Thursday, May 23, 2013

Article V - Amendment

Article V of the Constitution deals with amending the document.  The authors knew they had a very good product, but certainly not a perfect one, and they knew there needed to be a system for changing, or amending, the Constitution as times, conditions and the country itself changed.  Article V is very short and simple, but the process for amendment is not so much complex as it is difficult to accomplish.

In short, the Constitution may be amended in two ways: the usual way is for two-thirds of each legislative branch to vote in favor of the amendment and then have it ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures; or, the states themselves may call for a Constitutional Convention.  Every amendment but one (so far) has been passed by the first method, and no convention has been called to propose an amendment since the ratification of the Constitution. The convention method has only been used once to ratify an amendment (the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th).  However, the convention system is still in place, no doubt as a safeguard against too much centralized power in the federal government.

For a discussion on the merits of amending the Constitution (or not), see my previous blog entry:

And for a discussion of just how amazing our Constitution is, since it has only been amended 27 times, see:

So, not to re-hash what I've written before, but the fact that a document that is more than 220 years old has only been amended 27 times is quite remarkable.  Madison and his fellow Founders did an amazing job writing this durable, enduring work.

Not all amendments that are proposed are passed by Congress (more than 11,000 proposals to amend the Constitution have been introduced into Congress).  And not all that are passed by Congress are ratified by the states (six have been approved by Congress, but the requisite number of states have not approved).

Next: Article VI - Debts, Supremacy and Oaths

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Article IV - The States

The Constitution is set up for the purpose of establishing a federal government, encompassing the entire nation.  However, the Founders knew that the states themselves were, corporately, the nation, and wrote a section of the Constitution to address the nature and status of the states, and the duties and obligations the states have to each other, and that the federal government has to the states.

In Section 1, the Constitution affirms that :

"Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State."

In other words, legal cases settled in one state must be recognized in others.  One state court may not re-open a case decided in another state, simply because the laws are different.  There are exceptions, of course, but they are few and limited, so the bottom line is that if I am convicted of a crime in my home state, I can't go to a neighboring state and be re-tried by its state courts because the law in that state doesn't find my actions illegal.

Section 2 begins:

"The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States."

This has been the subject of a lot of interpretation and speculation.  Does it mean that all citizens must be treated equally, no matter where they are?  Or that the rights of a citizen in one state must be recognized while travelling to another state?  The Supreme Court opines that it means that a state may not discriminate against a person of another state in favor of a citizen of its own state.  Again, many exceptions and exemptions apply, but that's the gist of it.  

The next part deals with extradition of criminals, and basically states that fugitives who cross state lines may be extradited to the state in which the crime was committed.

The third part of Section 2 became known popularly as "The Fugitive Slave Clause":

"No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due."

This allowed slave owners to demand the return of escaped slaves, even if the slave escaped to a free state.  The Thirteenth Amendment rendered this clause moot.

Section 3 addresses the admission of new states.  Any new state may not be created within the boundaries of an existing state, nor by the junction of any two existing states without the consent of the states involved and the federal government.

The second part of Section 3 deals with territory:

"The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State."

The Congress ultimately has authority over all U.S. territory, but what exactly is "territory"?  In a series of decisions about the "Insular Territories", the Supreme Court ruled that territories belonged to but were not part of the United States.  This has led to the long-standing debate over the political status of Puerto Rico, for example.

Section 4 requires that every state establish a republican form of government.  It does not specify the precise form the government of each state must take, only that it be based on the principles of the consent of the governed.  In that vein, no state has a purely democratic government - all have a representative government of one style or another, and all are based on the federal model, with an executive, a legislature and a judiciary.  This section also required the federal government to protect the states from invasion and domestic violence.

Next up: Amendments