What’s a Little Article V Among Friends?

 .  . . and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate. – Article V, U.S. Constitution

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. – 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

Even a curmudgeon like me will concede that not all debates over constitutional meaning are crystal clear. Interpreting original meaning (or intent, if you prefer) can be difficult. Trying to determine whether the freedom of speech clause of the first amendment really applies to political donations, or whether the first amendment even applies to the federal government at all, is not necessarily black and white.

But then there are certain clauses which are really not open to interpretation. There’s no creative way to argue that a 31-year old man born and naturalized in France is eligible for the presidency. Similarly, the equal composition of the Senate is laid out in black and white throughout the constitutional text. More importantly, this is one element of the constitution that cannot simply be amended by the traditional process. As laid out in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, no state can be deprived of equal suffrage in the Senate without its consent. This means that for all practical purposes equal suffrage in the Senate cannot be altered unless every single state assents to this change, which really means that equal suffrage in the Senate cannot be altered. This would seem pretty straightforward.

Not if you’re a writer for the Atlantic with a day job teaching Legal Studies at Business Ethics at Wharton, because Eric Orts has a proposition for you: we’ll just legislate this pesky hindrance away. No, seriously:

There’s a better, more elegant, constitutional way out. Let’s allocate one seat to each state automatically to preserve federalism, but apportion the rest based on population. Here’s how.

Start with the total U.S. population, then divide by 100, since that’s the size of the current, more deliberative upper chamber. Next, allocate senators to each state according to their share of the total; 2/100 equals two senators, 3/100 equals three, etc. Update the apportionment every decade according to the official census.

In the new allocation, the total number of senators would be 110. The total is more than 100 because 10 of the smallest states have much less than 0.5/100 of the U.S. population but are still entitled to one senator each.

So how do you get out of the clear constitutional prohibition against this change? Legislation, of course:

First, consider that Article V applies only to amendments. Congress would adopt the Rule of One Hundred scheme as a statute; let’s call it the Senate Reform Act. Because it’s legislation rather than an amendment, Article V would—arguably—not apply.

Second, the states, through the various voting-rights amendments—the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth—have already given their “consent” by directing Congress to adopt legislation to protect equal voting rights, and this delegated power explicitly applies to “the United States” as well as the states. The Senate Reform Act would simply shift seats according to population. No state or its citizens would lose the franchise.

Note that even states that did not ratify the voting-rights amendments have, functionally, consented to them, and thus also to the constitutional logic supporting a Senate Reform Act. As Justice Clarence Thomas explained in 1995, “The people of each State obviously did trust their fate to the people of the several States when they consented to the Constitution; not only did they empower the governmental institutions of the United States, but they also agreed to be bound by constitutional amendments that they themselves refused to ratify.”

There are so many logical problems with this that you can drive a truck through them, and fortunately Charles Cooke has done the job natural-born Americans won’t do:

Never in the history of the English language has the word “arguably” done as much work to support the sentences around it. And never, ever has it been so cruelly exposed to ridicule. On Orts’s rationale, Congress could amend any part of the Constitution by legislation. Want to abolish the First Amendment? Just pass the repeal through Congress on a simple majority vote. Easy! That the various branches of government are formed by the Constitution itself — and, by extension, that they cannot amend their own structure without that Constitution being amended — is the most elementary rule in all of American law. It cannot be undone by wishful thinking. Indeed, if anything, the Senate’s structure is the most permanent variable in the entire U.S. Constitution, given that it not only enjoys the same protection as everything else, but has an extra layer on top that ensures that any alteration be made with the consent of those directly affected. For Orts to treat the most heavily guarded item within the document as if it were the most easily circumvented is nothing less than extraordinary, and suggests to me that he believes his audience is stupid.

As to point two:

Even for those of us who are accustomed to learning in awe about the many innovative policies the architects of the Reconstruction Amendments intended secretly to mandate in the future, this one is a doozy. Insofar as it can be followed, Orts’s case here is that (a) the Constitution protects equal voting rights, (b) that, in his view, the Senate does not protect equal voting rights, so (c) the Constitution mandates that the Senate be altered — presumably via the “arguable” legislative method outlined above. Historically, legally, and linguistically, this approach is bizarre: If the framers of the “Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth” amendments had wanted to abolish or amend the Senate, they would have done so — or, rather, they wouldn’t have done so, because their amendments would have failed spectacularly at the first hurdle. Worse still, it is extremely dangerous, for if Orts’s approach were to be indulged, we would quickly move so far beyond both the security of both stare decisis and plain language as to invite endless, untrammeled chaos. Why? Well, because one can play his game with anything. First, you find a part of the Constitution that guarantees a favored end — say, “establish justice,” “promote general welfare,” or guarantee “freedom of the press”; then you contend that this end is incompatible with any other provision you happen not to like; and, finally, you explain that the provision you dislike is itself unconstitutional. At best, this method represents cheap sophistry. At worst, it represents anarchy. Again: “Our Constitution is more malleable than many imagine” is a euphemism for “We must ignore the law as it is written.”

Now take it home Charles:

But we must not, of course. Rather, we must ignore Orts, and we must push back against people who believe their job is to rewrite history and to misinform on a grand scale. I can see why certain professors feel the need to do this: Absurd as his cases always are, my proverbial Grunton Rabitini of Soiled Woods College has his words repeated widely by the unprincipled and the uninformed. But I cannot see why The Atlantic needs to publish it. We have a civics problem already in this country. Professor Orts and his editors just made it that little bit worse.

Unbelievably, Orts tried to fight back on Twitter, spending most of the time (incorrectly) complaining that Cooke failed to substantively address any of his points, relying instead on personal attacks, even as Orts accuses Cooke of taking his position because of “white privilege.” Even by the usual dumb standards of Twitter it was pretty horrific.

It’s sad to recall that Orts is an actual professor who teaches college students, because his understanding of constitutional law couldn’t be much dimmer than his average student.

The Left’s Ill-Gotten Gains

I’m short on time for the next couple of days, so I won’t be able to post anything of substance. In the meantime, here’s a Kevin Williamson post which, as almost always, cuts to the heart of a matter. The left has been far more reliant on the Court to uphold rights it views as intrinsic, and that’s what scares them so much about the future of the Court.

And that is what terrifies the Left about the current direction of the Supreme Court. Roe v. Wadere presents ill-gotten political gains. While the NRA got a big win in the courts a few years back — one entirely in keeping with the actual text of the Constitution as it exists, not as progressives wish it were — it mainly has advanced its agenda and defended its agenda and defended its gains through ordinary democratic politics. It is not, contrary to the myth, a particularly big political donor or spender (not even in the top 100 last I checked) that gets things done by throwing money around. Until its recent (and, in my view, ill-advised) metamorphosis into a full-spectrum culture-war outfit, the NRA was a very disciplined and narrowly focused single-issue outfit, which made it truly bipartisan: Harry Reid may have been a train wreck on 99.99 percent of the issues, but he was solid on guns, and the NRA credited him for that.

NARAL and Planned Parenthood, who together form what we might understand as the NRA of abortion rights, are above all things terrified that they might be reduced to ordinary democratic political activism in a post-Roe world. They want to defend those ill-gotten gains, and they understand that the American consensus on abortion is a lot closer to the thinking of, say, George W. Bush than it is to that of the butchers’ guild. There is volatility in the polling, but by and large Americans take a pretty liberal view of abortion in the first trimester and in cases involving rape, incest, or serious threats to the health of the mother; they are open to many kinds of restriction and take a much more restrictive view as the pregnancy advances. If democratic preferences prevail, it is likely that U.S. abortion regulation will end up looking something more like what prevails in much of Europe. Not as restrictive as pro-lifers would like, but more restrictive than what we have.

Read the rest at the link I provided.

Thanks, Maxine

I mean if stunts like this are effective, why not keep repeating them?

Republican Maryland Rep. Andy Harris was reportedly assaulted by protesters inside of his office on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

According to Jennifer Bendery, a reporter for The Huffington Post, the Capitol Police confirmed that protesters pushed in the door to Harris’ office and assaulted the congressman.

“Harris was trying to hold his office door closed but was not successful,” Bendery tweeted. “Also the demonstrators were smoking weed.”

Wait, they were smoking weed? Isn’t weed supposed to make you mellow?

Sadly, we’re almost certain to see more of this.

Update: Turns out they may be pro marijuana protesters.

 

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Again, pot is supposed to make you mellow.

The Kavanaugh confirmation circus has amped up tensions, but this is a good reminder that we reached a fevered state long before the Kavanaugh nomination.

Orval Faubus Comes to California

Though certainly not nearly a sentiment shared by most conservatives, some have suggested that the proper response to judicial overreach is to simply ignore the courts. In other words, for example, Donald Trump should have made like Andrew Jackson when his travel ban was put on hold and declared that “The Ninth Circuit has made its decision, let them enforce it.”*

More popular on the right – though again, not necessarily a majority opinion – is the concept of nullification. According to this theory, states are within their constitutional rights to ignore federal law that is facially unconstitutional. Thomas Jefferson justified this concept in his draft of the Kentucky Resolutions  (in response to the alien and sedition acts), though Madison did not go so far in the Virginia Resolutions.

Both sentiments are put forward as proof as the recklessness of the right. Furthermore, the intransigence of certain states righters is historically symbolized by the likes of Orval Fauvus, who defied the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate public schools. Thus these concepts are tied with the forces of evil and racism.

So which state is actively engaged in both nullification and defiance of court orders? Alabama? Mississippi? Texas? Look away, look away, look away, it’s California.

That’s right. Not only is California acting in de facto nullification by prohibiting all local governments from cooperating with federal officials to uphold immigration law, the state is now ignoring a court order barring the state from enforcing this statute upon charter cities who refuse to be sanctuary cities.

Despite an Orange County judge’s ruling this week that California’s so-called sanctuary protections for immigrants who are in the country illegally are unconstitutional as they apply to charter cities, state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said Friday that the state would continue to uphold its laws.

“Preserving the safety and constitutional rights of all our people is a statewide imperative which cannot be undermined by contrary local rules,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will continue working to ensure that our values and laws like the California Values Act are upheld throughout our state.”

SB 54 is the law in question here, and I don’t see how it can be viewed as anything but nullification. In essence, California is saying it will not comply with federal law. Or, to put it a bit differently, it will refuse to cooperate with enforcement of federal law. Not only that, but it has prohibited municipalities from even thinking of cooperation.

More troubling, though, is the state’s ostentatious “eff you” to the ruling issued last week exempting charter cities in the state from the law. Not only will the state refuse to comply with the feds, it’s bluntly saying that no court will make it respect the will of resident in any locality which chooses not to participate in California’s defiance.

Most Californians vociferously denounce the supposed tyranny of President Trump, yet he has done nothing even remotely as brazen as this.

I must also chuckle at Becerra go on about “preserving” the “constitutional rights” of all Californians. So the constitutional rights of illegal aliens must be upheld, even though they possess no such rights. As for the lawful citizens of their state, such constitutional guarantees as the right to a republican form of government can safely be ignored.

And people wonder why much of the country looks upon California with disdain.

*It is not certain Andrew Jackson actually said this famous quote about Marshall, but the sentiment was a historical fact.

Power Politics

There is a political party in America where a not inconsiderable number of its members evidently believe that the FBI is staffed by infallible men who have superhuman like abilities to discover the truth of accusations, even into areas over which they have no jurisdiction, and who also implicitly think that any man accused of rape is guilty until proven innocent.

The new law and order party: the Democrats of 2018.

Let me tackle the somewhat less serious issue first. The mantra, repeated endlessly for the past two weeks, is all we need to do to get to the bottom of the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh is have the FBI investigate. Nevermind that the allegations do not involve a federal crime, or that Kavanaugh has been investigated (so to speak) multiple times by the FBI due to the positions he has held or has been nominated for. No, that’s not enough. Only the FBI has the authority and skills to determine the truth.

AG Conservative explains why this is all a load of bunk better than I can. Long story short, Congress is itself an investigative body. An FBI investigation will yield nothing that has not already been revealed. This is nothing more than a delaying tactic, but it’s a farce we’ll have to endure for another week to satisfy the man from Arizona with the spine of jell-o.

As for the #BelieveSurvivors contingent, this is a bit more delicate. Women who bring forward rape allegations should not be ceremoniously disregarded or mocked (though the allegations brought to light by porn lawyer Michael Avenatti are so bizarre they may merit being disregarded out of hand). A woman should not be made to feel like her life is threatened were she to bring forward an allegation or charge.

But the idea that all women should be entirely believed automatically is another. Of course, the logical corollary to “the accuser should be believed” is not necessarily “the accused is therefore guilty.” Even if one believes some kind of attack happened to the accuser, there could be any number of lapses in memory that mean the accused is not the guilty party. Leaving that aside, though, in today’s world “believe the accuser” is de facto “assume the accused is guilty.” And that is grossly unfair both as a matter of law and social construct.

One of the more repugnant critiques of any attempt at defending Kavanaugh is to say that this is merely a “job interview,” not a trial. Once again, the aforementioned AG Conservative is a good source for rebuttals to this argument. Of course Kavanaugh is not entitled to the Supreme Court seat, nor is the bar as high in assessing his guilt or innocence as high as it would be if he were on trial. But that does not mean the burden of proof is flipped and the presumption of guilt hold sway until he somehow prove his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.

For Brett Kavanaugh, more than just a job is at stake. His reputation has already been sullied, and if his nomination were to be withdrawn “just to save face,” the presumption of guilt will linger for the rest of his life. Indeed, for millions he is already assumed to be guilty, but that is their problem. It is not right to have a man be considered an attempted rapist just because of the existence of the accusation. And if you think that all the other facts of his life make this a consideration not worth keeping in mind, then I would like to see how you treat a false accusation leveled against you.

Another issue with this presumption of guilt (or automatic belief in the veracity of the accuser’s claim) is that is has put sexual assault crimes in a special category. If Brett Kavanaugh had been alleged to have gotten drunk and assaulted one of his classmates, I don’t think we’d be seeing a “believe the man” campaign. Even granting that sexual assault or rape are much more traumatic for the victims and meriting of special scorn (and I do grant that), that does not mean all the rules of due process fly out the window only for crimes of a sexual nature.

Over the past few months I have been listening to the Constitutionally Speaking podcast, and it’s made me look more closely at the ratification debates. The lack of a guarantee of jury trials in civil cases, and the lack of a bill of rights including a due process guarantee are among the most important causes of opposition to the constitution. This recognition of the vital importance of due process is not just some legal mumbo jumbo applicable solely to defendants at court. It is a reflection of the importance our society places on fair play. Indeed our country’s abandonment of that principle with regards to certain segments of society is rightfully seen as one of the primary blots on our nation’s history. Funny that the people who are quickest to condemn our country’s past for failing to live up to this ideal are the ones loudest in their condemnation of Kavanaugh.

For too long conservatives have been too quick to believe men in badges, and have also tended to be the quickest in assuming the defendant in a trial is guilty before all the evidence comes in. That has been changing over the past few years, at least in certain conservative circles. More conservatives are coming to appreciate the importance of respecting the rights of the accused – and even the condemned, at least when it comes to conservative embrace of prison reform. Most conservatives (though sadly not enough) rightly were outraged at the murders of Philando Castile and Botham Jean, and though we may debate some of the elements of #BlackLivesMatter, there’s a growing appreciation of the extreme fallibility of men and women of the law.

So that makes these recent developments all the more chilling. The left is becoming more comfortable with goon-like tactics while abandoning the concept of due process.

I think there’s a name for that.