Everyone can probably agree that the United States faces some serious challenges.
In The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, Mark Levin, a nationally syndicated talk-radio host and president of Landmark Legal Foundation, traces the root of the problem to a steady distortion and erosion of our constitutional system in favor of an all-powerful, pervasive central government. All three branches of government are complicit in this trend toward statism that began in the Progressive administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
What began as a limited federal government, operating from a clear enumeration of specific powers, has become an omnipresent and unaccountable leviathan. The result, Levin argues, is a continuing and expanding attack on individual liberty, state sovereignty, and the social compact. “The nation has entered an age of post-constitutional soft tyranny,” he writes. The solution he proposes is a revitalization of our Constitution.
The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and the delegates to each state’s ratification convention predicted the possibility of the federal government overstepping its constitutional limits and beginning to oppress the people.
Levin cites modern examples of the IRS harassing conservative groups during the last presidential election, the NSA spying on the American public with a blanket warrant issued by a secret court, agencies such as the EPA that dispense regulations with the force of law, and the controversial Obamacare act.
In Article V, the Framers provided two processes for amending the Constitution: “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress . . .”
Put another way, Article V grants state legislatures substantial authority in restoring the constitutional structure should the federal government dispense with its limitations and grow too powerful. The first method is the one that has been used twenty-seven times in our nation’s history. The second has been seldom used, and never successfully, but Levin argues the time has come to make the attempt.
Levin proposes eleven amendments to restore the country to its founding principles. Space does not allow for a discussion of all eleven, so, instead, here are several of the most significant.
Two of Levin’s suggestions would establish term limits on members of Congress and on Supreme Court justices. Levin concedes new Representatives or Senators every twelve years does not automatically mean better governance, but incumbents serving for decades often use their positions to promote legal initiatives and federal spending, borrowing, and taxing that benefit their individual permanence in office, making electoral challenges difficult.
The members of Congress become more and more insulated from the electorate and stop representing the ordinary citizen. Contrary to popular opinion, the Supreme Court was solely created to adjudicate cases that arose under federal criminal law and civil statutes.
The authority of judicial review?the power to judge the constitutionality of federal laws?was not specifically granted by the Constitution, but instead assumed by Chief Justice John Marshall in the 1803 decision of Marbury v. Madison. Years later, this small step has created a Supreme Court majority of five individuals with the final say on virtually any aspect of American life. Governance has come down to the matter of selecting the right five lawyers.
Another proposed amendment would repeal the Seventeenth Amendment which altered the manner of electing Senators. Prior to 1913, senators were chosen by the state legislatures. The Framers had originally thought Representatives would serve as the voice of the individual citizen, while Senators would embody the sovereignty of the states.
This had provided state governments with direct input into national affairs and served as a check on federal powers. After the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified, the states no longer had a legislative venue to affect directly the administration of the federal government and that eroded traditional states’ rights.
With the country circling the drain financially, another possible amendment would limit federal spending and taxing. Levin calls for Congress to adopt a preliminary budget for the following fiscal year and submit the same to the president.
If Congress fails in this regard (the Senate has not passed a budget since 2009, for instance) or the President fails to sign the budget into law, then an automatic, across-the-board, five percent reduction would be imposed.
By law, spending would be kept at or under 17.5 percent of the gross domestic product requiring the government to set priorities in expenditures and balance the federal budget every year.
Also, Congress would be barred from collecting more than fifteen percent of a person’s annual income. Any alternate taxes, such as value-added taxes or national sales taxes, would be prohibited.
This well-researched and thought-provoking book is sure to be controversial. Levin concedes the state convention process and his Liberty Amendments will be assailed by proponents of the status quo.
But as the country continues its slide into soft tyranny, its salvation may be found in a return to the Constitution.
Darren Ivey is a firefighter at the Manhattan Fire Department.