My governor, the Honorable Greg Abbott of Texas, sallied forth the other day with a plan to revise the Constitution in the interest of returning power to the people. Because of this antique notion, whole cans of rhetorical trash have been emptied on my governor’s head.
I don’t wonder at all. When you propose reversing the present national direction, rolling back half a century and more of concentrated power in Washington, D.C., you don’t expect valentines. The “progressive” establishment loves what it has gained through riding down constitutional limits. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are pledged to the objective of more and more rules in Washington, D.C., never mind what limits the Constitution would appear to impose on that goal.
I do wonder about something else. Gov. Abbott has as much chance of enacting his full nine-point “Texas Plan” as Barack Obama has of falling out with the New York Times. I think we need, all the same, to praise the governor for embarrassing the political establishment with a catalogue of its sins against constitutional government.
Not that the Constitution itself is broken, Abbott emphasizes. “What is broken is our nation’s willingness to obey the Constitution and to hold our leaders accountable to it.’’ All three branches of government “have wandered far from the roles that the Constitution sets out for them…. We have forgotten what our Constitution means, and with that amnesia, we also have forgotten what it means to be governed by laws instead of men” — or women, you could add in view of present political circumstances.
The governor’s point lies beyond easy contradiction. The habit has grown upon Americans over the past half century of seeing the federal government slip-slide around language meant not to facilitate but to thwart grabs for power. For instance, our three-branch governmental setup uses “checks and balances” in the constitutional text to restrain one branch from lording over the others. That is, until President Obama issues yet another executive order stating how things are going to be in the absence of congressional “cooperation.”
What does Abbott propose we do about such threats to the Constitution? He would have a constitutional convention called by the states to put forth and ratify nine purifying and restorative amendments to the grand old document. The founders wrote into Article V of the Constitution that very possibility.
Under the amendments that Abbott proposes, administrative agencies couldn’t create federal law or preempt state law. Two-thirds of the states could override a U.S. Supreme Court decision or a federal law or regulation. The high court itself would have to muster seven votes to strike down “a democratically enacted law.” State officials could sue federal officials in federal court for supposed overreach of power.
And so on, to the ultimate recovery, Abbott suggests, of the limits meant to preserve liberty by preserving some large measure of popular authority over government.
What are the odds of the Texas Plan’s springing to actual life? Oh, the odds, I imagine, of sunstroke at the North Pole. From what I witness in Texas — scornful newspaper editorials, taunts on the Internet, etc. — Abbott’s own state would prove a hard sell when it comes to voting for a convention. Moreover, the efficacy of reining in human desire through paper restrictions is always in question. Witness Abbott’s own censure of the current generation’s unwillingness to respect such constitutional barriers to power-grabbing as already exist.
Is the Texas Plan, then, ready for black crepe and graveside prayers? America’s apparent distaste even for talking about the ongoing collapse of resistance to federal encroachment — Obamacare comes to mind, as does the White House war on fossil fuels — isn’t exactly encouraging.
Do we shrug at honest, heavily footnoted arguments for keeping the country free? So much the worse for us, then. My governor, as I say, may not win this round, but if he pries open a few influential minds to what goes on among us — ah! Didn’t Mr. Adams do as much, and Mr. Jefferson and a few others of liberty-loving disposition? One wonderful thing about conversation is the places it can lead.
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