Steve G.

How I Think The Constitution Can Be Fixed (Part III [b]: Article I – The Legislative Branch)

In Congress, Democracy, Democrats, History, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, US Government on June 11, 2009 at 1:52 am

From Article I, Section 3, paragraphs six and seven, the portions of the provisions for either House regarding impeachment require no changes other than possibly the provision that the threat of and right to impeach is a constitutional DUTY of Congress and it cannot surrender its willingness to implement that duty when it is called for.  To do so is malfeasance in the performance of their constitutional duties and should subject any members of Congress who are willing to agree to surrender their willingness to fulfill ANY of their obligations and duties under The Constitution.

Section 4 of Article I deals with the times and places of elections of Representatives and Senators, and with the requirement for Congress to meet at least once every year.

I think that the provisions for periods of adjournments and recesses by Congress are not appropriate to our modern day government.  For those who argue that they do not want Congress in session any longer than it has to be, while I don’t entirely disagree with them, I think the larger and more important issue is how just adjournments and recesses empower the Executive branch as the expense of the Legislative branch.  While I will deal more with such things as ‘recess appointments’ in the part(s) of this article which deal Article II of The Constitution (The Executive Branch), I am against ANYTHING which serves to make the Legislative branch less than equal to the Executive branch, much less subservient to it.  Thus, I think that Congress should never be considered in recess and only be adjourned by standing legislation which provides for pre-defined periods of adjournment, focused around legal federal holidays (not religious holidays) and, say, a single one week-long adjournment each  quarter of the year… each one, preferably centered around an appropriate federal holiday each quarter.  At ALL other times it would be required to be in session (and remember, I would not allow for any member of Congress to hold office for more than a single term, so there would be no NEED for Congress to be in adjournment during election cycles).

Section 5 deals with various procedural matters (such as judging their own elections, the power to compel attendance by absent members, and the prohibition against adjourning for more than three days while in session).  Paragraph two deals with allowing each House to punish and/or expel its own members.  It also states that each House shall determine its own rules for proceedings.  Paragraph three covers the requirements of each House to keep a journal of its proceedings ad periodically publish those journals, as well as the requirement of each House to record the ‘Yeas and Nays’ (i.e. – the votes) of each House and to publish those totals for either House upon the request of one-fifth of the membership of that House.

While The Constitution should not get into the minutia of establishing all of the rules for either House, there are some which I think it would be appropriate to enact, enshrine and enforce within The Constitution.  Among these are:

1.)   No office created by either House of Congress can be specific to any particular political party.  While any party can choose to elect its own leadership by whatever methods it wants, it does not mean that those elected to such offices are deserving of extra pay by the nation or extra privileges and powers within Congress for holding an office restricted to the members of that Party.

2.)  All officers elected by either House should be selected by secret nomination and secret ballot.  I would also recommend the use of Approval Voting for the actual elections.  Again, this would be to try to help break the stranglehold on power which any party holds simply by having more members that any other party.  This provision would probably result in most offices being held by less extremist party loyalists.  If our nation can succeed in establishing a viable third-party, it will throw the current methods of selecting Congressional offices in the toilet anyway.  Let’s do what we can to speed that process up a bit.

3.)   All ballots casts by members of either House should be cast in secret and the individual results of any vote kept but only revealed (published) 25 years later for historical purposes.  Now, I know that this one is going to be met with shock by most people.  After all, how else are we supposed to keep tabs of what these people actually do?  Well, stop and think about this one for awhile.  Let me explain my reasoning for this idea.  Why do WE cast OUR ballots in secret?  So that no one WILL know exactly how we voted which, among other things, limits to ability of anyone else to threaten or intimidate us.  Open balloting in Congress does not help ‘we the people’, it helps the parties, lobbyists and special interest groups keep members of Congress in line with what benefits THEM the most, not what benefits us the most.  Open balloting in Congress allows the political parties, the lobbyists, the special interests groups, the media and, yes, even the people to threaten and intimidate individual Congress who might otherwise have the will to vote their according to their conscious as they believe is right rather than how others want to compel them to vote.   This is also one of the major ways that the two parties effectively prevent other viable parties from having a voice in our system of government (the other major way that they accomplish this is by the maintenance of our current Majoritarian / Plurality election system). (Please see my earlier article on ‘The Laboratory of Democracy — Alternative Voting Methods (Approval Voting) [Re-edit]’ for a more detailed explanation of this idea.)  It is also what allows small groups of extremists to move the politics in Congress in extremist directions and which makes moderate or centrist positions untenable to maintain.

With a provision that, in an investigation, a select independent committee can review specific votes and make them public IF they show evidence or a pattern of corruption, malfeasance or negligence, but also with a protection provision that baseless accusation for no purpose other than to discover what a personal voting record is will be a felony, this provision could provide safety and protection for those legislators who do want to go along with their party’s line on any particular issue.  So, how is a member of Congress judged if their individual votes are not known?  They would be judged in two ways. First, they would be judged by what they say on the record and, second, they would be judged by what their House accomplishes or FAILS to accomplish.  Under this method, ALL members of a House are collectively responsible for what that House does or doesn’t do… they rise or fall together.   This means that their motivation which change to being how can they work together to make them all look good.  Just think about it for awhile, ok?

4.)  Right now, most legislation includes meaningless introductions which tell us how wonderful it is and how it will single-handedly make the world a better place to live (and they are capped off with some kind of sensationalist title which will make those who vote against it sound like they are bad Americans for voting against it… especially those who don’t actually read the proposed legislation that they are voting on.  I believe that ALL legislation proposed and voted on in either House of Congress should include measurable and quantifiable goals, and specific objectives to indicate what will be considered a successful result of the legislation.  Goals and objectives, strategies and tactics.  I also believe all legislative objectives should include a time frame by which the legislation must accomplish its goals or it will automatically cease to have legal standing.  This is not a meaningless point.  The example I like to use has to do with Civil Rights legislation.  Under the legislation as written, neither side of the debate has an actual motivation to see the objectives of the legislation accomplished.  Each side uses it as a weapon with which to attack the other, and leaders on both sides have built their power bases upon the on-going conflict it engenders.  There is more political power to be gained by keeping the conflict going than there is in accomplishing its purposes.  Now, imagine if that legislation had included measurable, definable and quantifiable goals AND it had an objective of accomplishing those goals in, say, 25 years.  One way or the other the legislation would end; the only question would be “when” it would end.  Those who are fighting for the achievement of those civil rights would have been motivated to make sure that the goals were achieved before the end of the 25-year deadline so as to get them in place, and the side which was not in favor of the penalties and restrictions imposed by the legislation would be motivated to accomplish those goals as quickly as possible so that the legislation would go away as quickly as possible.  In either case, if the goals were either not achieved or led to the consideration of additional goals, new legislation could be crafted and proposed at that time which would better meet the needs of that time and that generation.  The purpose of this proposal is to give ALL sides reasons to work together to accomplish things rather than give them reasons to fight against each other endlessly.

To justify why this should be import, keep in mind all of the calls by the people and politicians for, and interpretations by the courts based on what the ‘intention of the founders’ was.  Intention is difficult to know, and impossible to speculate on to determine law when those intentions are never officially, and reliably set forth and documented.  The fact that the founders destroyed all OFFICIAL minutes and notes from The Constitutional Convention can only leave us with one of two ways to make such judgments; either the founders did not WANT us to base our interpretations and decisions based on what THEY intended (which means that we do, in fact, have a LIVING Constitution), OR, they did not understand how important it would be to us to be able to discern their intentions when we try to interpret what they intended.  We need to not only insure that the present generation fully understands what we are trying to do and what we want to accomplish, we need future generations to understand why we felt each specific law was necessary… our intentions, in other words.  Goals and objectives would make legislation easier to interpret and less likely to be twisted and MISinterpreted by other.  It would also allow those who read a law thoroughly to see if the actual content and execution of the law is true to its goals and objectives.

5.)  That idea leads us to Thomas Jefferson’s theories of generational laws.  He said “[B]etween society and society, or generation and generation, there is no municipal obligation, no umpire but the law of nature. . . . [B]y the law of nature, one generation is [therefore] to another as one independent nation to another.”  He also said “Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.” (http://www.conlaw.org/Intergenerational-II-2-9.htm) I believe in the idea of generational laws (with all laws having a natural expiration deadline of either 25 or 50 years (generations being longer now that they were when Jefferson wrote that, and some laws being more important than others), depending on the law, with 25 being the norm and 50 being the exception, for several reasons.  First, laws seem to work conversely to the adage that it is easier to destroy than it is to build.  With law, it is easier to pass one than it is to get rid of one.  When politicians or officials come along later and try to have a law removed from the books, the tendency is to wonder what ulterior motives they ‘really have (no matter how bad or irrelevant the law might be) and political inertia tends to win.

As a result, our legal systems end up cluttered with an unbelievable number of laws which are either (a) no longer of any value, (b) no longer in sync with the progress of our culture or, (c) just plain stupid.  A generational law standard would mean, first of all, that no one would have to actively campaign or fight to have laws actively removed piecemeal.  By doing nothing the laws will just go away.  If they still have value or there is still a need for them, they can be re-written and passed again. Secondly, the future will not be bound by considerations or standards of the past which no longer apply to them.  Thirdly, politicians are, by nature, egomaniacs who want to be immortal, and the way a politician becomes immortal is by sticking us with their own ideas of how we should live (i.e. – with laws).  When all of the basic laws are already in place, they have to go farther and farther to find their own immortality.  I would rather have them continually working on and improving basic legislation than to have them spending their time finding cruel and unusual ways to torment, punish and control ‘we the people’.

6.)  I think that all of us, all of us who are not in Congress, at least, would agree that the Legislative Amendment process is out of control and all too easily abused by politicians who cannot get their own moronic ideas passed into law on their own merits; or who want to ‘game the system’ by attaching bad legislation to other legislation that, itself, cannot be voted down.  Riders and amendments are a bane to good legislation which can be (a) understood, (b) respected, and (c) followed by everyone.  This would be simple to deal with.  Any amendment or rider which has nothing to do with the primary legislation AND / OR which does not have the support of the primary author of the legislation (not sponsors or co-sponsors, the primary author) can only be attached to the proposed legislation by a super-majority vote of two-thirds of the House in which it has been proposed in.  Any rider or amendment which does relate to the primary legislation AND has the support of the primary author can be attached if it gets a majority vote in the House in which it has been proposed.  Note: these votes would NOT be to approve the amendments or riders, only to allow them to be attached to the primary legislation before IT was voted on.  For those who want the President to have a line item veto authority, all that would have to be done here would be to say that he has the power and authority to approve or veto the results of such votes before they can be attached to the primary legislation (as provided for in Article I, Section 7, paragraph four of The Constitution).

7.)   Congress has made themselves exempt from abiding by the laws that they force on the rest of us.  This is one of the (many) reasons why it is so easy for Congress to hypocritically impose legislation on ‘we the people’ that is harsh or intolerable… because THEY don’t have to also live with the consequences of their decisions.  This blanket exemption needs to be removed and, any individual exemptions that they want to pass for themselves should be stated publicly, be required to undergo a full and open debate, require a two-thirds super-majority of BOTH Houses AND be subject to Presidential  vetoes for which it would take a three-fourths super majority of both Houses to override.

8.)  As in all things, politicians will take the paths of least resistance.  If their path of least resistance in legislation is to maintain the status quo by not voting for something, they will do that.  Conversely, if they have to actively vote for the status quo to maintain it, they will let it change.  As an example of what I mean by this, consider automatic Congressional pay raises.  Those raises will automatically take place unless Congress actively votes to stop them.  Thus, the path of least resistance is to maintain the status quo by doing nothing and, as a result, allow the raises to happen.  If the legislative process required on-going legislation to require active votes to keep it going, and the path of least resistance is to not vote for something (like the pay raises), they will not vote for them and they won’t happen.  The direction of how Congress votes for on-going legislation needs to be changed so that the path of least resistance is what benefits ‘we the people’ and not what benefits Congress or the government.

(This article will be continued in Part III [c], which will continue discussing Article I of The Constitution.)

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 2009 by Rhys M.  Blavier

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: