt a new constitution in Rhode Island (which controversy produced a small “insurrection”—the Dorr War). The attorneys, including Daniel Webster and other high-powered talent, argued the issue of popular constitutionalism exhaustively; the Supreme Court then ducked the issue, deeming it a non-justiciable political question not suited for the courts. There is insight in that. Ultimately, these basic constitutional issues are political. Could today’s Congress refuse to pass along other constitutional changes demanded by a convention, without appearing to disregard popular will? The Confederation Congress couldn’t oppose the political appeal of the Convention’s action. On the other hand, today’s Congress may not be as sensitive to the popular will.
Joerg Knipprath says:
Let me answer a couple more. The single topic issue. There is a historical argument exactly like that. It arose out of the “line-item veto” controversy, when Congress in the 1990s tried to give the President a limited line-item veto over certain budgetary and tax issues. The Supreme Court found that to be unconstitutional. One argument in support of the law is that the Constitution requires each “bill” or joint resolution to pass both houses and be presented to the President. Some historians analyzed the term and argued that, at the time of the founding, the meaning of “bill” was understood to focus on a single subject. Plausibly, that would have required each budget item to be approved separately, rather than as one “Omnibus Budget Bill.” However, the practice since nearly the beginning has been to allow bills to address more than one subject.
Merely having governors call for a convention is not enough. Legislatures have to act. Do legislatures have to phrase their petitions identically? Or just enough for Congress to get the message? Again, that is ultimately a matter of political pressure. Could states rescind their petition before a convention is called? Probably yes.
As to the Supremacy Clause, for the states to be bound by a federal law, it would have to be constitutional. But sometimes states are prohibited from acting, even if there is no specific federal law against them. Sometimes the mere existence of a federal power in the Constitution prevents a state from acting is the state’s action conflicts with the purpose of the provision in the Constitution. That’s called “dormant federal power” theory. If the Constitutionis said to make a certain power “exclusive” in the federal government, the states cannot act in that area at all. One possible example is the federal power over immigration and naturalization. That is one potential problem for parts of the AZ law. If the Constitution intends for federal power to be exclusive, then states cannot act even in trhe absence of federal regulation or even in support of similar federal law. I have posted about this further on my blog.
ERL, I agree with a Single Topic/Issue Legislation. Not only would the ‘we, the people’ see the text (hopefully), we would also know who supports the legislation (or is beholden to special interests/lobbyists. And need I say, it would be a short bill! KIS – Keep It Simple!
Lillian Harvey says:
Hi Georgians and others… Virginian here ). These are my thoughts on the Constitutional Convention.
First fix some problematic fixes: Repeal the 16th and 17th Amendments.
-Repealing the 16th returns to Congress the authority to impose import and excise taxes only. How they work within that framework would be an interesting national discussion, whether it be through VAT or Fair Taxation. One thing I like in the Fair Tax proposal is that the percentage of your purchase that is the tax is on your sales receipt. If it is increased, the consumers, We the People, can demand to know why. I am against the Flat Income Tax because we all know that flat tax percentage will increase. Repealing the amendment that allows income to be taxed is critical to me.
-Repealing the 17th would put Senators back to work for the States they represent. If they are going to be there forever, they better be working for the State legislatures that sent them instead of a political party machine.
-I would love to see the language clarified on the recess appointments clause. If the Executive can’t get an appointment through the Senate during regular sessions, there is something wrong with the appointment. It sets up too much game playing and distracts from the work that needs to be done. Although worrying to me, it is not as important as the repeals of the aforementioned amendments. I am in a “less is more” mood.
From what the Professor has written, the Omnibus-type bills Congress seems to love appear to be the source of our budgetary problems. When I think about it, the greatest objection to the Healthcare bill was its size and scope. The call to kill that bill and deal with each component separately so the issues of access, cost and the overall impact on the economy/businesses could be better anticipated was the loudest from We the People. But the Executive and Congressional leadership absolutely refused to do this. Why?
Now we are in a real mess. You can’t just repeal the bad parts; the whole thing has to go. And it is my belief that it should. If the Congress can not do something correctly, that power to manage these issues should remain with the States. Then Congress can clean up their act or we clean up the Congress in the next election cycle.
Is there a way to write constitutional language insisting upon one bill, or issue, being dealt with at a time? It seems that the Supreme Court ruling against the line item veto was based on the notion of Congress legislating one issue at a time. Since that is not the case, is the Supreme Court decision relevant?
Shannon C. says:
Mr. Knipprath, thanks for your willingness to come back and answer some questions!!! You did a good job.
@WeThePeople – nobody ever said being black made someone “less of a person.” Remember, the more people in the state, the more representatives the state receives. The problem was if black slaves were counted as part of the population, the southern slave states would be entitled to more representatives. The northern states were against that. Of course, the southern states wanted to count the slaves so they could have the extra representatives.
The compromise was made so the south wouldn’t be “over-represented” in the northerners’ view. It never says anywhere in the Constitution that a black is “less of a person.”
Practically speaking, a state would get 1 representative for 30,000 white citizens, but it would take 50,000 black slaves to get another representative.
Robert Shanbaum says:
@Andy: I do not think that “might makes right”, but I think that might sometimes makes fact.
As you suggest, the Constitution itself is silent on the issue, although one can trace the commitment to a “perpetual” union stated in the Articles of Confederation through the “more perfect union” objective stated in the Constitutionas one approach to arguing in favor of the voluntary act of union being legally undoable.
Given that there is no power of secession clearly reserved to the states in the Constitution, it’s hard to see how the question matters much from a practical standpoint. Whether a state would be “allowed” to secede would be determined by the actions of the remainder of the Union, which could either force the issue or not – just like the last time the question arose. There’s no court in which the controversy might be meaningfully resolved; the seceding state would hardly be likely to recognize the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
Given our avowed (or maybe I should say “presumed”) commitment to the right of self-determination, at least when it comes to other peoples, I don’t think that the actions of the U.S. in the Civil War were necessarily “right”, but I think I’m glad the Union was preserved – “right” or not.
Chuck Plano, Tx says:
So Robert if preserving the Union is something that is best for the whole why did the United States at the time Texas declared it’s independence from Mexico the United States was one of the first to recognize that or when the State of Georga declared her independence from the USSR and the other Baltic and Eastern Block countries did the same we seemed as a Nation to think that was the “right” thing to do. It was because we believed that “People” retain the right to self determination and that right is granted to us by “God” not the state.
Mary Lou Leddy says:
I am so excited about this project. Studying the Constitution has been a real eye opener for me. I must admit it is frightening to see how far this great country has veered from the Constitution . I am however uplifted by reading the blogs from all of you. I firmly believe that by becomimg more aware of the founders thoughts and words we can make much better choices of candidates who run for office. Candidates who are believers and supporters of theConstitution.
Special thanks to Janine & Cathy
Brenda Wilson says:
In readiing about a state honoring a homosexual marriage as law when they were not entered into this law was quite surprizing to me. This is what we call a slippery slope where it comes to recognizing something a violitile as this subject is. I would have a difficult time condoning this as constitutional but evidently it is. This is one thing I think the Framers of this constitution would never condone nor would give credence. So the amendment to this law had to be made so that a state would not have to be forced into an immoral state simply because they disagree and have a moral duty to uphold. These fianl articles have an impartail upholding in passing that they needed only witnesses and not a quorum of 2/3 of the staqtes representatives. This was so because one state never was there to cast its vote nd thereby be apart of this constitution.
Andy Sparks says:
Well put. I would point to the 10th amendment which specifies that those powers not specifically delegated to theConstitution are reserved to the States or the People as an argument for (at least) the possibility of secession. While I may disagree (somewhat) to your argument, I do not disagree with your sentiment. I, for one, am glad the Union won despite being born and raised in Texas.
“Currently, the federal Defense of Marriage Act protects non-recognition of a same-sex marriage granted in another state. But that law itself may be unconstitutional under Article IV. It’s a close case…”
It shouldn’t be. The push for same sex marriage is clearly an attempt by some for whom liberty means license to impose their immorality on society at large, and clearly the full faith and credit clause was never intended to facilitate such perfidy.