September 16, 2011

The Commandments of the US Constitution (long form)

The Principles of the Constitution

  1. We shall not have a tyrannical government
    • government shall not have unlimited power
    • government power shall be dispersed to prevent its accumulation; the different parts shall provide “checks” on the others
    • individuals shall not be able to leverage the power of government for long
    • individuals who violate the public trust can be removed from office
    • the power of the government shall be limited to specified areas
    • many personal rights will be specified so as to also restrict government power from infringing them
  2. Each of us shall have rights the government can’t take away
    • no one has special rights
    • one person's rights can’t be used to infringe on others rights
    • people can believe in any religion or none; therefore no one can be forced to belong to any religion
    • no one can be held in slavery or involuntary servitude
    • all citizens have the right to vote
    • a small, enumerated set of national emergency situations permit suspending specifically listed constitutional rights, but in no other circumstances and for no other rights
  3. No religion or religious sect gets government preference over another
    • government can't require any person to be of a religion
    • government can’t require a religious test, nor require god's name, for an oath of office
  4. None of us can be unjustly deprived of life, liberty or property
    • no one can be spied on, be arrested or have there property taken with showing probable cause beforehand
    • any imprisoned person can challenge the reason why they are being held in court
    • any accused person get their day in court in a timely manner, a fair chance to defend themselves and be judged by their peers rather than the government
  5. Each of us can say what they believe, including especially about the government
    • people can get together and say what they believe
    • people can publish what they believe
  6. We shall have a representative government so it can be changed and its power checked
    • some parts will be more representative than others
    • some parts will be more quickly responsive to the people than others
    • all citizens of a certain age can vote; there shall be no discrimination between different classes of citizens
  7. We shall have a nation governed by the rule of law
    • no one is above the law
    • the law applies equally to everyone
  8. All laws and government actions must conform to the US Constitution, which is the ultimate authority
    • new laws under the US Constitution can be created by the Congress & President
    • treaties with other countries can be agreed by the Senate & President, but once approved have the same force as the US Constitution
    • all state constitutions and laws are subject to the US Constitution
    • powers not enumerated in the US Constitution devolve to states or the People
    • the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all disputes about the constitutionality of laws or actions, including by the President or between the branches of government or between a citizen or state and the government or any of its branches
    • the constitution can be amended, but the process isn't easy to ensure broad acceptance
  9. The nation can defend itself, fight wars and provide for a military
    • the government can raise and sustain armies, including in peacetime
    • money shall only be allocated for limited time, by the Congress
    • the President will be head of the military
    • the Congress can limit by regulation how the military can do things and what things it can do, including the President as head of the military
  10. We can tax ourselves and regulate interstate commerce
  11. The federal government shall be our voice in foreign relations

These do not look anything like the Judeoo-Christian 10 Commandments, about which I've remarked here.

The Commandments of the US Constitution (short form)

The Constitution’s Basic Principles

The primary purpose of the constitution so to describe how we form (constitute) our government — not to delineate every moral code we choose as a society — in order to determine how governmental power is determined, allocated and shared.

The general principles underlying our American Constitution form a set of “commandments” of our American government that we share:

  1. We shall not have a tyrannical government
  2. We shall have a representative government so it can be changed and its power checked
  3. Each of us shall have rights the government can’t take away
  4. No religion or religious sect gets government preference over another
  5. None of us can be unjustly deprived of life, liberty or property
  6. Each of us can say what we believe, including especially about the government
  7. We shall have a nation governed by the rule of law, applied equally to all, including those in power
  8. All laws and government actions must conform to this US Constitution, which is the ultimate authority
  9. The nation can defend itself, fight wars and provide for a military
  10. We can tax ourselves
  11. The federal government shall be our voice in foreign relations

These do not look anything like the Judeoo-Christian 10 Commandments, about which I've remarked here.

Long form here.

January 28, 2011

Did the Senate just lose the future?

... the Senate decided that its current procedures are good enough. There's something slightly terrifying about that. Accepting a dysfunctional legislature is, as James Fallows and others have argued, one way to lose the future. Our problems -- debt, health-care costs, infrastructure, education, etc. -- are on autopilot. Our solutions are not. Obama can give as many speeches as he wants. If we don't have a political system capable of acting on our challenges, we don't have a political system capable of overcoming them.

via Ezra Klein at

This may be a poltical blunder of colossal proportions for Democrats as well as continuing the long American nightmare of a dysfunctional US Senate blocking the functioning of the US administration, US judiciary, US House of Representatives and continuing the inability to move forward on myriad challenges.

Not that the filibuster reform would have been something great for Democrats, as it was crafted to reform the Senate for whatever majority.  And here's the difference between the parties.  

When Republicans (Senate Majority Leader of the time, Bill Frist) first made moves in this direction, they made it clear it would be to punish the Democrats and get their way: he called it the "nuclear option" (there's that good old right-wing violence metaphor ever in the forefront).  Democrats backed down a bit.  And they when the Republicans became the minority they ratcheted up filibuster obstruction to record levels, many times higher than had been seen historically.

Whereas the Democrats are proposing actual reform to open the Senate's process, encourage real debate, make the minority show their strength and hand, but create a workable system that, yes, allows the majority to get more done (which after all is what democracy is supposed to be about).

So Democrats have now legitimized the process of reforming the Senate via majority vote, but didn't do it.  And this reform moment will fade away.  -- Sidebar: Note that in this process, after about 15 years, Senator Wyden finally got the Senate to abolish secret holds.  15 years!  Just to abolish the secret hold. Holds still in place, just not secret.  (So, yes, Senator Merkley may still be a US Senator in a couple of decades (2050 anyone?) when reform of this magnitude might finally happen in the Senate.)

The moment has passed for real reform.  I do not expect it will blow this way again in my lifetime.

But Republicans aren't interested in good governance.

And that is the big danger for Democrats.

Now if the Republicans decide they want to shove more through when they are in power, they will use the opening created here by the Democrats to change the rules, but will not push though a Merkley-style reform.  It will be a power grab wolf in reform sheep's clothing.

Thank-you Senators Merkley, Udall and Harkin for trying hard and coming close.  And for having more optimism than I that you will succeed before it is too late.

November 30, 2010

Cantor Urges 'Open Mind' On VA Legislature Plan To Blow Up The Constitution | TPMDC

He goes even beyond the reactionary conservatives who "love the constitution, they just hate the system of government it creates" to disliking the founding principle of of checks-and-balances between the three branches (legislative, administrative and judicial) to add a fourth extra-judicial system by which state legislatures could repeal fully constitutional federal laws:

Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is part of a class of Republicans who say they want to change the country fundamentally -- and to that end, Cantor isn't dismissing a plan by legislators in his home state of Virgina to blow up the Constitutional system and replace it with one that would give state governments veto power over federal laws.

For several weeks now, conservative legal circles have been buzzing with Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell's plan to amend the Constitution so that a 2/3 vote of the states could overturn overturn any federal law passed by the Congress and signed by the President. Howell first floated the idea in a September Wall Street Journal op-ed he co-wrote with Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett.



June 04, 2010

Re: Justice Souter’s Class

This is consistent with my own view, that most of the "easy" constitutional cases were decided long ago and therefore most of those that get to the Supreme Court now are about where different parts of the Constitution collide.

The “notion that all of constitutional law lies there in the Constitution waiting for a judge to read it fairly” is not only “simplistic,” [retired Justice Souter] said; it “diminishes us” by failing to acknowledge that the Constitution is not just a set of aphorisms for the country to live by but a “pantheon of values” inevitably in tension with one another. The Supreme Court may serve no higher function than to help society resolve the “conflict between the good and the good,” he suggested:

A choice may have to be made, not because language is vague, but because the Constitution embodies the desire of the American people, like most people, to have things both ways. We want order and security, and we want liberty. And we want not only liberty but equality as well. These paired desires of ours can clash, and when they do a court is forced to choose between them, between one constitutional good and another one. The court has to decide which of our approved desires has the better claim, right here, right now, and a court has to do more than read fairly when it makes this kind of choice.


April 20, 2010

Facebook | Christians Who Want A National Day Of Prayer!

A Facebook Page recently sprang up called "Christians Who Want A National Day Of Prayer!", declaring

The National Day of Prayer is currently under attack by radicals determined to silence any expression of faith.


This issue (that Congress passed a law recognizing a National Day of Prayer and that that law was ruled unconstitutional) isn't that faith should be suppressed, nor that prayer should be repressed, nor even that people shouldn't have a National Day of Prayer. The issue is only that the our government via the US Congress is not allowed to pass a law recognizing a National Day of Prayer since the US Constitution says, quite clearly that they can't:


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

What is puzzling to me is why these folks see the first part of the First Amendment ("shall make no law") as an attack on the second part of the First Amendment (nor "prohibiting the free exercise thereof").  (Some groups disengenuously claim that "prayer" is universal and not tied to any one religion, so it wouldn't apply, but (a) prayer would seem to require belief in a higher power/religion and the First Amendment says "of religion" (ie any and all religions) not "a religion" (some particular religion) and (b) the title of the group says it all: "Christians Who ...".)

Apparently this group defines "radicals" as American patriots that believe in both parts of the First Amendment -- (a) the US government is not in the religion business and (b) we can all follow our hearts without government interference.  

We can have a National Day of Prayer without the US Government getting involved.  What's so awful about that?


April 15, 2010

Federal judge: National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional

Which is more important: upholding the constitution or upholding an unconstitutional tradition?  Sadly, a conundrum for many of today's right-wingers who try to lecture others on the Constitution without themselves understanding the purposes it serves. 

A federal judge in Wisconsin declared Thursday that the US law authorizing a National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

US District Judge Barbara Crabb said the federal statute violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government endorsement of religion.

Crabb said in her view the key test ... is whether the government’s conduct “serves a significant secular purpose and is not a call for religious action on the part of citizens.”

She said the law establishing a National Day of Prayer cannot meet that test. “It goes beyond mere acknowledgment of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context,” the judge wrote.


April 14, 2010

Google backs Yahoo in privacy fight with DOJ

Google and an alliance of privacy groups have come to Yahoo's aid by helping the Web portal fend off a broad request from the U.S. Department of Justice for e-mail messages, CNET has learned.

In a brief filed Tuesday afternoon, the coalition says a search warrant signed by a judge is necessary before the FBI or other police agencies can read the contents of Yahoo Mail messages--a position that puts those companies directly at odds with the Obama administration.

..."Society expects and relies on the privacy of e-mail messages just as it relies on the privacy of the telephone system," the friend-of-the-court brief says. "Indeed, the largest e-mail services are popular precisely because they offer users huge amounts of computer disk space in the Internet 'cloud' within which users can warehouse their e-mails for perpetual storage."

..."This case is about protecting the privacy rights of all Internet users," a Google representative said in a statement provided to CNET on Tuesday. "E-mail stored in the cloud should have the same level of protection as the same information stored by a person at home."


April 13, 2010

When America Was Attacked

Tragically, we all recall the gut-wrenching day in our history when rogue enemies of the United States attacked the sacred soil of this nation. In planned action, American citizens were killed on their very homeland by trained operatives who had one goal in mind, to bring down the government of the United States, a terrorist aim to break the fabric of our way of life.

...I am speaking, of course, of...

Oh, wait, sorry, did you think I meant 9/11? No, no, my apologies. I was referring to the rebel forces of the Confederacy.

The Confederacy was an enemy of the United States of America.

It attacked the United States. Made the first strike. Killed American citizens.

Its actions against the United States were carefully planned; its combatants carefully trained.

The Confederacy fought for the right to keep human beings in slavery.

The Confederacy was not a recognized nation by other countries of the world. It was a well-armed, rogue organization.

None of this in inaccurate. Nor in dispute.

And this is what Virginia wants to commemorate with a Confederate History Month. This is what South Carolina honored when it flew the Confederate flag. This is what Georgia, Texas and Mississippi celebrate with their Confederate History Month. This is what its defenders keep trying to justify.

Confederate soldiers died trying to protect the Confederacy.

Union soldiers died trying to protect the United States of America.

If you want to recognize the past, recognize it, but for what it is. Not for what you wish it was. Only this past Sunday, Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) called the omission of mentioning slavery in Confederacy History Month "something that doesn't matter for diddly."

It matters. Enslaving human beings matters. Treason matters.

It matters so that people understand and learn never to do it again.


March 16, 2010

Lawrence Lessig: Citizens Unite

Interesting approach:

>Lawrence Lessig: Citizens Unite.

 ... an amendment that recognizes what no one has ever asserted -- that whether or not they are persons, corporations are not United States citizens. And if there is something appropriate to keeping the conversation about who is to govern us to us citizens, there may well be something appropriate in protecting elections against undue influence by non-citizens.

A simple amendment would give Congress precisely this power:

Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to restrict the power to limit, though not to ban, campaign expenditures of non-citizens of the United States during the last 60 days before an election.

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