In a country that is increasingly divided and polarized the battle for America’s soul rages on. To varying degrees each state has its own level of partisan politics, but nowhere is government dysfunction more evident than with the federal government. For decades the size and scope of the federal government has grown ever larger, becoming more unresponsive and inimical to the liberty and freedom of American citizens. The most recent expansion of the federal government, popularly known as “Obamacare”, represents no less than a government takeover of 9 percent of the US economy. Many libertarian and conservative thinkers ask “How did we get here” and “How can we arrest the growth and increasing lack of accountability of the federal government?”
In his latest book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, prominent conservative Mark Levin lays out his vision for how we can recapture the constitutional republic that the Founders designed for us back in 1789 to 1791. In the opening chapter of the book he describes how America has entered a time that he calls a “post-constitutional soft tyranny”. Through a series of ten chapters, he puts forth ten proposed amendments. In each chapter he describes one of the proposed amendments, the original intent of the Founders surrounding the issue in question, and how the federal government has grown beyond the boundaries of that intent.
The proposed amendments are each intended to address specific problems that we have with the federal government overstepping its bounds due to decades of judicial activism, executive branch overreach, and congressional delegation of administrative functions to the executive branch.
The first three amendments seek to curtail the “career politicians” and encourage a return to citizen legislators by establishing term limits for Congress; repeal the progressive-inspired Seventeenth Amendment and restore election of Senators by the state legislatures; and impose term limits on Supreme Court Justices and establish a legislative override of Supreme Court decisions.
The Founders never intended for members of Congress to serve multiple terms over years or decades. Term limits have been placed on the Presidency, and many states have term limits for their elected officials. Putting term limits in place for members of Congress and Supreme Court justices allows for new people to serve their country and reduce the incentive for people to choose politics as their career. This idea has been discussed off and on for years. It is time to implement it.
Prior to adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment, U.S. Senators were elected by the state legislatures. This was not an accident – the Founders clearly intended that the Senators were to represent the several states in the federal government, just as the directly elected House was to represent the people of the states. By changing the election of senators to the popular vote, the link between the state legislatures and the Senate was severed, with the result that the states lost their direct link to the federal government. Now it is not uncommon for a state’s Senate delegation to vote for legislation that is not in their state’s best interest.
Implementing term limits on Supreme Court justices and establishing a legislative override will serve to rein in the Supreme Court. With the 1803 decision in Marbury v Madison and subsequently, the Supreme Court has made itself the final arbiter of what is acceptable law in the United States, essentially rendering our nation’s governance down to five lawyers who serve for life. This is clearly not the intent of the Founders.
During the years of the Obama administration, fiscal governance has been irresponsible to say the least. Current law requires the President to submit a budget to Congress each year and the Congress is supposed to pass it. Since 2009, the federal government has operated without a budget and authorizes spending through a series of continuing resolutions. This is the height of fiscal irresponsibility and makes for government by crisis and showdown, as we’ve seen over the past five years with government shutdowns, fiscal cliffs and the like.
The fourth of Levin’s proposed amendments would impose fiscal responsibility on Congress by requiring budgets to be submitted, procedures to follow if they are not, and finally and most importantly, a balanced budget. The so-called “balanced budget amendment” was discussed and promoted during the Reagan administration, but never gained traction. This may be the hardest amendment to get passed given Congress’ insatiable appetite for spending money. The fourth amendment also makes substantive changes to how taxes are levied and collected, establishing a fairer flat tax and changing tax day to the day before federal elections.
The next three amendments seek to limit the federal bureaucracy, promote free enterprise, and protect private property. As Levin describes in these chapters, the federal government in the form of unelected and unaccountable bureaucracies are infringing on every aspect of citizens’ lives and imposing substantial costs and fees on economic activity. In addition, even though the Fifth Amendment prohibits the federal government from taking private property for public use without “just compensation”, in America today private property is routinely “taken” or impaired through action of the federal government without any compensation to the property owner. These three amendments will go a long way to unchaining the US economy and propelling a wave of growth that will benefit all Americans.
As Levin writes, “It is undeniable that the states created the federal government and enumerated its powers among three separate branches; the states reserved for themselves all governing powers not granted to the federal government; and the Constitution they established enshrined both”. Clearly the balance of power has shifted from the states to the federal government over the last one hundred years or so, in large part thanks to ever-increasing grants of power to the federal government through judicial activism and legislative overreach. Levin’s next two amendments seek to correct and reverse this imbalance through granting the states the direct authority to amend the Constitution and to check Congress.
Finally, the tenth proposed amendment outlines steps to protect the voting franchise in this country. The Founders did not establish an enumerated right to vote in the original Constitution, though the franchise has been expanded through four amendments over the years. This proposed amendment establishes some common-sense reforms including requiring a photo ID, placing restrictions on early voting and setting rules surrounding voter registration. Protecting the integrity of the voting franchise is something that all partisans should be in favor of. From liberals decrying “voter suppression” to conservatives concerned about “voter fraud” there is clearly a lack of confidence in the integrity surrounding the voting process. This amendment would repair that.
With the approval rating for Congress hovering at less than 20%, approval for the President and the Supreme Court at less than 50%, it is clear that the majority of Americans are unhappy with their federal government. A recent Gallup poll found that 72% of Americans think that big government is the biggest threat to the country in the future. As the year 2013 draws to a close, it is this reviewer’s opinion that The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic is one of the most important books published this year and a “must-read” for all Americans interested in the future of our country.
By Richard D. Turnquist
December 27, 2013