Tag Archives: US Constitution

‘All men are created equal … ‘

I hope the debate over the nation’s founding documents continues for a good while. We need, as Americans, to remind ourselves of what the founders wrote and try to parse what they meant when they wrote these words.

While steering away from specific mention of the current controversy swirling around the nation, I feel a need to examine briefly this particular passage from the Declaration of Independence.

“All men are created equal.” 

I suppose you can look at that phrase and take it one of several ways. Yes, all “men” were “endowed with … certain unalienable rights.” That, of course, excludes women, who were left out of that formula. They couldn’t vote; indeed, it took the United States of America until the early 20th century to get around to granting women that right.

There’s a discrepancy worth noting here. “All men” didn’t really mean “all.” You see, we had this portion of our population at the time the Declaration of Independence was written that wasn’t even considered fully human. They were the slaves. They were kept in bondage by many of the men responsible for founding the nation.

I will try to insert myself into Thomas Jefferson’s skull for a moment. The principal author of the Declaration perhaps intended for it to mean “all.” Whatever his intent or his idea at the time he put that thought down on paper, it doesn’t negate for one instant its fundamental truth.

All men — and eventually all women — are endowed by the rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence.

Fast-forwarding to the 21st century, it is preposterous in the extreme to accept the presence of those who pretend to be members of a “superior race” of human beings.

We’re in the midst of yet another national discussion about hate groups, about so-called “white supremacists” and those who adhere to a political philosophy against which we entered a world war. 

They will insist that they are the patriots among us. That they know the meaning of our nation’s founding.

They … know … nothing.

The founders didn’t get everything quite right when they penned those cherished words. Those who came along later have sought to amend and improve that high-minded language.

We’re not quite at the point of pure perfection. But we’re a lot closer to it now than we were at our nation’s beginning.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution declares our intention to “form a more perfect Union.” I read that to mean that we’ll never quite reach the finish line. That does not mean we should stop reaching for it.

And then there’s the 25th Amendment

The United States of America functioned for nearly two centuries before it ratified a constitutional amendment dealing with presidential succession and the appointment of a vice president.

The 25th Amendment was ratified in February 1967. It came in reaction to the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. The new president, Lyndon Johnson, served the remainder of JFK’s term without a vice president. LBJ got elected in 1964 and Hubert Humphrey joined the administration as vice president. President Truman took office in April 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt died just a month into his fourth term; Truman served nearly a full term, therefore, without a vice president.

The amendment has been used exactly once. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 and President Nixon appointed House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to become vice president. The new VP then settled into the Oval Office Big Chair when Nixon resigned in August 1974.

I mention this today because the 25th Amendment is getting some attention these days. It allows for a temporary replacement of the president if a majority of the Cabinet determines he is unable to continue doing his presidential duties.

Donald John Trump is in trouble. A special counsel is examining whether his campaign colluded with Russian hackers seeking to meddle in our 2016 election. There might be some issues relating to Trump’s myriad business holdings, too. Oh, and then the president declares that “both sides” were at fault in the Charlottesville riot, causing a serious rift between the White House and members of Congress of both political parties.

There have been some questions about the president state of mind, his ability to actually govern and, yes, his mental competence.

I’m not qualified to offer a psychological diagnosis, let alone from half a continent away. So I won’t go there.

The 25th Amendment is meant to ensure the executive branch continues to function even in these difficult times. Just how difficult will they become? I guess that depends on how the president responds to the mounting pressure.

I keep hearing about how angry he is getting. He’s been cutting people loose all over the place: national security adviser, gone; press secretary, gone; communications director, gone; chief of staff, gone; FBI director, gone; senior strategist, gone.

Trump popped off about neo-Nazis and Klansmen. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have effectively rebuked the commander in chief, although not by name. Congressional leaders are starting to weigh in. There might be some diehard Trumpkins among them, but the vast majority of public response has been highly critical.

Republican leaders are aghast. Never mind what Democrats think; it’s a given that they detest the president already.

In the meantime, the 25th Amendment looms as a serious talking point among the chattering class in Washington, D.C. Don’t for a single moment believe that the president is ignoring the chatter.

Is it gut-check time for the NFL?

The National Football League needs to re-evaluate a few priorities.

A young man is trying to find a spot with one of the NFL’s professional football teams. He’s a pretty good quarterback. He once led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013.

Then he did something foolish, perhaps even stupid. He decided to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem at the start of football games. Colin Kaepernick was protesting the plight of African-Americans. He decided to make a political statement by declining to stand for the Anthem.

He’s been vilified ever since.

Why the NFL re-evaluation? Well consider a thing or two. The league has allowed actual convicted felons to play football. They’ve been convicted of spousal abuse, sexual abuse, illegal dog fighting, drug peddling. Why, one of the game’s all-time greats — retired linebacker Ray Lewis — once pleaded no contest to a charge in connection with the murder of an individual. He retired recently and has been feted as one of the game’s giants. Huh? Yep.

Kaepernick has been convicted of nothing. He has committed no crime. He merely chose to make a political statement. Yes, I wish he hadn’t done it that way. But that is his prerogative. It’s in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees him the right to do what he did.

Kaepernick was waived by the 49ers. He wants to keep playing football. General managers, team owners and head coaches are afraid of fan reaction, I suppose.

Check out John Feinstein’s excellent column on Kaepernick right here.

Do you remember when a young boxer declined induction into the U.S. Army, citing his religious objection to the Vietnam War? The late Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title in 1967 and then denied the opportunity to fight for a living. He was deprived of more than three prime years of his career. Then in 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Ali had been denied his constitutional right of religious freedom.

Ali returned to the boxing ring and, well, the rest is history.

Colin Kaepernick is facing much of the same recrimination. It is unjust. It’s gut-check time in the NFL.

‘The Constitution works’

The hour is late, but I cannot let this day pass without commenting briefly on a monumental event in our nation’s political history.

This single-sentence document is President Nixon’s resignation letter to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. As someone noted on social media, it could fit into tweet.

The Watergate scandal came to a conclusion with this note. The president said goodbye to the White House staff, shook hands with the new president, Gerald Ford, then boarded Marine One with his wife, Pat, and flew off into political oblivion.

It’s worth mentioning yet again, I suppose, because of the current president’s troubles. There’s been no shortage of comparison to what doomed the 37th president’s tenure to what we’re witnessing today in real time.

I am not going to predict a similar end to Donald Trump’s tenure.

I merely want to recall what President Ford said shortly after taking the oath of office 43 years ago today.

“The Constitution works,” the president reminded us.

Yes, that governing document gives me great comfort as we watch the current drama play out … no matter how it all ends.

Learn English to get in?

Pass the Pepto. I’m feeling a touch of heartburn as I ponder this latest public policy pronouncement from the president of the United States.

Donald Trump wants to impose stricter standards for legal immigrants seeking entry into the United States. They need to have certain skill sets and they need to be employable. They also need to learn to speak English.

I dislike the policy as a general rule. So do enough members of Congress to derail it on Capitol Hill.

It’s the English-speaking element that I want to discuss.

The United States does not have an “official language.” There’s no law on the books. The U.S. Constitution makes no reference to an official language. Thus, why does the president believe it’s imperative for immigrants who go through the process legally need to speak English?

I know that English is the predominant language spoken by U.S. citizens. I also know that many of those citizens are naturalized, that they weren’t born here and that they learned the language through various forms: formal classes, total immersion into society.

Moreover, I also concede that I get I get annoyed when I encounter service employees at, say, a grocery store who don’t understand me when I ask, “Where can I find some peanut butter?” They look at me as though I am speaking Martian. I throw up my hands and look for someone who speaks my language.

Is that sufficient reason to enact a law? Is it reason to require people to speak English?

I guess you can say I am officially undecided at this point, although I tend to lean against the notion of imposing such requirements on those who come to this country.

Yes, they need to speak at least a little bit of English if they seek to become U.S. citizens.

But those who seek green cards or work visas that enable them to live here? I will accept such a rule fully if and/or when we ever adopt English as the official language of the United States of America.

Remember the term ‘co-equal branch’

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney has laid down a marker to the U.S. Senate.

Lawmakers shouldn’t vote on anything else, he said, until they vote once again on a Republican-authored bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

There you have it. One branch of government is seeking to dictate to another branch how it does its job.

Hold on here, Mr. Budget Director.

Mulvaney ought to know better. He served in Congress before Donald John Trump tapped him as budget director. He used to fight on behalf of congressional prerogative, which is spelled out quite explicitly in that document called the United States Constitution.

The Constitution, furthermore, does not give the executive branch a single bit of authority over how the legislative branch conducts its business.

The term of art for more than two centuries has been that all three government branches are “co-equal.” That means they all have equal amounts of power. One branch cannot bully another branch.

“In the White House’s view, they can’t move on in the Senate,” Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “You can’t promise folks you’re going to do something for seven years, and then not do it.”

Got it, Mick. Do not, though, try to push senators around by laying out their legislative priorities for them. That’s their job. It’s in the Constitution. Really … it is!

Long live the secular state!

Jon Mark Beilue has done it again. He has written a spot-on column for the Amarillo Globe-News that I want to share here.

I won’t restate my friend’s thoughts, other than to echo his notion that the founding fathers created a marvelous governing document that has withstood many challenges over time.

They knew that the nation’s European immigrants came here to flee religious persecution, so they wrote into the Constitution’s First Amendment that there should be no law that established a state religion; indeed, of all the liberties protected in the First Amendment, they mentioned religion first.

Here, though, is an additional point I want to make above Beilue’s excellent essay.

It is that the United States to this very day remains a significantly more religious country than virtually all the nations of Europe. Americans are more inclined to attend worship services than Europeans. I am aware that church attendance is declining in the United States, but it remains far greater than it is throughout Europe, where worship attendance has plummeted for decades.

Why is that important? Because many nations of Europe have state religions. The United States has none. The Church of England? A state religion. Catholicism is ingrained in the governing documents of several European nations.

I make this U.S.-Europe connection only because those original immigrants came across The Pond from Europe.

The Constitution stipulates that there must be “no religious test” applied to candidates for public office at any level. The word “Christian” does not appear in the Constitution.

Were the founders fueled by their personal religious faith when they wrote the Constitution? Certainly. I don’t doubt that for a moment. However, they knew better than to write their faith into the nation’s government document.

As Jon Mark Beilue writes: “Our Founding Fathers, they knew what they were doing.”

Yep, the founders got it (mostly) right

Two hundred forty-one years later, it’s good to look back on what the nation’s founding fathers signed.

They stated in that document of independence declaration that “all men are created equal.” They put their names on the Declaration of Independence, many of them picked up their muskets and then went to war against the British Empire.

The fighting stopped in 1781. Then the founders went to work crafting a governing document we now know as the U.S. Constitution.

Did they get it 100 percent right when they signed off on that framework? Not really. I can think of two egregious errors of omission in that document.

The founders did not grant “all men” equal rights. Black men were enslaved. They were considered to be three-fifths of a human being. All men were created equal? No. The Emancipation Proclamation would set the slaves free in 1863, but it would take the nation two more years to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery once and for all.

Nor did the founders grant women full rights of citizenship, although they likely thought they were doing so at the time. Women couldn’t vote. They were mere spectators. It took the government a good bit longer to correct that error. In August 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting suffrage to women.

Thirty or 40 years ago, I might be inclined to dwell on those negative elements of our nation’s history. Today, I choose to concentrate on what the founders did right.

Their forebears came to this new land to escape religious persecution. Thus, the founders created a secular Constitution. They granted every citizen religious freedom, which also means they were free to not worship if they chose.

The founders separated the government into three co-equal branches, granting equal power to each of them. The president proposes laws; Congress disposes of them; the courts ensure their constitutionality.

The great Winston Churchill famously declared that representative democracy is the worst form of government ever created, but is superior to anything else. The founders, of course, didn’t anticipate such wisdom coming from the British Bulldog.

I also am quite certain they would agree with him.

Therefore, I choose to salute the founders’ success today. Their government is being tested yet again. I remain confident it will continue to function as those great men intended.

Let’s enjoy the nation’s birthday … and wish ourselves well

I make no secret of my dismay and disgust at the state of our national government.

It starts at the very top of the political food chain.

Here’s the thing, though. We’re about to celebrate the 241st year of our nation’s existence, or at least when it declared itself to be independent of the English monarch, King George III. Our revolution already was underway when those men signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

It would be another decade before our Constitution would be written and ratified.

Over the many decades since then, we’ve been through hell as a nation. Four of our presidents have been murdered while in office; others have died from other causes. We endured the Civil War, two world wars, and various conflicts that tore at the nation’s soul.

We have been hit twice — real hard — on our soil by our enemies. We have mourned the deaths of Americans we did not know.

Two of our presidents have been impeached. One of our president was on the verge of impeachment — and then he resigned. Congress has suffered through myriad scandals of varying types.

Our economic life has been imperiled. We had the Great Depression and something that we recently have referred to as the Great Recession. 

All this turmoil and tumult we’re going through today only serves to remind me of something most of have known all along: We are a resilient nation; we are filled with resolve and grit.

On this national birthday, I am driven to think of who we are, the journey we’ve taken, the wounds we have suffered and the healing that has occurred.

I plan, therefore, to set aside my disgust for a day at what is unfolding at this moment in the halls of power. I plan to cherish what I know to be true: We continue to be the greatest, most indispensable nation on Planet Earth.

Are we perfect? Of course not. We’ve been through hell as a people and we’re still standing tall.

Those men who signed that declaration knew what they were creating. Despite all that has transpired since that signing, I am as certain as I am writing these words that those men would proud of what they created.

Get set to watch further politicization of federal judiciary

Now there are “reports” that Anthony Kennedy is considering an end to his judicial career.

The Supreme Court associate justice’s retirement, if it comes next week as some are thinking it might, is going to produce something I suspect the nation’s founders didn’t anticipate when they wrote the U.S. Constitution.

That would be the extreme politicization of the judicial selection process.

Those silly men. Sure, they were smart. They weren’t clairvoyant.

The present-day reality is that the process has become highly political. When did politics play such a key role in selecting these jurists? It’s hard to pinpoint the start of it all. Some might suggest it began with President Reagan’s appointment in 1987 of Robert Bork to succeed Lewis Powell, who had retired. The Senate would reject Bork largely on the basis of his vast record of ultraconservative writings and legal opinions.

Clarence Thomas’s nomination in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush also produced plenty of fireworks, owing to the testimony of Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment and assorted acts of impropriety.

On and one it has gone, through Democratic and Republican administrations ever since.

The founders wrote a provision into the Constitution that allows federal judges to get lifetime appointments. The idea was to remove politics from their legal writings. Indeed, some judges have taken seats on the U.S. Supreme Court with their presidential benefactors expecting them to toe a philosophical line, only to be disappointed when they veer along uncharted judicial trails.

It’s too early to tell whether Justice Neil Gorsuch will fall into that pattern. He was Donald J. Trump’s initial pick for the high court. The president might get to make another appointment quite soon. Then again, maybe not.

Whenever that moment arrives, you can take this to the bank: The next Supreme Court pick is going to ignite a whopper of a political fight if one side of the Senate sees a dramatic shift in the court’s ideological balance.

Something tells me the founders might not have anticipated these judicial nominations would come to this.