Sunday, November 23, 2014

11/22 The Judiciary

The federal judiciary (of which Hamilton was a prime architect) set up under the Constitution went into effect, along with the Judiciary Act of 1789 which further specified the structure and duties of federal courts. One of the busiest was the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The 94 federal district courts are the lowest level of the federal judiciary. Above them, presently, there are 13 U.S. Courts of Appeal, in most cases these are the highest federal judicial authority most people will deal with if they have to. Higher than this is the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) but it limits the amount of cases it hears every year to about 100. The Supreme Court is currently composed of nine justices of the court including the Chief Justice, and Associate Justices. They are nominated by the President, approved by the Senate and serve life-terms. The power of the court is specified in Article III of the Constitution. 


The primary concern of the Southern District today includes Manhattan and the Bronx and handling cases under "admiralty law" or cases involving trade or shipping disputes with foreign countries or interstate trade from other states. This is a highly sought after position and has been used a springboard for even higher offices, for example before he became Mayor of New York City in 1993, Rudolph Giuliani was the State's Attorney (or federal prosecutor) for the Southern District of New York. This is distinct from the Government of New York State and the City of New York, and you can see now how the different layers of government: federal, state, and municipal all overlap with each other depending on authority and function.
Southern District of New York

Legal matters involving trade with a foreign country come under the jurisdiction of federal law. Since the port of New York was the busiest port in the country, most cases involving disputes over shipping and international trade would occupy most of the court's activity.


The Supreme Court (as the federalists intended) has tended to play a more conservative role in government, often siding with business interests against attempts to regulate commerce through legislation. However, in the public imagination the court is seen as a crucial part of the civil rights movement, as the institution which finally ended legal segregation in the nation. By looking at some of the most important cases to come through the Supreme Court we begin to understand better the dual role the court has played in American history.


In judicial history the first really important case heard by the court was Marbury v. Madison in 1803. This case is important because it established the importance of judicial review in the U.S. The power of judicial review is the most important power of the court, and it is a power which is fairly unique to the U.S. supreme court, although all nations have a judicial branch of government, not all nations have this power. Basically, the power of judicial review gives the court the power to cancel out laws passed by Congress or actions undertaken by the executive branch, by determining the constitutionality of laws and actions, the court can deem them to be unconstitutional and thus invalidate them. This power was not clearly specified in the Article III of the Constitution, and it was not until Marbury v. Madison that the power of the court was established.

Since then, the court has weighed on many important matters from the regulation of businesses (Swift & Co. v. U.S.), to freedom of speech (Schenck v. U.S.), civil rights (Brown v. Board of Ed; Loving v. Virginia), abortion (Roe v. Wade), legalization of drugs (Gonzales v. Raich) and the role of money in government (Buckley v. Valeo). As mentioned already it has tended to side more with business interests in cases regarding it, but has also supported the civil rights of minorities. In other words, the court has tended consistently to support minority interests (whatever they may be) against the majority. That being said, at times the court has been more susceptible to the dominant values of the day, e.g. the court's decision in Brown v. Board of Ed, contradict earlier decisions which affirmed segregation like Plessy v. Feguson or Dred Scott v. Sanford which denied the citizenship and even the humanity of African-Americans.

Assignment Due 12/6: Choose one of the Supreme Court case summaries and select a passage, write out the passage, explain what it means, and then explain why you chose it and why you believe this case is important.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

11/15 Post-War Liberalism to the Present


 The modern welfare state created by the progressive reformers took shape over several decades. 

Franklin Roosevelt is sometimes considered the first "modern" president because of the massive expansion in the power and the capabilities of the state under his administration. Although other Cabinet departments had been added to the government such as the Department of Agriculture created by Lincoln, the Department of Commerce in 1903, and the Department of Labor created during the Wilson administration, Roosevelt drastically increased the power of the president by enlarging the personal staff of the president at the expense of the Cabinet departments.


When Roosevelt ran for president, he was the Governor of New York (Herbert H. Lehman, Roosevelt's Lieutenant, was then elected Governor of New York in 1932, Lehman is who the college is named after––somewhat more infamously now, also one of the Lehman Brothers formerly of Wall St.) Roosevelt advertised what he called his "Brain Trust" a collection of university-trained intellectuals who analyzed data, did research, and created the policies that became known as the "New Deal." 

In 1939, on its second attempt, The Reorganization Act is passed y Congress. This gives Roosevelt the power to create additional federal offices. 

Once the president was given the authority by Congress, Roosevelt created several new offices within the executive staff, the Executive Office of the President (EOP) that forms the foundation of the modern White House Office (WHO) today. The executive office is headed by the Chief of Staff who runs the day to day affairs of the president and in many cases controls access to the president. Also, an earlier version of today's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was created to oversee the expenses of the executive branch in the budget, as well as earlier versions of the National Security Council (1947) and the Council of Economic Advisors (1946). 

In all of these cases, offices were to be staffed with scientifically trained intellectuals overseeing the complex functions of the government. All of these offices, along with the office of the Vice-President, are "Cabinet-level," equal with Cabinet departments, and again, in many cases the presidents have come to rely on the advisors in the EOP more than the Cabinet. Since then, even more executive offices have been created like the Office of the Trade Representative (1962); Office of Environmental Quality (1969); and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (1989), as well as others.




The 22nd Amendment was introduced in 1947 and ratified in 1951, explicitly limiting the number of terms a president could serve to two–or a maximum of 10 years if they assumed office as a Vice-President. In between this time, the Republican Party once again came to dominance which culminated the following year when Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), the Allied Commander during World War II, was elected President. Despite briefly winning Congress in 1952 when Eisenhower is elected, by 1954 Congress was still in Democratic control again, and would remain so for decades. 

The major issue of the election was foreign affairs, specifically the threat of Soviet Communism. During World War II, U.S. propaganda referred to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as "Uncle Joe" when the Russians were allies against the Germans. After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, a new conflict emerged between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the fate of Germany and the rest of Europe. By the end of the 1940s, the conflict had extended throughout the world. It is after this period of time that the U.S. begins to transition into the role of global superpower, a reversal of its traditional non-interventionist, or isolationist, position throughout most of its history dating back to George Washington's administration. The shape and design of many international institutions today are clearly influenced by the U.S. political system, as is the still vague notion of "international law." This has created impressive new challenges to balance the requirements of democratic government with the sensitive nature of geopolitical affairs. In many regards the demands of specialized technical knowledge has only increased the distance between the government and the public.

The most traditional role the President has had is dealing with foreign nations especially including the command of the military. In the post-war era, the office of the Presidency was reformulated into the role of maintaining global order.


After the war, Germany was divided up between the allied powers before being finally separated into East and West Germany in 1949. The period between 1945 and 1949 is a strange period of time because it is a lull in between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union which continued on and off until the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. During these four years the U.S. and Soviets were unlikely allies who slowly became bitter enemies. The Soviet Union exploded their first atomic bomb in 1949, ending a brief four year dominance of when the U.S. was the sole nuclear power in the world, after becoming the first, and so far only, country to use atomic weapons in war in 1945 against Japan.

In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong defeated the opposition led by Chiang Kai-shek, whose defeated Kuomintang party was forced to flee to the isle of Formosa, now known as Taiwan, an island claimed by the communists on the mainland as well. This conflict is still unresolved today. Republicans in the United States attacked Democrats for their perceived weakness towards the Soviet Union and blamed them for "losing China to communism" something they swore would not happen again.

 In 1950, the Korean War began after communist North Korean (supported by China and the Soviets) forces overran the South. The U.S. intervened. This was the first war the U.S. fought since World War II. The war turned into a stalemate, after China and the United States both entered the war against each other. The inability to resolve this conflict also contributed to the Democrats defeat. In 1953, under Eisenhower, a ceasefire was signed, today North and South Korea are still separate. 3-4 million North and South Koreans are estimated to have been killed and approximately 1 million Chinese soldiers.

This was a preview of what became known as "proxy war" where conflicts between the U.S. and Soviet Union would not be fought directly between the two but through "allied" countries. 

During World War II, Japan had conquered the colonial empires of the British and the French in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. This had the unintended consequence of creating nationalist movements in these countries that fought, first, the Japanese and then later the remnants of the European colonial empires. The most important French colony was the province of Indochina. France continued to claim a right to rule this territory after the war which it tried to enforce until 1954 when the communist forces in Indochina under Ho Chi Minh defeated the French, leading to the province being split into different countries: Cambodia, Laos, and most notably North and South Vietnam. The French appealed to the U.S. for assistance who filled the void of the departing French. Ho Chi Minh also appealed earlier to the U.S. writing several letters to then President Truman (1945-1953), invoking The Declaration of Independence as a model for what the Vietnamese were trying to accomplish in their own country. Truman never responded. The U.S. tried to support the capitalist South Vietnamese government, until 1963, when the CIA ordered their own puppet leader of South Vietnam to be overthrown and killed. This signaled the direct take over of the war effort by the U.S. (only 20 days later U.S. President John F. Kennedy was also assassinated in Dallas, Texas).

Kennedy represented to many, the kind of "New Americans" that were taking shape in a new United States, one that had now undoubtedly become a superpower that had tremendous influence across the world. By 1890, the U.S. had already become the dominant economic power in the world with more wealth than Great Britain, Russia, and Germany combined, but it took almost another fifty years until the U.S. became the dominant military power in the world as well (or arguably the second most powerful after the Soviet Union at that time). JFK was also, like FDR, a very media friendly politician. However, while Roosevelt was still limited to the technology of radio, Kennedy made great use of the television medium. It is around the same time that conservatives start creating the ideology of the "liberal media," to attack the credibility and reliability of the media mostly coming from the Richard Nixon campaign who is running against Kennedy in the 1960 election and is the Vice-President under Eisenhower. Ironically, while many of the arguments against liberal bias are credible, many of the claims made about Nixon turned out to be true, which is often not acknowledged by conservative critics of the media.




In the 1960s, the conservative movement started to reassert itself after its devastating losses in the 1930s and 1940s. What had happened to the Republican Party in the 1930s was similar to the Democratic Party in the 1860s. It became so identified with something so negative (slavery, or causing the Great Depression in this case) that it took literally decades for it to repair the damage to its image. In the 1950s, a Republican president reigned, but Eisenhower had adopted virtually every major program introduced by the New Deal and after, in other words Eisenhower was a very moderate republican and in many ways tended to be liberal especially on domestic policy, in fact it was under Eisenhower the first school desegregations were ordered like in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1954. In 1964, the Republicans ran Arizona Senator, Barry Goldwater against Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969), Kennedy's former Vice-President, and someone who modeled himself after FDR, even calling himself LBJ. Johnson won in one of the biggest landslides in American history. 



1964 U.S. Presidential Election

At the time, in American political culture, there was a strong commitment among the public for social welfare policies and programs for the poor. Programs like Medicare and Medicaid were created under the Johnson administration as well as the new Cabinet Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Johnson also presided over the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing legal segregation and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Along with these landmark legislative acts, the "Civil Rights" Amendments were passed in the Constitution:

  • 23rd Amendment (1961): Allows Washington D.C. to vote for president which previously had no representation in the electoral college.
  • 24th Amendment (1964): Prohibits a poll tax, literally a fee paid to vote used especially in the South.
  • 25th Amendment (1967): Establishes the presidential line-of-succession, like the 20th and 22nd amendments, this amendment reflects the growth of executive power and its importance.
  • 26th Amendment (1971): Passed during the height of the Vietnam War, this amendment lowers the voting age to 18 from 21.

Three of these Constitutional amendments deal with the crucial issue of the right to vote in a democracy which was also the focus of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, electoral laws are mainly decided by the state, and there has recently been a determined effort by many Republican governors of states like Florida to "purge" registered voters from the voting lists and thus take away their right to vote under the pretext of preventing "voter fraud." It might seem strange that a party that claims to be working in the interest of the majority of people would put so much effort into reducing the number of eligible voters, and many liberals have argued this is an attempt to undermine the Voting Rights Act.

After Kennedy's suspicious assassination in late 1963, plans were set in motion to escalate the war in Vietnam beginning in 1964. A fake assault on U.S. naval vessels was used as a justification to escalate the war, which by 1968 had over 500,000 U.S. servicemen in Vietnam. The combined stresses of Johnson's domestic welfare programs and overseas wars began to take its toll on the American economy which began to show signs of inflation.

The United States became the dominant economic power in the world after World War II. At one point it was responsible for almost half of the world's entire industrial output. This was the material basis of the so-called "Baby Boom" generation in the United States, which reaped the full benefits of the U.S. post-war prosperity in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. It is during this period of time the mythical image of the American way of life is created. Often unacknowledged is the super prosperity of the U.S. during this time was primarily because other major industrial powers of the world were rebuilding from World War II. The two most dominant industrial powers besides the U.S. before World War II were Germany and Japan. By the late 1960s and especially in the 1970s, exports from these countries was seriously eroding U.S. economic power. Arguably the U.S. has never recovered from this and has pursued a series of artificial means of preserving itself largely through uncontrolled deficit spending, both public and private.
Trade Statistics 1930-2005
Bureau of Economic Analysis


The public assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, was echoed by Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of John Kennedy, assassinated in April and June 1968.

Robert Kennedy had been the favorite in the upcoming Democratic primary for the election in November. Instead, they nominated pro-war Hubert Humphrey. Republican Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, and re-elected again in 1972, although the illegal tactics used during his re-election, such as Watergate, would lead to his downfall and resignation in 1974, the only president so far to resign in office. 

A major factor was that after 1964, the Democratic party largely lost the Southern vote to Republicans. The Democrats had been a force in the South since the founding of the party in the 1790s. Johnson reportedly remarked as he was signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964, "we have lost the South for a generation." Many have accused Nixon and other Republican presidential candidates as playing to Southern racism without being explicit about it, sometimes called "symbolic racism" or "institutional racism."
1968 U.S. Presidential Election
George Wallace was a segregationist third party candidate


In 1968, Nixon had won the Republican primary against a number of challengers including Ronald Reagan, the Governor of California. After three attempts Reagan would be elected president in 1980, thus signaling a backlash against the values of the 1960s.



The Reagan administration was defined by the phrase "government is the problem" and tried to remove all government regulation of businesses. Despite this, the budget deficit of the federal government continued to grow through the decade, along with an increasing trade deficit als growing rapidly since the 1970s, and despite Reagan' promises to tackle the "twin deficits." 

The budget deficit grew largely because of a combination of increased military spending and significant tax cuts given to the highest income brackets in the country. Reagan was later forced to reverse many of these tax cuts and ended up raising taxes several times.  Much of the increased military spending was used to finance covert wars in Latin America and the Middle East, but also to "outspend" the Russians on defense, a process that some commentators believe helped pushed the Soviet Union into its final downward spiral into dissolution.

During this period of time a book entitled The Wise Men (1986) was published chronicling the events of several of the most influential political operatives in foreign policy (the term wise men of course also has religious significance). It followed the careers of six men: W. Averell Harriman, Robert A. Lovett, William Bohlen, George Kennan, John J. McCloy, and Dean Acheson. The authors spend the majority of the book convincing their readers that these men were non-ideological, bipartisan, in short "above the biases" of conflicts that normally characterize politics. 

However, the notion that they were above ideology seems strange when it is so obvious how militantly anti-communist these men were. Harriman, McCloy, and Lovett all had connections with Nazis stemming from before World War II. These men helped create the "containment" strategy that was invoked in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the coups or attempts at a coup in several countries including: Iran, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Colombia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and of course Cuba (and many other states). Several other men were not included in the circle of wise men even though they had the same background, like John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under Eisenhower, and his brother Allen Dulles, director of the CIA until the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. Both so directly involved in overthrowing foreign governments and assassinations that including them as "wise men" would probably be too controversial. Another notable omission is James Forrestal, the last Secretary of Navy before the Navy and War departments were combined into the new Department of Defense after World War II, and became the first Secretary of Defense. Forrestal another militant anti-communist who was became increasingly paranoid later committed suicide in 1949, something covered up at the time.

It is reasonable to question how appropriate it is to call someone wise when they were unable to foresee that the consequences of establishing brutal and corrupt "puppet dictators" who oppressed their own people would one day come back to haunt the U.S. The term used for this by intelligence operatives is "blowback," and the most famous example could be the Iranian revolution in 1978-79 which began after enduring 25 years of the tyrannical Shah of Iran after a U.S. sponsored coup in 1953. Although many of these men were too old to play a direct role in the late 1970s and beyond, these same ideas were put into effect to train and fund men like Osama Bin Laden to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and Saddam Hussein to fight Iran in the 1980s. Most Americans are not even aware of the huge death tolls as a result of U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, according to some estimates, almost 4 million Vietnamese killed and maybe more than 2 million neighboring Cambodians and Laotians. Between half a million to a million Indonesians were killed in another U.S. supported coup running parallel with the Vietnam war in 1967. If you add in the death toll number from the Korean War which, then you have approximately 12 million Asians killed between 1950-1980, or roughly twice as many as the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust by the Nazis from 1942-1945 and about the same number overall of all the people who died in the Holocaust (our country did not do it as quickly as the Nazis did).

To label people as ruthless and dogmatic as this wise is not so shocking. In the 1980s especially there was a strong tendency to mythologize the American way of life in what can be seen as an attempt to break away from the terrible legacy of the Vietnam War and a stagnant economy since the late 1960s, aided greatly by the ever-developing mass media industries which recreates history when the moment calls for it.



The trade deficit continued to grow in the face of competition from Germany and Japan after the 1960s, and the inability of major U.S. corporations like General Motors to adapt and innovate their product designs, as well as decreasing quality in the automobiles, compounded by multiple Arab oil embargoes in 1973 and 1979. Despite advances in several high-tech U.S. industries revolving around the emerging computer industry in the 1980s, the U.S.'s overall trade deficit continues to rise even today. This did not prevent President Reagan from winning the largest landslide in American history, over a very anemic and weak Democratic party, still haunted by its past. Despite this, the House of Representatives maintained a Democratic majority throughout the entire Reagan administration. The Senate was recaptured for the first time in 30 years by the Republicans in 1980, but reverted back to Democratic control in 1986 after numerous scandals during the Reagan administration. It was not until 1994 when Republicans were able to take both houses of Congress and hold on to them for more than one election.
1984 U.S. Presidential Election

The U.S. economy grew during the Reagan administration, but the distribution of the wealth is concentrated in fewer hands. Poverty increased during the Reagan administration at the same time in which scandals emerged over Reagan's administration misallocating funds for the poor (literally stealing from the poor to give to the rich). Many commentators pronounced the return of the "Gilded Age." On the other side, Democratic opponents of Republicans usually point to the Post-War Liberal era as the time of greatest productivity in the U.S. and favor policies that attempt  to bring back the New Deal.
Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
The chart is meant to show that even though economic productivity increased in the 1980s, the actual wages of working people did not keep pace with this change. Also, that productivity was greater during the social welfare period of the New Deal and that wages and incomes raised in proportion with the increase in productivity

In 2008 the biggest stock market crash since the Great Depression occurred resulting from financial speculation in the U.S. housing markets. This was in large part a result of the "deregulation" of the financial industry beginning in the 1980s, overturning laws established in the 1930. Unlike the Great Depression which began in the middle of a Republican administration and helped to discredit the Republicans for more than 40 years, this one exploded, or was timed to explode, shortly before a presidential election, the 2008 election which saw the election of Barack Obama. 
2008 U.S. Presidential Election
"Battleground" states are states that do not have either a solid Republican or Democratic majority
In many regards the divisions into North and South regions still exists
President Obama has so far tried to adhere to a "consensus" approach to politics which has so far produced mixed results at best. Much like Jefferson, another controversial figure of his time, appeals to the unity between Federalists and Republicans, Obama has in many of his speeches appealed to common sentiments between Democrats and Republicans. However, unlike Jefferson whose party came to dominate politics in America, the Obama administration has not had a clear majority in Congress and has had great difficulty in getting legislation passed. This is a function of the system of checks and balances as intended in the Constitution, but as critics have pointed out, often this system creates paralysis in government.

After the election of 2012, however it appears that President may have more leverage to put through his policies even though the House of Representatives still has a Republican majority. Note also the similarities between the election results of the previous election, and the changes in certain "battleground states."



Obama, for obvious ideological reasons, seeks to portray himself in the lineage of Jefferson and Lincoln. Obama addresses the issue of race in a way Lincoln never could by drawing upon his own experiences with racism, especially as a child of mixed race who has insight into the attitudes of whites and blacks. His association with black radicals like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, has also pushed the president to defend the legitimate anger and resentment many African-Americans feel towards a system of government which has often failed to meet their needs.

As most Democrats look to the New Deal era of FDR and LBJ as the high-point of the Democratic party in the modern era, he has tried to expand upon these policies. Most notably, healthcare which Roosevelt stipulated was a right, and advanced by Johnson who established Medicare and Medicaid. 




The current president has also kept in place the coercive and intelligence apparatus created during the Bush administration to fight the "war on terror." So far nothing as radical as the programs set up in the 1930s has been attempted. Obviously however the circumstances in which they find themselves has changed drastically, Roosevelt for example could still count upon "the solid South" to support Democratic policies and a strong majority in Congress.





Assignment: Due 11/22 Choose a passage from JFK, Reagan, or Obama, write it out and explain what it means and why you chose it.






Saturday, November 8, 2014

11/8 Congress

In the next section of this course we will be looking more at the institutions that make up the government: Legislative, Executive, Judicial, beginning with the legislative branch, the Congress.

The U.S. Congress is divided up into two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House is the larger and more democratic body, made up of 435 representatives drawn from multiple districts within each state. House Representatives serve two-year terms with no term limits meaning there is no limit to the number of times they can be re-elected. Senators serve six-year terms also with no term limits. The House is supposed to be more democratic because since they represent smaller districts they are supposed to be more accountable to the people who represent those districts. Although overall approval of Congress is low according to public opinion polls, the re-election rate of members of Congress is almost 90 percent, meaning that once someone is elected to Congress they have an enormous advantage over un-elected challengers. It also suggests that while people may disapprove of the actions (or lack of action) of Congress as a whole, most people seem to be satisfied with their Congressional representation. However, members of Congress do not seem to react the same way in every issue area, meaning in some areas, they are more representative of what the people in district or state want, in some areas they seem to act with more independence. Generally speaking, members of Congress seem to be more receptive to their districts or state on domestic issues, but on foreign affairs issues seem to act more on their own.

As we discussed in class, the number of representatives from each state depends on the population of each state. Changes in the population, changes the number of representatives from each state. So for example a state like New York which has a declining population over the last twenty years has lost representatives, while states like Florida or Texas which have growing populations have seen increases in their representation over the last few decades.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territories_by_population

One important consideration in determining electoral districts for the house, is what has come to be know as "gerrymandering." State legislatures in each state are tasked with re-drawing the electoral districts in accordance with population fluctuations in the state. Predictably, this has a partisan bias, meaning simply, that whatever party has a majority in the state will seek to draw the boundaries in the district to benefit their party and disadvantage the other party. This has led to some oddly shaped electoral districts, like this one in Chicago.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/05/15/americas-most-gerrymandered-congressional-districts/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/05/21/what-60-years-of-political-gerrymandering-looks-like/



With the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, federal authorities were given the right to redraw districts in Southern states to empower racial minorities and allow them to elect representatives, this is sometimes referred to as "minority-majority" districts, meaning that minority areas are grouped together in order to form a majority in a district.  The 4th district in Illinois, or the "earmuff" district is one such example.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_majority_minority_United_States_congressional_districts

The Senate has a more equal representation with two senators from each state who represent the entire state. There are 100 senators altogether.

Of the two, the House has a more complicated leadership structure, due in part both to its larger size and the rules of debate in the House. At the top is the Speaker of the House who directs the agenda and issues that are debated. In theory the Speaker is supposed to be non-partisan and often refrains from voting on legislation, but over the last twenty years or so the position has become more partisan. Besides the Speaker there is a Majority and Minority Leader, and a Majority and Minority Whip. The leaders then oversee the direction of each party in the House and coordinate the agenda that each party is trying to put forward. The whips are responsible for making sure party members vote the right way and enforce party discipline. The Senate has a Majority and Minority Leader, but lacks the other leadership positions.

Both houses of Congress are further divided into several committees. It is at the committee level where most of the hard work of passing legislation is done, this is also the level at which so-called special interests or factions have the most influence. Committees are often just a few to maybe twenty or so people, who debate the fine points of each piece of legislation and try to figure out the best ways to make the legislation practical. Due to the smaller number of people in the committees and the relative low visibility of committee meetings, this again allows interest groups to have more influence over the legislation. Before the entire House or Senate votes on a piece of legislation it goes through a committee first. Of course both the House and Senate must past the same legislation before it can become law. There is even a special committee that works to resolve differences in a bill if either part of Congress passes a bill that is similar but somewhat different from the other bill, the final law must be identical in both the House and Senate.
http://www.house.gov/committees/
http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/committees/d_three_sections_with_teasers/committees_home.htm

Although most of the committees overlap with each other there are some differences. In the House for example, there is the "Ways and Means Committee, this committee as stipulated in the Constitution is charged with creating all laws regarding taxation. Tax laws must always originate in the House. Once passed, they are referred to the Senate Finance Committee who can either approve or reject the proposed law. All other proposed laws, can originate in either House or Senate and does not have to follow a specific order, although, again, all laws must be approved by both before it becomes an official law. Although the House has a Foreign Affairs committee, it has much less power than the Senate Foreign Relations committee, again because of the Constitution, power is given only to the Senate to approve treaties with foreign countries, the House does not have to approve to make it official. Some other aspects of legislation have changed as well. For example regarding trade, before the Great Depression this was an area that Congress controlled. Trade law involves raising or lowering tariffs on foreign imports. A tariff is like a tax, so this was an area reserved for the Ways and Means Committee. Since the 1930s, more power has been granted to the President to conduct trade deals with Congress taking only a secondary role of approving or disapproving but not directing the content of trade deals. This fairly radical change occurred because Congress tended only to raise tariffs on foreign imports, thus raising the prices of important products for consumers and producers of goods. The reason for this is again due to the influence that lobbyists and interest groups have over members of Congress. The President is not influenced as much by interest groups and so is believed to make trade deals that are more beneficial for the whole of the country and not responsible to specific interests in various states. For example Congressional members in steel producing areas like Pennsylvania would tend to pass laws that would benefit the industry by making foreign imports of steel more expensive, whereas the President might act to lower tariffs on foreign steel since it may be more beneficial for the country as a whole.

Once Congress as a whole has approved a bill it goes to the President for signature, where if signed it becomes an official law. However, the President has what is called "veto power" meaning he can refuse to sign the bill, in which case it will go back to Congress for further debate and amending. Although it is rare, Congress can override a Presidential veto if both parts of Congress approve the bill again with a 2/3 majority in both.

Assignment Due 11/15: Choose a section from either of the Washington Post articles in this blog. Write out the passage. Explain the meaning of the passage and why you chose it. You do not have to read the articles I listed in the syllabus.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

11/1 Equal Rights

In the last class we looked at the idea of civil liberties through some of the most famous champions of liberty in American history. In this class we are now looking at the idea of rights. But the idea of rights itself is more complex than it may first appear. In today's reading by Marshall we can see that we consider to be "rights" has actually a civil, a political, and social aspect. Rights are connected with the idea of citizenship. To be a citizen means that you are entitled to certain things, and it suggests the equality of all members to these entitlements. Part of the confusion over rights comes because, as Marshall, says at one point all aspects of rights were combined, but that in modern times the idea of social rights conflicts with a capitalist economic system. In modern times, there has been a separation and it is important to understand the differences between the three. Marshall is writing about England, but the argument about the three dimensions of rights can be applied anywhere, that, and the fact that so many of American ideas and institutions are influenced by English institutions makes it easy to compare the idea of rights in the U.S.

Civil rights refer to certain protections each individual is granted, and where they are free from any kind of government interference. In political philosophy the idea of civil rights can be summed up by what John Locke referred to as "life, liberty, and property," an influence on Thomas Jefferson who changed it to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. Marshall shows that civil rights by itself is fairly limited in what it means:
The explanation lies in the fact that the core of citizenship at this stage was composed of civil rights. And civil rights were indispensable to a competitive market economy. They gave to each man, as part of his independent status, the power to engage as an independent unit in the economic struggle and made it possible to deny him social protection on the ground that he was equipped with the means to protect himself.

Of course we are familiar with the "civil rights movement" for equality. But many of aspects of the civil rights movement also contained a demand for greater political participation as well as social protections. After civil rights were established the next demand came in the form of greater political participation, the right to vote and hold office. Unlike pure civil rights which poses no threat to the capitalist system, extending the right to vote to the whole population could lead to a greater demand for equality by passing laws to that effect:
The political rights of citizenship, unlike the civil rights, were full of potential danger to the capitalist system, although those who were cautiously extending them down to the social scale probably did not realized how great the danger was. They could hardly be expected to foresee what vast changes could be brought about by the peaceful use of political power, without a violent and bloody revolution.

The extension of political rights then leads to the demand for social rights:
But the normal method of establishing social rights is by the exercise of political power, for social rights imply an absolute right to a certain standard of civilization which is conditional only on the discharge of of the general duties of citizenship. Their content does not depend on the economic value of the individual claimant.

The idea of social rights then speaks to the idea that everyone is entitled as he says "to a certain standard of civilization" meaning that people are entitled to the things necessary for a healthy and productive life. Political struggles for these rights only increased during the 20th century. In the U.S. the greatest period for the extension of social rights occurred between the 1930s and 1970s beginning from the New Deal to the civil rights movement. When Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, he was in Memphis for a sanitation worker's strike, and he even renamed his movement, the "poor people's campaign" showing that he saw his struggle as something evolving, first to eliminate legal segregation which did consist of the government interfering in the lives of black people by telling them where they could eat, work, etc., to a movement that struggled to secure the basic necessities of life for all people.

Since the 1980s, there has been a gradual scaling back of the idea of social rights which has only increased as time has gone on.

Marshall argues the demand for social rights really begins with the idea of public education. If civil rights literally means only that the government cannot interfere with you, then on that basis alone there is no clear right to provide education for all the people. Same with political rights and the right to vote. It is of course a commonly accepted value that everyone is entitled to go to school, at least primary school, but this is only because we accept the idea of education as a kind of social right that everyone needs. In today's politics, things like healthcare would be considered a social right. This however makes it clear, that not everyone agrees on the idea of social rights. When it comes to healthcare most other countries have accepted it as a social right, this is still something debated in the U.S. With education there is a continuing effort to privatize education and de-fund and eventually shut down many public schools.

Next class we begin discussing Congress and the different branches of government. I will post those readings up on Blackboard soon.

Assignment: Due 11/8 Choose a passage from the Marshall write it out. Then, explain the meaning of the quote. And then explain why you chose this quote.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

10/25 Civil Disobedience

In this class, and the next we will be focusing on civil liberties and civil rights, both important concepts and inseparable from the idea of citizenship. This class we will focus more on "civil liberty," which stresses areas where the government restricts the rights of citizens, and talk about "civil rights" (and other kinds of rights) next class which usually suggests the government taking a more active role to protect its citizens. In this class we will look at the idea of civil liberties through the writings of three of the most important figures in American history, all known as fierce champions of liberty and ready and willing to call out the abuses of a government which restricts the liberty of its citizens.

Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), wrote, the famous essay "Civil Disobedience." The idea of civil disobedience is peculiar to democratic societies. It means breaking the law and thus challenging the authorities, but usually in a non-violent fashion. In Thoreau's case he refused to pay his taxes in 1846 because he believed the money was being used for an immoral purpose, and he was put in jail. He was bailed out the next day by his friend and famous poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Supposedly, there was an exchange between the two, where Emerson questioned Thoreau on why he was in jail. Thoreau allegedly responded "why are you not in jail?" In other words, the idea behind civil disobedience is that  morality requires you to disobey unjust laws. To passively accept a corrupt society, Thoreau would argue, makes you almost as morally guilty as the people who actually oppress others and do violence to people. It is even worse in a democracy because here the citizens actually have some ability to alter the course of laws and government.


This idea is also a core component of the civil religion, and refers to the higher authority that is referred to in the Declaration, as "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," in other words, a form of law based on natural rights higher than the laws of political states. The basis of civil disobedience can be found in the Declaration itself which explicitly authorizes disobedience to the extent in which government departs from protecting the rights of its citizens.

Thoreau sees the natural law and human law as antagonistic and separate from each other, as he says: "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first and subjects afterward" (p. 222).

Thoreau was very conscious in which respect for laws or traditions and mores can easily turn into a mechanical and unthinking submission to whatever the authorities may be:
The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army; and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens (p. 223).

Government is only as good or bad as the people who run it. It is not evil in itself nor is it good in itself, or as  he says, "But, to speak practically and as a citizen unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it" (p. 222). In other words a government closer to the ideas of equality and justice that we are entitled to according to the Declaration.

He is very clear on the source of his disgust for the current government, "I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also" (p. 223) (referring to the slave owners not the actual slaves)

In The Federalist we discussed how the ideal of government was supposed to function like a machine and thus create an impersonal system of control that is not under the control of any one person. As long as the machine functions properly and maintains justice in society but what happens if the machine is creating injustice:
If the unjustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth––certainly the machine will wear out. If the unjustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank,  exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say break the law. Let you life be a counterfriction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn (p. 226).




Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), and Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) were all active members of the abolition and women's rights movements, which originally were united, and who used the idea of civil disobedience that Thoreau spoke of, as a means to agitate the political system, to initiate radical reforms, and ultimately to win full citizenship. 
Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Susan B. Anthony
Stanton and Anthony were leaders of the Women's Rights movement which since the 1840s had been organizing to win for women the right to vote. They shared leadership of the movement, with Stanton being more of a writer, and Anthony being more of an orator. Stanton's Declaration of Rights and Sentiments is modeled after the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights..." (pp. 231-32). 


Douglass in his fourth of July speech, points to a glaring gap in the creed of America, which according to Chesterton is embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Douglass here indicates an essential contradiction in all universal ideologies or beliefs. Every belief that claims to include all of humanity (and can be said to be universal) always in reality excludes somebody, and that these exclusions are concealed and made invisible:
Frederick Douglass
But such is not the sate of the case. I sat it with a sad sense of disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeather by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people! 
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour. 

In his other writing, Douglass distinguishes between various forms of the abolition movement that in his eyes are inadequate. He refers to the Free Soil Party founded in 1848 of former Democrats and some radical abolitionists. The party failed to win any presidential elections, but helped transition anti-slavery democrats to the   Republican Party, originally formed as an anti-slavery party in 1854 and supported by papers like Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune.


The Democratic Party at the same time which was so powerful in the South and New York has become the party of slavery. However, in Douglass' view the Free Soil movement does not go far enough because it only wants to restrict the further expansion of slavery, not to abolish it where it already is. Although scientific reason was opposed to slavery it did create the "cautious" attitude that you do not do things too radically––this is a good example of that mentality. Douglass is equally opposed to the Garrison Abolitionists, named after William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), a New England journalist who became one of the most well known abolitionists. Garrison favored total abolition, but he was apolitical, in other words he thought the best way to fight slavery was not to deal with it or people who benefit from it. Douglass saw this as little better than closing your eyes to a problem, and like the Republicans, favored political involvement, but like Garrison, wanted total abolition.


Besides their ideological strength, they were skilled organizers and were able to create a network of political institutions composed of voluntary associations, small political parties, and specialized newspapers. All were involved early on with the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) which was supported by newspapers like The Liberator or the National Anti-Slavery Standard. Frederick Douglass published his own abolitionist paper The North Star, which later merged with the newspaper of the abolitionist political party, the Liberty Party to form Frederick Douglass' Paper. Anthony published her own women's rights paper The Revolution which was the official paper of the National Women's Suffrage Association (NWSA) formed by Stanton and Anthony in 1869. The NWSA was formed after the breakup of the earlier American Equal Rights Association between 1866-1869, which split over the issue of granting voting rights (suffrage) to women and freed slaves. The text of the 15th amendment to the Constitution (1870) shows clearly that the right to vote cannot be taken away because of a person's race or color, but it does not specify gender. Women would not win the right to vote in the country until 1920 (after Stanton and Anthony had died) with the passage of the 19th amendment. 

In today's literature the network of organizations, media, and activists is referred to as civil society, but the development of civil society was supported by the beneficial economic advantages of the U.S. including relative economic equality, as well as a highly literate population that was better educated on a whole than Europeans. We can see here also that civil liberties which, of course, include freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press actually serve to strengthen the republic and revive it when suffering from periods of stagnation when one group wields power for too long, in part by allowing criticism of the government and the way in which society is being led. A vibrant and robust civil society provides the circulation of different groups and interests which contribute to a stable political order, one that can also adapt to changes.

Anthony was arrested in 1872 after attempting to vote in New York. The same year women's rights activists Victoria Woodhull ran a presidential campaign under the the Equal Rights Party, with Frederick Douglass as Vice-President (Douglass never responded to the nomination), though they received no electoral votes and a very tiny amount of the popular vote. The excerpt here is from the closing statements of the trial United States v. Anthony. Anthony is skillfully able to turn the trial itself into a trial of the American system by pointing out the obvious hypocrisies and contradictions in a political system based on the idea of citizenship and equality but that excludes almost half the population from being a real citizen, which she notes emphatically is impossible without real political rights including of course the right to vote:
All my prosecutors, from the 8th Ward corner grocery politician, who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even when I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was my peer; but native or foreign, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer (p. 297). 
The 14th amendment to the Constitution explicitly states that all people born or naturalized within the United States are citizens of the United States and are entitled to all the protections of the law and all the rights and privileges that come with citizenship. Anthony argues quite clearly that her arrest and trial clearly contradict her rights as defined by this amendment in the Constitution.

As important as the formal rights in the Constitution are, the preservation of these rights, depends on certain political institutions and an open society that provide the space for this. However, culture is equally important, and it is the culture of freedom and tolerance in the U.S. that make actions like this resonate with the public. In other words, seeing a woman get arrested for trying to vote would make most people think this is an abuse of authority. But, people would only think that way in the first place, if they already had strong cultural values or "mores," mœurs, of freedom. Even if mœurs can sometimes prevent change as they become dogmatic, because of the struggles of people like this and its origins in the Declaration of Independence, civil disobedience itself is an established mœur in American political culture, in other words somewhat paradoxically, a tradition of opposing authority.

Assignment Due (11/1): Choose a passage from Thoreau, Stanton or Douglass. Write out the passage, then explain what the author is saying and how it relates to the themes of the lecture, and then explain why you chose this quote.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

9/27 Another Stab at the Constitution

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/07/08/another-stab-at-the-us-constitution

The piece we are looking at today is a modern commentary and analysis of the Constitution. Last class we spent more time looking at the historical context of the Constitution itself, as well as the Federalist Papers, which was also a commentary on the Constitution, and considered still be the most authoritative interpretation of the Constitution.

In today's piece which is taken from The New York Times, several prominent scholars give their analysis over controversial or problematic aspects of the Constitution. In many regards most of what the contributors suggest would seem to be fairly radical changes to the Constitution, of course in the past, such changes have occurred.

The first commentary by Jamal Greene, questions whether to create term limits for federal judges, as he says: 
In a democracy, no one person should wield so much power for so long. Article III of the Constitution provides that federal judges “shall hold their offices during good behaviour.” In practice this language means they serve for life absent voluntary retirement or impeachment. Were we to draft the Constitution today, we would be wise to reconsider this provision.

His reasoning for this seems to rest on two main points: one, he argues in some cases judges simply become too old to effectively render judgements in cases, something which requires a person to be at the peak of their mental faculties. Two, he argues that life-term appointments makes the selection process of judges too political. Federal judges are nominated by the President, but approved by the U.S. Senate. Over the last 20-25 years this process has become incredibly complicated due to the inability of opposed political parties to come to agreement (you might remember the Gallup piece from a few weeks ago which pointed to polling data which supports this).


He argues that the example of other countries that have term limits or mandatory retirement ages might be a good example, and seems drawn to the idea of an 18-year term. 18 years is by any standard a long-term in office, but many would still be opposed to limiting the terms of judges.


The second piece by Rachel Barkow, looks at the eight amendment of the Constitution and how it might relate to the current problem of imprisonment in the U.S. Despite the repeated claims to being the land of the free, the U.S. leads the rest of the world in the number of people in prison, which as she points out is made up of significantly larger portions of minority groups in the country. Certainly the profit motive is still alive and well at least, because running prisons has become a profitable industry as of late, led by corporations like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) which also lobbys the government for longer prison terms and less leniency, not because it feels threatened by criminals, but because shorter prison terms would mean less business. The U.S. is also the third largest in terms of the number of executions carried out by the justice system behind only Saudi Arabia and China.


Barkow looks to the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, or what we refer to as the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) which bans the use of "cruel and unusual punishment." Putting aside the idea of executions which she does not go into, but obviously would be opposed to, she argues that the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment should prohibit excessively long prison sentences as well:

As I have suggested elsewhere, clarifying and expanding the Eighth Amendment could help. It should specifically state that excessive terms of incarceration are prohibited, just as it bans excessive fines. It should expressly prohibit mandatory sentences so that every case gets the benefit of individualized attention by a judge. And it should insist that legislatures create a record showing that they considered empirical evidence about the law's likely impact. 
It is important to see that before any action can be undertaken, there must be some groundwork for this action in the Constitution. In this case she argues that the Eighth Amendment lays the groundwork that would make the movement towards shorter prison terms a legitimate, and legal course of action.

The third piece by Akhil Reed Amar, looks at the limitations on naturalized citizens for holding office, specifically the President. The Constitution states that only citizens born in the U.S. are eligible to be President of the U.S., as he says:
But those American citizens who happen to have been born abroad to non-American parents — and who later choose to become “naturalized” American citizens — are not the full legal equals of those of us born in the U.S. True, naturalized Americans have always been allowed to serve as cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices, senators and governors. And at the founding, anyone already a citizen could be president, regardless of birthplace. (Alexander Hamilton, for example, though born in the West Indies, was fully eligible to serve as president under the Constitution he himself helped draft.) But modern-day naturalized citizens are barred from the presidency simply because they were born in the wrong place to the wrong parents.
We can look back to the readings from Bourne and Chesterton and relate their views on transnationalism or as Chesterton called it the "the nationalization of the internationalized" to this restriction. Do you think Bourne and Chesterton would be in favor of lifting this restriction? Do you think it is fair to continue this restriction, or should any citizen regardless of birth be eligible to one-day become President of the U.S. On a related note, the bizarre obsession with the current President's birthplace relates to this, if the President were born in Kenya as many on the political right-wing suggest, then he would be ineligible to be President. Of course in this case, the racial overtones of this so-called argument are obvious.

The fourth piece by Elizabeth Price Foley argues for the importance of federalism. Federalism is a doctrine which explicitly divides the power of government between the center (or federal) government and regional states which retain some independence and autonomy from the center. Some other countries have what is called a unitary government where the top-level of government appoints all the lower levels as well, thus power and control is in the hands of the top government officials. In our country, the governor of New York for example has certain freedoms to act that the President and Congress cannot limit. In practice, however, especially in recent times the extent and influence of the federal government has increased, mainly as a result of the influence the federal government has in directing funds for the states in multiple areas like education or even to maintain roads.

Foley argues that this expansion of government power threatens the idea of federalism which the Constitution is based on:
Federalism isn't about states' rights. It's about individual liberty. The Supreme Court emphasized this in Bond v. United States (2011): "By denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power. When government acts in excess of its lawful powers, that liberty is at stake." And lest you think this emanates from the court's right wing, Bond was unanimous.

As the last line indicates however, this view has increasingly become seen as more of a conservative or right-wing opinion. She goes on to point out how the Supreme Court had recently ruled against certain aspects of the health care law that would force state governments to act. Again, think back to the Gallup poll, which showed that when the opposing party is in power, people on the other side favor greater restrictions on government power. If a Republican government was in office today, would conservatives still argue for federalism as strongly as they are now?

The fifth piece by Alexander Keyssar argues to abolish the electoral college. We know the President is not elected through a direct popular vote, but is chosen by electors equal to each states representation in Congress, meaning that elections are decided on a state by state basis. This is one of the more well known and controversial aspects of the Constitution today. As he says:
Moreover, we have learned a lot in the last 225 years about shortcomings in the framers’ design: the person who wins the most votes doesn’t necessarily become president; the adoption of “winner take all” rules (permitted but not mandated by the Constitution) produces election campaigns that ignore most of the country and contribute to low turnout; the legislature of any state can decide to choose electors by itself and decline to hold an election at all; and the complex procedure for dealing with an election in which no candidate wins a clear majority of the electoral vote is fraught with peril. As a nation, we have come to embrace “one person, one vote” as a fundamental democratic principle, yet the allocation of electoral votes to the states violates that principle. It is hardly an accident that no other country in the world has imitated our Electoral College. 

The sixth piece by Michael Rappaport looks at the process by which the Constitution is changed. Paradoxically he argues that the process of changing the Constitution has come to a point where it is virtually impossible to change. There are two methods for changing the Constitution. The first requires that 2/3 of both houses of Congress agree to an amendment which is then sent to the states to ratify, or approve of the proposed amendment. There is a second method but is has never been used as he says:
The second method is for two-thirds of the state legislatures to call for a constitutional convention that would then propose an amendment (which, again, would have to be ratified by the states). This second method has never been used, because the state legislatures fear a runaway convention. They are concerned that if they call a convention to draft a balanced budget amendment, the convention will end up proposing an amendment on same-sex marriage or school prayer. 
This argument matches up well with Foley's federalist argument since it reserves a more active role for the states, again quoting his argument:
The Constitution should be changed to eliminate the possibility of a runaway convention. The best way to do this is to dispense with a constitutional convention and instead have the state legislatures agree to propose a specific amendment. But any method that allows for a working alternative to Congress’s amendment monopoly would be an enormous improvement.
The seventh piece by Melynda Price deals with another highly publicized and controversial aspect of the Constitution, the "right to bear arms" in the second amendment. Price who is in favor of abolishing this right argues:
I am not naïve enough to believe that doing away with the Second Amendment would do away with gun violence, but I know firsthand the impact of guns and gun shots on children. This nation was constructed and reconstructed in the aftermath of violent and bloody conflicts. Still, the Framers believed that not only the Constitution, but also the peaceful way the document was created, would penetrate the Americans' minds and change they engaged. The Constitution would be the only weapon needed unless there was an external enemy. 
The eight piece by Jenny Martinez deals with the interpretation of the Constitution in a more international setting, that being how important are treaties signed with other countries in the legal process of this country. Martinez points to what is called the "supremacy clause" in the Constitution,  “Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

However she addresses the often conflicting tendency of courts to ignore treaties that have been signed with other countries, as she points out:
But the Supreme Court has interpreted the supremacy clause in ways that contradict its text and original purpose; the court has suggested that the clause doesn’t mean what it says as far as treaties are concerned. One of the strangest of these decisions came a few years ago in a case involving Texas’s failure to notify Mexican citizens facing the death penalty that they were entitled by a treaty to speak to their consulate. In that case, Medellín v. Texas, the Supreme Court held that the treaty (and a decision of the International Court of Justice interpreting it) weren’t actually enforceable against Texas.
The ninth piece is by Randy Barnett and concerns the Commerce clause of the the Constitution. This gives Congress the power to regulate business in the country. Barnett argues that this power also has grown too much and exceeds what it is meant for. He argues the clause should be reworded as:
"The power of Congress to make all laws that are necessary and proper to regulate commerce among the several states, or with foreign nations, shall not be construed to include the power to regulate or prohibit any activity that is confined within a single state regardless of its effects outside the state, whether it employs instrumentalities therefrom, or whether its regulation or prohibition is part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme; but Congress shall have power to regulate harmful emissions between one state and another, and to define and provide for punishment of offenses constituting acts of war or violent insurrection against the United States."
Compared with its original text in the Constitution which is much shorter (Article 1 Section 8 Clause 3): "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." Is this more complex version necessary? The purpose of the commerce clause is to regulate what is called "interstate business" meaning business that goes on across state boundaries. Commerce or business that takes place wholly in one state then should be regulated by the state it is in, but again in modern times the distinctions between interstate and state commerce are blurred. This also affects the interests of many large corporations which operate throughout the country and beyond even national boundaries.

The final piece by Pauline Maier looks at the most well known part of the Constitution, the first amendment to the Bill of Rights. However she argues that the wording of the text is flawed and argues it should be expanded on:


“Congress shall make no law” is a peculiarly stingy way to begin an amendment that protects the rights of conscience, speech, press, assembly and petition. James Madison proposed more capacious language for those rights. He would have said, for example, that “the civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.” He would also have stated that “the people shall not be deprived of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.”
She argues that this would clearly separate the protections giving to people and to corporations which also appeal to first amendment rights to justify lobbying the government.

These authors represent different political perspectives and isolate different problematic areas of the Constitutions which continue to be debated in the present. Some call for new interpretations of how we understand our rights, others for re-wording or altering certain parts of the text, others still call for getting rid of what they see as outdated features of the Constitution.

Next week we will not have class due to the holiday. The following week we will have the midterm 10/11. The week after 10/18 we will be in class again. 

The midterm will also be taken online, on Blackboard. The exam will be posted under Content and will be available between 12:00-3:00 PM on 10/11. The exam will consist of one essay question dealing with one or more of the themes we have gone over in class: Power, Citizenship, and the Constitution. If you have kept up with the readings and online lectures you should have no problem with the exam.

Assignment Due 10/11 : Choose one of the authors from the New York Times article and choose a quote from one of these authors. Write out the quote and the meaning of it, and explain why you chose this quote.