Opinion: Constitutional boundaries breaking down

August 16, 2013


When I studied the U.S. Constitution in school, I learned that for a bill to become law it first had to be introduced in either the House or the Senate. Today, a cynic might say for a bill to become law a member of Congress must first be introduced to a lobbyist.

Much of government’s dysfunction, cost and overreach can be traced to the abandonment of the constitutional boundaries the Founders put in place for the purpose of controlling the lust for power.

In his new book, “The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic,” Mark R. Levin asserts the U.S. government isn’t performing up to standards established by the Founders because, like a flooding river, politicians have breached their constitutional limits.

Levin, who graduated with honors and a law degree from Temple University and who hosts a popular syndicated radio talk show, believes “The nation has entered an age of post-constitutional tyranny” resulting in this attitude by our leaders: “The public is not to be informed but indoctrinated, manipulated and misled.”

Before this is dismissed as the ranting of a far-right extremist, consider the case Levin builds: The executive branch has assumed for itself “broad lawmaking power,” creating departments and agencies that contravene the doctrine known as separation of powers; Congress creates monstrosities like Obamacare that have no constitutional origin, spending the country into record debt and making America dependent on foreign governments, especially China; the judiciary consists of men and women who are “no more virtuous than the rest of us and in some cases less so, as they suffer from the usual human imperfections and frailties.” And yet they make decisions in the name of the Constitution that cannot be defended according to the words of the Founders, who believed the judiciary should be the least powerful and consequential branch of government. In Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton wrote that the judicial branch would be the weakest of the three because it had “no influence over either the sword or the purse. ... It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment.”

Who can credibly disagree with Levin when he writes: “What was to be a relatively innocuous federal government, operating from a defined enumeration of specific grants of power, has become an ever-present and unaccountable force. It is the nation’s largest creditor, debtor, lender, employer, consumer, contractor, grantor, property owner, tenant, insurer, health-care provider and pension guarantor.”

To return America to its constitutional boundaries, Levin proposes a series of “liberty amendments” to the Constitution, beginning with one limiting the terms of congressmen so they might avoid the bipartisan virus that infects even some who believe in limited government, mutating them into power-hungry influence seekers with little regard for the public good.

Another amendment would establish term limits for Supreme Court justices. “The point is,” argues Levin, “that the Framers clearly intended to create intrinsic limitations on the ability of any one branch or level of government to have unanswered authority over the other.”

Another amendment would establish spending limits for the government. Another would grant states the authority to check Congress.

Levin admits these amendments are unlikely to win congressional approval because, in Washington, power is not willingly relinquished. That’s why he proposes the states bypass Congress, as the Framers provided, and pass these amendments themselves. As Levin notes, “Article V (of the Constitution) expressly grants state legislatures significant authority to rebalance the constitutional structure for the purpose of restoring our founding principles should the federal government shed its limitations, abandon its original purpose and grow too powerful, as many delegates in Philadelphia and the state conventions had worried it might.”

Americans who care about the health and future of their country have the power through the states to force the federal government to abide by its founding document. Mark Levin’s book is a serious work that can serve as an action plan for curing what ails us.

What’s needed is less focus on Washington and more on state capitals where legislators are more likely to be responsive to the demands of “we the people.”

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


jafs 4 years, 10 months ago

While I agree that politics has become corrupted by monetary influences, this column has so many errors it's hard to know where to start.

Calling executive agencies "lawmakers" is inaccurate.

According to the current SC, the ACA is constitutional. And, it's projected to lower the deficit, not raise it. Also, most of our debt is self held - only a small percentage is held by other countries.

Not sure that the Federalist papers are a good source, since we decided early on to deviate from their principles in certain ways.

I don't see how term limits solve the problem.

Article V doesn't do what he claims - it gives states the power to propose amendments, but not to pass them themselves without the federal government. And, to propose one, 2/3 of the states would have to agree on it.

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago

Well, I think the SC has a better handle on constitutionality than Cal Thomas.

You're right - I didn't understand the second part of Article V - it seems that it would be possible for 3/4 of the states to pass an amendment without federal involvement. I wonder if it's ever been done that way.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 10 months ago

It hasn't been done that way and in my opinion, it would be a dangerous thing to even try. What it would be in reality would be a new Constitutional Congress with the topics not limited in any way, other than if they chose to do so. So if say, it were called to discuss a Balanced Budget Amendment and once convened, they chose to also discuss and possibly change the First Amendment, there would be nothing to stop them. If such a Congress were convened say in the aftermath of a significant national event, again maybe like a 9/11 event or a stock market crash, emotions might get the better of the Congressional attendees.

While the more commonly used method may seem unduly burdensome, ask supporters of the ERA, with only the original precedent to guide them, I'd be a little frightened of a whole new Constitutional Congress.

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago


But, it's clearly constitutionally acceptable - they wouldn't have written Article V in that way if they didn't want to allow it.

It still requires 3/4 of the states to get together on something, which isn't easy.

What story is our immigration discussion on? I can't seem to find it again.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 10 months ago

the story about dangers and college students

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