A Constitutionally Illiterate Congress

By: Nancy Salvato

The definition of a citizen is one who is ruled and can rule in turn. We must have the capacity for both under the law. All citizens must be able to take the following oath of office:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.”

Sadly, in today’s day and age, those elected to our legislature do not have to understand the law to represent their electors. Consequently, this Congress has proven to be the most constitutionally illiterate group of people ever elected to office.

To begin, one of the most difficult things to do is to enact a bill into law. The system of checks and balances was designed by the Founders and Framers to slow things down. They wanted creating and debating legislation to be a cumbersome process. Hamilton appealed to the people of New York,

“The legislature will not be infallible; …the love of power may sometimes betray it into a disposition to encroach upon the rights of other members of the government; that a spirit of faction may sometimes pervert its deliberations; that impressions of the moment may sometimes hurry it into measures which itself, on maturer reflexion, would condemn. The primary inducement to conferring the [veto] power in question upon the Executive is, to enable him to defend himself; the secondary one is to increase the chances in favor of the community against the passing of bad laws, through haste, inadvertence, or design. The oftener the measure is brought under examination, the greater the diversity in the situations of those who are to examine it, the less must be the danger of those errors which flow from want of due deliberation, or of those missteps which proceed from the contagion of some common passion or interest. It is far less probable, that culpable views of any kind should infect all the parts of the government at the same moment and in relation to the same object, than that they should by turns govern and mislead every one of them.

“It may perhaps be said that the power of preventing bad laws includes that of preventing good ones; and may be used to the one purpose as well as to the other. But this objection will have little weight with those who can properly estimate the mischiefs of that inconstancy and mutability in the laws, which form the greatest blemish in the character and genius of our governments. They will consider every institution calculated to restrain the excess of law-making, and to keep things in the same state in which they happen to be at any given period, as much more likely to do good than harm; because it is favorable to greater stability in the system of legislation. The injury which may possibly be done by defeating a few good laws, will be amply compensated by the advantage of preventing a number of bad ones.” – Federalist Paper #73

Yet, despite such an admonition -which holds as true today as it did when the U.S. Constitution was written- President Obama advised our country that if we do not act immediately to pass the stimulus bill, “Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis, that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.” Rep Nancy Pelosi, a progressive leftist from CA, is quoted on Jan 8, 2009 as saying, “We must have a bill signed into law by the middle of February. Our economy requires it. The American people need it desperately.”

The $787 billion Stimulus Bill, passed quickly, before members of Congress had time to even read the entire text of the legislation, allowed some of the beneficiaries to hand out bonuses to their top executives. In reaction to the fury of the constituents, Congress set about enacting more hastily drawn up legislation to punish the beneficiaries of such bonuses.

“The Senate plans to vote next week on steep levies on employee bonuses after the House overwhelmingly approved a 90 percent tax on bonuses at American International Group Inc. and other companies receiving bailout funds.” – Bloomberg.com

Herein lays the problem. Congress, in acting with haste, is passing poorly written law without thinking through the consequences of their actions. In The Constitution of Liberty, F. A. Hayek writes that if individuals know the law, they can base their actions upon established rules and that true law provides the general rules. Legislative enactments which do not satisfy these criteria are objectionable. The law must be general, known and certain, and apply equally to all. A necessary condition for the law to be known and certain is a prohibition on ex post facto laws. The Cato Journal The U.S. Constitution forbids Congress from passing an ex post facto law, i.e. a law passed after the occurrence of an event or action which retrospectively changes the legal consequences of the event or action.

Worse, this particular law singles out a specific group of people. A legislative act (Bill of Pains and Penalties) that singles out one or more persons and imposes punishment on them without benefit of trial was regarded as “odious” by the framers of the Constitution. It was the role of a court, judging an individual case, to impose punishment.

Now, the House, the Senate and the Treasury Department are blaming each other for allowing this loophole. As “We the People” witness the unfolding saga of the bonuses, stimulus money is being put to use in programs long championed by the liberal elements of Congress and which have nothing to do with directly stimulating the economy. Congress is confiscating and redistributing our hard earned money as we watch stunned and amazed at what has transpired in President Obama’s first 59 days of office. It is our civic responsibility to put an end to this nonsense. We have 592 days until the 2010 midterm elections.

When will you add your elected officials’ telephone numbers to your speed dial list?

Nancy Salvato is the President and Director of Education and the Constitutional Literacy Program for BasicsProject.org, a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) research and educational project whose mission is to re-introduce the American public to the basic elements of our constitutional heritage while providing non-partisan, fact-based information on relevant socio-political issues important to our country, specifically the threats of aggressive Islamofascism and the American Fifth Column. She serves as a Senior Editor for The New Media Journal. She received her BA in history from Loyola University and her M.Ed.in Early Childhood Education from National-Louis University. She is certified to teach in grades K-9 and 6-12 and as a teacher has worked with students in preschool, 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, and 12th grades. She has also worked as an adjunct instructor at the graduate school level. She continues to augment her education and areas of expertise by taking college courses and participating in a variety of workshops. She currently earns her living as the VP of Compliance and Program Expansion at a graduate school of education.

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