The US Needs Real Constitutional Reform

Everyone interested in US politics seems to think that who we elect President will make a big difference. I disagree. The problems of the USA are not going to get solved by voting for one person or another, or one party or another. In my opinion, the problems of the USA are more structural in nature and have to do with the erosion of the safeguards built into the US Constitution.

The enemy of Liberty has always been powerful government. Our Founders understood this, and only fools who have spent too much time in ivy covered universities studying in ivory towers fail to understand this. Our Founders created a system of government designed to limit the power and influence of the federal government, not the states or the people. From the very beginning this system has been under attack. The Constitution was designed to limit the power of the US government through a clever series of checks and balances. Most of these checks and balances have since been removed by intentional amendment, or just eroded by a steady stream of jurisprudence that ignored their importance. There are also problems that existed from the very beginning. In short the Constitution is dead since it no longer serves to limit the federal government.

A few of my thoughts on how to restore Constitutional balance in the event there ever is a Convention of the States:

1. The Senate. At first the Senate was an institution of States Rights with each Senator being appointed by the legislature of the state. This was changed in 1913 by the 17th Amendment by implementing a system of election by state-wide popular vote. This change transformed the Senate into a democratic House of Lords, and the Senator from an officer duty bound and dependent upon the state legislature into an independent Lord that once elected is virtually guaranteed his aristocratic privileges for life. I propose not only restoring the old system, but going even further and completely handing over responsibility on how to select Senators to the states (with certain restrictions). Each state should be allowed to appoint its 2 senators any way it likes at any time it likes, and recall them anytime and anyway it likes… subject to certain limitation: they can NEVER be appointed for life, can only serve for a limited time, and then must be barred from any further federal elected office for a period of 5 or more years. Also, all the costs to maintain the senators will be born by their respective states. So each state can decide upon how regally their senators live while in Washington according to their own interests and desires. No Federal stipends for Senators, not even office expenses.

2. The House of Representatives. The House was supposed to represent the interests of the People, and as such they were supposed to represent only a small number of citizens (initially about 50,000). Now the number is closer to 500,000 people per Representative. This should be restored (perhaps to 100,000 to 200,000 people per Representative). The number of Representatives need to be increased while keeping the current budget the same. No rich salaries, no office stipends that give each Representative palatial offices and an army of clerks and sycophants. The Representative would be paid what a Major in the US military gets paid, and would get the same benefits (same healthcare, retirement, etc.). They would get only a tiny budget for office expenses and staff. Housing would be provided along the same lines as a Major while in DC. Higher officers of the House (whips, etc.) will get a Colonel’s pay and benefits. The Speaker will be provided a General’s pay and benefits. Upon retiring they will get the same benefits as a retired military officer of the same grade and years of service. Perhaps with this system the military will be treated better, and the Congress will be filled with people motivated less by perks, staff, salaries, and rich retirement packages. I have mixed feelings about term limits for Representatives; if voters want the same people re-elected perhaps they should be allowed to continue, but as servants of the people not as aristocrats living it high in DC on the taxpayers dime.

3. Intrastate Secession. If ANY part of state wishes to secede from rest of the state it should be allowed (subject only to geographic considerations — one county in the center of the state cannot secede unless an adequate number of surrounding counties join together — counties on borders can secede if they wish to join adjacent states and the adjacent state is agreeable, or there are enough other counties joining in to make the area of justifiable size). If the seceding parts of a state do not or cannot join an adjacent state, they will become a Territory of the USA (not automatically a new state) and will become a state based on procedures similar to the old system of incorporating territories into States. They can have Representatives in the House if they have an adequate population even if they are not a State. The purpose of this is to reduce the tyrannical tendencies of many regions within states. Large states like California, New York, Illinois, etc. that seem to be “ruled” by urban elites counter to the wishes of the other areas of the state would most likely be torn apart by seceding areas, and hopefully reduce these states power and influence. On the other hand the dominant areas may choose to be more conciliatory and reasonable with the other areas in order to avoid such results.

4. The Supreme Court. Judges should not be appointed for life; 10 years maximum. Any judge can easily be removed by the Senate on a majority vote without cause or need for justification. Initially the Judiciary was seen as the weak leg in the triad of Federal government (Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary), and lifetime appointments were seen as a way of increasing the strength and authority of the judges. However, the Judiciary has become far too strong relative to the other branches of government and needs to have its wings clipped a bit.

5. The President. The power of the Executive Branch must be limited. One way to do this is to make it easier to remove the President from office. The current impeachment process has never worked properly. It was flawed from the very beginning. Not everything the Founders did was correct, and the impeachment process was clearly a mistake. I propose creating a type of ‘Vote of No Confidence” option. The President should be able to be removed if a majority (or perhaps super majority????) of the House vote to replace him after 2 years of his election, and after each Congressional election thereafter. The then sitting Speaker of the House becomes President for the remainder of the President’s term. The President would have 2 years without threat of removal, but after that if he fails to work with the House he can easily be removed. Also, if there is a dramatic change of power in the House in the next elections this could also trigger removal by the now victorious opposing party. Also, since the Speaker could be 2 years away from becoming President, hopefully, the House would show more discretion in who they elect to be Speaker; responsible statesmen and not political hacks.

6. Interstate Commerce Clause. This needs to be thoroughly reworked with an eye on limiting it to ONLY issues of interstate commerce. Nothing else. No more laws should be passed that simply refer to the clause by stating “this law is founded on the need to regulate Interstate Commerce” when in fact there is absolutely zero Interstate Commerce issues.

7. Taxing Authority. Income tax gone. Only import duties, and excise/sales taxes allowed, and even then limited to a modest percentage of the GDP (10% to 15%). Remember, USA was intended to be a Federal Republic with the States managing the day to day government operations, and the federal government handling certain things such as the military, foreign affairs, etc. How will the federal government pay for endless federal programs, entitlements, regulations into areas best left to the localities? It will not, and thus the federal government will be limited to what it can tax and spend. Control that and you control everything.

8. Borrowing Authority. Borrowing authority should be strictly limited to times of war, and then must be paid back from tax revenue before ANY new programs are even considered. If national debt is not paid back within 4 years of issue, the entire House of Representatives will be removed, and barred from federal office ever again.

These are a few of my ideas that could only happen if there was a Constitutional Convention of the States. It will never happen, but without some reform the USA can no longer be considered a “free” country which manages its affairs through popular self-rule.

Alexander Hay is a US lawyer now living in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. Some have accused him of being a curmudgeon, but what do they know???? Noisy kids!