While We’re at It

April 24, 2014

Multiple Pages
While We’re at It

Retired SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stevens wants to amend the U.S. Constitution, I see. The old boy—he’s just turned 94—has a book out in which he proposes six amendments. You can read about them at that first link; or hey, buy the book.

I want to play this game. True, I don’t have the jurisprudential expertise of a bloke who warmed a SCOTUS seat for 35 years; but, like Charles the First, “I know as much law as any gentleman in England,” so I’ll take a shot at some constitutional amendments of my own. Let’s see if we can get some petitions going here.

I want amendments:

1.  Requiring that congressional and state legislative districts be “compact and composed of contiguous territory” to stop both parties from carving out safe seats.

That’s a cheat.  I’ve taken it verbatim from Justice Stevens’ own list.  It’s the only one of his that I heartily agree with.

Here they are, those convoluted congressional districts you’ve probably seen, gerrymandered to maximize the advantage of whoever’s in power when the lines get drawn.

“If Congress can’t find one federal officeholder to impeach in five years, they’re not paying attention.”

Within the limits imposed by geography (coastlines, state borders), congressional districts should meet some minimum standard of convexity. And yes, convexity can be quantified: there’s a whole mathematical theory to work from.

Can the Constitution tell states how to draw their legislative districts, though? If the judge guy thinks it can, I guess it can. We just crossed the boundaries of my own constitutional knowledge. Next!

2.  Mandating term limits for elective federal positions.

Rather than blanket limits, I’d put in a “filter” so that very capable persons could serve multiple terms. Something like this, perhaps: first-past-the-post as the default rule, but any candidate standing for re-election to an n-th term (n > 1) must win at least fraction n/(n+1) of votes cast, or be disqualified. You want a fifth term? Win five-sixths of the votes.

3.  Withholding the vote in federal elections from all civilian federal employees.

This is elementary. If government’s your living, of course you’ll want more government. Why do you think six of the nation’s ten richest counties are in the Washington, D.C. commuter zone?

You say universal suffrage is a treasured and hard-won feature of our democracy? All right; but I’m not denying the vote to women, blacks, or aborigines. I’m denying it to forest rangers, federal judges, and GS-15s in the Department of Administrative Affairs. If they don’t like it, let ’em get jobs in the private sector.

4.  Ending all federal recognition of Indian tribes (or any other tribes) . . .

. . . and transferring title to their reservation lands, in equal portions, to the people living there at the date the amendment is drafted.

5.  Forbidding any federal assistance to education whatsoever.

What is the case for federal assistance to education? NIH grants fund academic research? So fund it off-campus. Poor kids won’t get schooled? Is that really something states can’t manage? Poorer states will have inferior schools? “There is a lack of consistent evidence on whether education expenditures are related to academic achievement.”

That should extend to federal assistance for students. You want a loan for college, go ask your bank.

6.  Restoring freedom of association.

No federal law should oblige citizens, in their private and commercial transactions, to deal with people they don’t want to deal with. If I don’t want to bake you a wedding cake, or serve you at my lunch counter, I shouldn’t have to.

Wouldn’t that lead to a lot of—gasp!—discrimination? Yes, it probably would. So what? People will figure out ways to make money serving the discriminated-against. That’s the “free” in “free enterprise.”

7.  Barring religious organizations from receiving federal funds or contracting in any way with federal agencies.

That’ll shut down the refugee-resettlement rackets. Why are outfits like Catholic Charities and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society getting tens of millions of dollars from the feds? How does this square with separation of church and state? It doesn’t. Shut off the spigot.

8.  Amend Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to restrict birth citizenship to infants with at least one citizen parent.

Birthright citizenship is a dumb idea. It invites “obstetric tourism” and illegal immigration.

While we’re at it, let’s have an amendment . . .

9.  . . . banning dual citizenship.

For goodness’ sake!

10.  Negating any power given to Congress in the Constitution if that power goes unexercised for five years.

I’m thinking here of Article III, Section 2, limiting the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court by “such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.” Use it or lose it, guys.

Wait a minute, you may say: What about the power to declare war in Article I, Section 8? You want Congress to declare war once every five years? What about the power of impeachment?  What about . . . ?

Yeah, yeah. I want them to exercise their powers so they don’t forget they have them, as they appear to be doing. We could come to some arrangement with, say, Burkina Faso so that if nobody else needs declaring war against, we’d pro forma go to war with them. Fire a few rounds across the border into bushes, then have our ambassador sign a peace treaty.

As for the power of impeachment: If Congress can’t find one federal officeholder to impeach in five years, they’re not paying attention.

11.  Mandate that any lecture presentation either be restricted to chalk, blackboard, and duster, or employ a federally accredited, licensed, and insured PowerPoint technician.

Frivolous?  Possibly, but please give me this one.  Yesterday I attended a lecture by an eminent cognitive scientist who spent half the time trying to find things on his MacBook while his audience sat fidgeting. Today I attended a lecture by a very well-known philosopher (name an anagram of DIDN’T NET AN EEL) who kept us waiting twenty minutes while techies tried to hook up his MacBook.

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