Civics 101 - CliffsNotes
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So it is written: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
So it shall be: On July 4, 1776, with 56 signatures and the stroke of many quills, these British colonies declared themselves the independent United States of America, separate and equal to the Crown of England. (1)
Talk about the Resistance and an act of civil disobedience - Five signers were captured by the British and brutally tortured as traitors. Nine fought in the War for Independence and died from wounds or from hardships they suffered. Two lost their sons in the Continental Army. Another two had sons captured. At least a dozen of the fifty-six had their homes pillaged and burned. Originally men of means, many died in poverty.
Why am I writing about these foundational documents? Because they are in the news and I find myself puzzling; which document declares that we are all created equal? What specifically are states rights? It's all right here boys and girls. Civics 101 - CliffsNotes.
The United States Constitution was written by the provisional government and second Constitutional Congress, in 1787 and ratified in 1788. These are the laws of the land, greatly limiting the powers of the government and ensuring freedom for its peoples. It begins, “We the people”, declaring at the outset, that it is a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” though those specific words were codified later in the Gettysburg Address of 1863.
The second Constitutional Congress had two parties and each proffered a constitutional plan. The nationalist majority, soon to be called Federalists, put forth the Virginia Plan, proposing a bicameral Congress based on proportional representation by population, thusly favoring more populace states. The "old patriots," later called Anti-Federalists, advocated the New Jersey Plan, a unicameral Congress providing each state with one vote, thusly favoring less populace states.
Our government is a combination of both: a bicameral Congress with the House having representation by population, and the Senate allotted two representatives per state.
Related story? While I would not dismiss recent White-House-speak of abandoning Census-2020, the Census IS protected because it measures our population. And we have a Constitution that provides for representation apportioned by population. That's why you may hear hubbub about the Census. Budget cuts may render less information and scientists are loathe to lose the opportunity to fully engage with every household each decade. But presently, draining the swamp will seemingly include flushing some monies for our Census.
The LGTBQ crowd is currently lobbying for questions regarding their community to remain in the proposed Census-2020. Why? They say, “If you’re not counted, you don’t exist.” Meaning, there is no awareness and no federal acknowledgment.
The issue of forcing boys who identify and dress as girls into the boy's bathrooms (the gender designated on their birth certificates) or vice versa, may be more prevalent than we know. Pretending it does not exist is not a powerful way to engage with the truth. Census-2020 could put a finger on that pulse… er… probably not. But I digress.
The Federalist Papers provided background and justification for the Constitution. Some states agreed to ratify the Constitution only if the amendments that were to become the Bill of Rights would be taken up immediately by the new government.
As an aside, The Federalist (later known as The Federalist Papers) is a collection of 85 articles and essays written (under the pseudonym Publius) by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of the Constitution. They were serially published in the Independent Journal and the New York Packet during a ten-month span in 1787-1788. They pre-date Constitutional ratification and are comprised of philosophical debates “…whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.” The arguments for a republic versus a democracy and the protections from the tyranny of the majority are contained within The Federalist Papers.
Our newest Supreme Court Justice, Justice Neil Gorsuch describes himself as a Federalist and indeed holds membership in the Federalist Society - for they whom adhere closely to the written word of The Constitution.
The Constitution of the United States Preamble (2)
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Article I - establishes the Legislative Branch of government, House & Senate, their responsibilities, and duties.
Article II - establishes the Executive Branch of government, The President & Vice President, their responsibilities, and duties.
Article III - establishes the Judicial Branch of government and its power.
Article IV - The States; establishes the rights of states. (When you hear “states rights,” think Article IV.)
Article V - how Amendments are made to The Constitution.
Article VI - Debts, Supremacy, Oaths.
Article VII - Ratification.
Amendment 1 - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. (12/15/1791).
Amendment 2 - Right to Bear Arms. (12/15/1791).
Amendment 3 - Quartering of Soldiers. (12/15/1791).
Amendment 4 - Search and Seizure. (12/15/1791).
Amendment 5 - Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings. (12/15/1791).
Amendment 6 - Right to Speedy Trial, Confrontation of Witnesses. Ratified 12/15/1791.
Amendment 7 - Trial by Jury in Civil Cases. (12/15/1791).
Amendment 8- Cruel and Unusual Punishment. (12/15/1791).
Amendment 9 - Construction of Constitution. (12/15/1791).
Amendment 10 - Powers of the States and People. (12/15/1791).
Amendment 11 - Judicial Limits. (2/7/1795).
Amendment 12- Choosing the President, Vice-President. (6/15/1804).
Amendment 13 - Slavery Abolished. “Emancipation Proclamation.” (12/6/1865).
Amendment 14 - Citizenship Rights. (7/9/1868).
Amendment 15 - Race No Bar to Vote. (2/3/1870).
Amendment 16 - Status of Income Tax Clarified. (2/3/1913).
Amendment 17 - Senators Elected by Popular Vote. (4/8/1913)
Amendment 18 - Liquor Abolished. (1/16/1919). Repealed by Amendment 21, (12/5/1933).
Amendment 19 - Women's Suffrage. (8/18/1920).
Amendment 20 - Presidential, Congressional Terms. (1/23/1933).
Amendment 20 - Presidential, Congressional Terms. (1/23/1933).
Amendment 21 - Amendment 18 Repealed. (12/5/1933).
Amendment 22 - Presidential Term Limits. (2/27/1951).
Amendment 23 - Presidential Vote for District of Columbia. (3/29/1961).
Amendment 24 - Poll Tax Barred. (1/23/1964).
Amendment 25 - Presidential Disability and Succession. (2/10/1967).
Amendment 26 - Voting Age Set to 18 Years. (7/1/1971).
Separate but Equal. Articles I-III establish our three, equal branches of government: the Legislative Branch (the bicameral Congress), the Executive Branch = the President of the US (POTUS), and the Judicial Branch comprised of the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) and other lower courts. This brilliant separate but equal form of government was a reaction to the tyranny of the Crown and protects us from tyranny from within. They are the means to check any branch of government from lawlessness (i.e. clandestine meetings with foreign governments or profit and gifts from foreign governments) and tyranny (i.e. Executive Orders that might be unconstitutional or the overstepping of the Courts).
You may have heard it said that we are facing a Constitutional Crisis. When one branch of government (legislative, judicial or executive) tries to usurp power from the others, that constitutes a Constitutional Crisis. No “nothing burger” here, I am demonstrating the basis for why it matters and is newsworthy.
Articles lV-Vl entrench concepts of federalism, describing the rights and responsibilities of state governments and of the states in relation to the federal government.
The dissenting voices of the healthcare debate fall out along the lines drawn by state’s rights. My over-simplification will demonstrate. The Tea Party and ultra-Conservative Right want each state to have ultimate authority and autonomy in healthcare distribution. The Far Left wants Obamacare bolstered and improved for all citizens = bigger federal government = the antithesis of states rights.
I see healthcare not through a state’s rights lens but from a “promote the general welfare” (Constitutional) and a social justice view. Here’s my take: 100% of us will use healthcare in our lifetime so 100% of us should have healthcare insurance. It’s like car insurance - required. There are a number of ways to do this and thus far, the US has chosen the most expensive and least accountable methods. There are many functioning models throughout the world. None is perfect but many are better than what we currently employ. Both Medicare and Medicaid are also very viable models.
I am vehemently opposed to high-risk pools and exclusion by pre-existing conditions. We will all, sooner or later, have a pre-existing condition and the older you get - it's guaranteed. We’ve been down that road - it left the sickest amongst us uninsured and seeking care in the Emergency Department at the highest price-point possible.
Fiscal Conservatives argue the federal government can’t pay for healthcare because if they lower taxes (disproportionately on individuals who earn greater than $200K per year), the money to pay for healthcare disappears. That’s why you hear the Bernie Sanders’ camp calling Trumpcare the biggest transfer of wealth in years. The current tax levied on individuals earning above $200K has partially paid for Obamacare subsidies and the expansion of Medicaid.
The last military budget request was $639 BILLION - with a B. Each Presidential weekend at Mar-a-Lago or another Trump Resort costs the tax payer $3 million. Do you think we could figure out how to get our citizens covered with comprehensive healthcare?
And WHY are we trimming women’s health and birth control from plans to make them cheaper? OVER half the population is FEMALE! I notice we’re not trimming men’s health, prostate care, Cialis and Viagra from any plans. …just sayin’.
This is obviously what happens when you cloister 13, mostly rich, mostly elderly, mostly white with one Hispanic, men (and no women), in a room and charge to them compose a healthcare bill. A New York Times headline says it all: 13 Men and No Women Are Writing New G.O.P. Health Bill in Senate.
God help us - GIRL you lis’nin?
The Bill of Rights is composed of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. Written by James Madison in response to calls from several states for greater constitutional protection of individual liberties, it was a condition of Constitutional ratification for some. The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 and lists specific prohibitions and limitations on governmental power.
The first twelve Amendments were crafted by our Founding Fathers excepting the few who predeceased their composition. There is no denying the brilliance of these men; indeed history holds them in esteem.
Prescient as our Founding Fathers were - a few things are self-evident. When they asserted “all men are created equal”, they indeed meant men and only men. The Preamble’s, “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” applied to rich, white guys - others need not apply. Conspicuously excluded from the blessed were the majority of the young country’s denizens: women, slaves, and indigenous peoples - for they were considered chattel, er… personal property or worse.
The word suffrage comes from Latin suffragium, meaning "vote", "political support", and the right to vote. Universal suffrage consists of the right to vote without restriction due to sex, race, social status, education level, or wealth though generally, restrictions on age and citizenship exist.
In a government “of the people, by the people and for the people”, there is no OF or BY without the right to vote.
A striking feature of the Constitutional Amendments, listed thusly and hence more apparent, are the number of Amendments that specifically address the right to vote. Consider and review Amendments 14, 15, 19 and 24. (2)
For temporal context, Amendment 13 abolished slavery in 1865.
In 1868, Congress amended the Constitution with the 14th Amendment, asserting “all persons born or naturalized in the United States … excluding Indians not taxed” … are citizens of the United States and entitled to its privileges. Amendment 14 goes on to grant voting rights to males only, of 21 years or more.
Nineteen months later, Congress addressed the right to vote, yet again in 1870, because former slaves (males over 21) were being denied the right to vote. Amendment 15: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged … on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude (slavery).
FIFTY years later, in 1920, women were finally granted the right to vote. (I see a major girl-party and women’s march in the offing.)
Lastly, in 1964, Amendment 24 forbids other barriers to voting including quizzes and additional poll taxes - methods used in the deep South to bar the poor, colored vote.
How many Amendments are required to protect a citizen’s right to vote? Apparently many … but wait - there’s more!
Public Law 89-110, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson during the height of the Civil Rights Movement on August 6, 1965, Congress later amended the Act five times to expand its protections. Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the fourteenth and fifteenth Amendments, penned100 years prior, the Act secured voting rights for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Act is considered to be the most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted in our country. (3)
The South has consistently found ways to block the black and minority vote and have thusly been strictly monitored since 1965. But in 2013, SCOTUS struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. In a 5-to-4 vote, it freed nine states, mostly Southern, to change their election laws without advance, federal approval. The court divided itself along ideological lines. At the core of the disagreement was whether racial minorities continued to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination. “Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority.
United States Attorney and head of the DOJ, Jeff Sessions hails from Alabama. When the Supreme Court gutted the single most effective provision of the Voting Rights Act - the most important statute in getting African-Americans the right to vote in this country - then Senator Sessions called that “A good day for the South” and Southern states immediately enacted voter ID laws.
The latest versions to disenfranchise black and minority voters - because clearly, discrimination at the ballot box is unlawful - are gerrymandering and voter identification requirements.
What is gerrymandering? A Mother Jones article explains: The Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina congressional map that packed African Americans into two districts and reduced their voting power elsewhere. The ruling was a decisive blow against the use of race in drawing district lines and a victory for voting rights advocates who argued that the map violated the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. But it also shed light on the court’s thinking about an even more politically consequential issue, and one that the court is likely to consider soon in multiple major cases: gerrymandering aimed at boosting a political party. (4)
You’re going to hear much more about gerrymandering - a means of neutralizing or minimizing the votes cast by specific groups. A means by which some say, Republicans have systematically garnered Congressional seats despite Democrats casting more ballots. Why should you care? Because when freedoms are curtailed for one group, we’re next.
And WHAT is the issue with voter ID requirements; you ask? It's an issue for the elderly. Why? Because many, like my Mom and Dad, were born at home. Record keeping was shoddy and state sanctioned birth certificates were not always available. My own father’s birth date was in question. For some, births were entered into the family Bible, which was subsequently lost. The requirement for a state sanctioned ID disproportionately disadvantages the rural, poor (usually minority) and home-birthed. In this day and age, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a state sanctioned ID without a birth certificate. This issue may die with the Greatest (WWll) Generation but they’re not gone yet and they deserve the right to vote.
The argument for voter ID requirements is to ensure the security and integrity of our elections. Makes sense; right? But look at the map of states who have enacted voter ID requirements. (5) They are heavily weighted in the South.
With little evidence of voter fraud, except within a few delusional minds, and in a culture requiring multiple Constitutional Amendments to guarantee voter rights for its citizens, one wonders. As the old adage goes - if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… Said another way, racial discrimination by any other name is still discrimination.
|Kamehameha lll, no heathen he.|
As an interesting aside: King Kamehameha lll and the 1840 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawai'i granted universal suffrage to all male and female adults. In 1893, when the Kingdom of Hawai'i was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the rich, white guys of a more “advanced” society, women lost the right to vote. Go figure.
Amendment 1 - protects our freedom of speech, more specifically “Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression.” Pay particular attention to the First Amendment as it is getting lots of air-time. It protects my right to write and express my opinions. It protects your right to attend a place of worship of your choosing.
Importantly, it protects a free press: from Huffington Post to Breitbart and everyone in-between. Threats to sue and lock-up journalists are threats to the free press. Make no mistake, a free press keeps the powerful in check. You know who murders journalists en masse? Mexican cartels and the Russian government. What do they have to hide? Plenty! Who imprisons and tortures journalists? China and Saudi Arabia.
Threats directed at our press corps are a threat to our Constitution. Some of our own press has been harassed and beaten following inciting remarks and Tweets by others. When Trump singles out specific members of the press corp in an arena full of sycophants, its a threat and reporters worry for their safety. NO ONE should be threatened - no matter how much we dislike them - because we are not lawless people and this is not a lawless land. We count on our Constitutional laws and freedoms.
Lastly, watch for challenges to Roe v. Wade,. the landmark, 1973 decision by SCOTUS allowing a woman’s right to abortion - and death by back-alley, coat hanger abortions became a thing of the past. The decision was passed by affirming a “right to privacy” - a right that appears nowhere in the Constitutional text.
Back in the day, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg felt the decision for Roe v. Wade was premature and she took a lot of heat from women’s rights groups for her position. She felt that a decision for Roe based on “the right to privacy” was weak and might not withstand vigorous challenge. She preferred a statute based upon individual liberty - which is a Constitutional guarantee.
Enter Justice Neil Gorsuch - a federalist who argues eloquently and adheres closely to the written word of The Constitution - where no “right to privacy” exists. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen baby - it's gonna be a scorcher. Macadamia-pineapple pancakes anyone? ...it's my specialty...
The injustices creep and crawl, niggle and gnaw, clatter and clang in my cranium, go bump in the night and keep me from sleep. Perhaps now that it's steaming out my ears and streaming from my blog, I can let go, just a bit. …and you can take up the worry beads… or not.
- http://library.clerk.house.gov/reference-files PPL_VotingRightsAct_1965.pdf