Tuesday, September 17, 2019

3 surprises in the U.S. Constitution

Happy Constitution Day!

232 years ago the United States Constitution was ratified. This is the document which describes that which constitutes the United States of America. Without this document, the states would not be united. This document effectively takes the sinful nature of man into account by separating powers into different branches of government, similar to what we see in Isaiah 33:22: “For the LORD is our Judge, The LORD is our Lawgiver, The LORD is our King; He will save us.”

The Virginia Declaration of Rights reminds us, “That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.” Congress has done this in recent years by opening its new term with reading the still-active parts of the Constitution on the House floor.

As for the non-active parts, “The text we will read today reflects the changes to the document made by the 27 amendments to it. Those portions superseded by amendment will not be read.” Some people get wrapped around the axle about whether the parts not read are being ignored or suppressed. There are a few things I find interesting still in the document, one related to parts others are concerned are suppressed.

Slavery
• Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 1: “The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.”

One would presume at the time of ratification that the “importation” word would have been a more significant factor than migration. These days “migration” is the more active word in the context of immigration. I'm more interested in the fact that part of the system of slavery that was embedded into the Constitution—a $10 import fee on slaves—is still active today. Apparently the “changes to the document made by the 27 amendments” have not affected this clause as it was read on the House floor and is part of the official Record. Yes, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, but it didn't remove this clause from the Constitution.

Ex post facto laws prohibited
Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 3: “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.”
Article I, Section 10, Paragraph 1: “No State shall … pass any … ex post facto Law.”
In other words, no retroactive laws. We seem to have forgotten this somewhere along the way. Imagine the impact of no retroactive legislation on spending bills, continuing resolutions, or government shutdowns. If Congress wanted to pay federal workers for not working during a shutdown, they would have to pass it as a bonus for not working. Imagine how that would go over in the heartland's private sector.

Debt
• Article I, Section 10, Paragraph 1: “No State shall … make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts.”
It seems inaccurate to claim this, too, is still active since gold and silver coins have become more collectors' items than “Tender in Payment of Debts.”

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