(Part of the continuing series of posts on a hypothetically rewritten/amended Constitution, with emphasis on very
limited government and maximum individual liberty.)
Clause 1 - The original text reads: The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing [sic] Senators.
Remove any congressional authority here to “at any time by Law make or alter” the time and manner of elections for senators and representatives. This is yet another example of federal meddling in what are clearly state prerogatives.
Clause 2 - The original text reads: The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, (See Note 5) unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day. The 20th Amendment altered the date on which congress shall convene from the first Monday in December to noon on the 3rd day of January. I have no problem with the date change; what I have a problem with here is that the time allowed for Congress to meet is unfixed, and therefore too long. A major reason for the current mess we are in as a nation is that we let these rogues meet for too long and too often during their terms of office. This is an open invitation for creating a bevy of useless, unconstitutional laws and for allowing unfettered access to lobbyists that so easily corrupt these untrustworthy creatures. Let Clause 2 of Section 4 read something along the following lines: “Congress shall assemble once every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day. However, no session of congress shall last for a duration of more than ninety consecutive days. Furthermore, no session of congress may be convened after the adjournment of the annual session except in the case of a national emergency requiring that congress exercise the powers delegated to it by this constitution, such as a declaration of war resulting from imminent invasion of the United States territory by a foreign power.” I fear that my last sentence may leave too wide a space for the interpretation of what constitutes a “national emergency.” If any of my readers can isolate further specific examples of such that would require a reconvening of congress to address a national emergency requiring the exercise of federal power, I’m all ears (and eyes).
Clause 1 - The original text reads:
Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.
My biggest problem here, at first glance, is the lack of a defined quorum. In my experience with parliamentary procedure on even a small scale, the bigger the quorum, the more difficult it is to get anything done. For this reason I suggest that the full membership of each house be required to conduct any sort of business whatsoever, most specifically to vote on any kind of legislation. The last thing this nation needs is the passage of legislation by a marginal portion of the congress, legislation nearly always “snuck in under the radar” and tailored to narrow special interest groups.
Additionally, a “smaller number” of legislators “adjourn[ing] from day to day” would be pointless if my suggestion for a strictly limited annual legislative session is followed. There would be no need or room for any legislators to be absent from any session of either house, since there would be very little time available for the conduct of the nation’s essential business, which itself would require the undivided attention of the full congress. The “adjourning” of legislators in either house today on a daily basis (that is, the absence of the majority of either house from the floor of the house of representatives or senate on a given day) is not “smaller numbers” or for a limited period of time. In fact, these “absences” simply give these political hacks more time to spend cozying up to lobbyists of all stripes and arrogating more power to themselves. A strict limit on absences from the legislative session would be a very helpful step in curbing these people’s individual agendas and forcing them to spend their limited time in session concentrating on business within the constitutional bounds of their offices.
So let’s try this rewrite of Clause 1:
“Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and the total membership of each [h]house shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; each legislature shall be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide, up to and including expulsion from office.”
Clause 2 - The original text reads:
Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.
I have no problem with the concept of expelling a member of congress from office, particularly if he or she violates their oath to uphold the law as set forth in the Constitution, or for commission of a felony or misdemeanor crime. However, I have a serious problem with the lack of a definition for “disorderly Behaviour.” Anyone who has watched C-SPAN in recent years has to admit that “disorderly Behaviour”, as defined by the average American citizen with breeding of any degree greater than that of a domestic animal, is a workaday occurrence in both houses of congress. In fact, “disorderly Behaviour” can be a good thing, a healthy sign of a representative republic in action, the proof that legislators are not willing to “go with the herd”, an all-too-common problem in today’s corrupt legislative kleptocracy. Better still, the more “disorderly Behaviour” we have in either house, the less opportunity there is for these buffoons to pass any actual legislation, the majority of which over the last century and a half has been anything but constitutional. Let’s drop this requirement for expulsion.
I have a novel idea where the expulsion issue is concerned. How about this: If a two-thirds majority of one house does vote to expel a member, it can only do so after the member has been tried and convicted by a court of law, either a federal court if the crime falls under the constitutional definition of a federal crime (unlikely), or the appropriate state court for other felony or misdemeanor crimes.
So let’s look at the way Clause 2 might be rewritten:
“Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings within the framework of the law as set forth by this Constitution. In the event that a Member of either house commits a deliberate breach of office, whether through the endorsement of legislation that violates the Member’s duty to uphold the law as set forth in this Constitution or by commission of a felony or misdemeanor crime, said Member may, with the Concurrence of two thirds of the membership of said house, be expelled from office, but only upon conviction of said crime by a court of law.
“Expulsion” for any other reason should be at the hands of the member’s constituents during the next election.
Clause 3 - The original text reads:
Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.
As you’ve probably already guessed, I would eliminate, immediately, the permission to maintain any secret or sealed records whatsoever of any proceedings of either house. Such a practice has, as we all too well know, been routinely abused for far too long, almost always in the name of “national security”, and has the potential to destroy the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Furthermore, the phrase “from time to time” is too vague; require that the journal (known today as the “congressional record”) be published annually, no later than one month following the adjournment of the annual congressional session.
Finally, let the responsibility for maintaining the congressional record be delegated to a non-governmental body, preferably a panel of citizens chosen at random by state legislatures, to ensure that the integrity and accuracy of the record is not compromised (one could argue that C-SPAN has contributed invaluably to ensuring that congressional proceedings are recorded accurately). In support of this end, the vote tabulation of either or both houses shall in all cases be entered into the record, regardless of the “Desire” of any portion of the house to do so or not. Bottom line: Transparency in the legislative branch of government. NO EXCEPTIONS!
Clause 4 - The original text reads:
Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
Refer here to my earlier proposals for a limited annual congressional session, a full quorum, and requirements for attendance. Allow adjournment only in the case of some extraordinary natural or national catastrophe, to be defined in this clause. Personally, I’m hard-pressed to think of anything that qualifies. War or foreign invasion? Nope. In session and preparing for a declaration of war is exactly where these people should be in such case. Natural disaster (e.g., the Potomac overflowing its banks and submerging New Rome [we should be so lucky], forcing the in-session congress to relocate)? Yes, under certain prescribed circumstances, such as what I just mentioned parenthetically. Otherwise, there is no reason for adjournment under any circumstances until the end of the 90-day annual congressional session.