The Constitution Hangs by a Thread

“You will see the Constitution of the United States almost destroyed. It will hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber…. I love the Constitution; it was made by the inspiration of God; and it will be preserved and saved…” – Attributed to Joseph Smith, May 1843

Across congregations of the Mormon Church the above quote has become a rallying cry among the conservative members. I have been approached by several wanting to discuss the destructive nature of the Constitution by our current administration. “Today the constitution hangs by a thread,” always concludes each episode as the definitive reason for their political posturing.  Stepping aside from the fact that the bloody Civil War was on the horizon in 1843, which truly challenged the foundation of the Constitution, there is merit to this quote today.

The Framers designed the Constitution to equalize representative power across the states, strengthen the voice of the minority, and drive equality. The Senate functions as a contained democracy using majority rule, with equal representation across the states regardless of population. The House is designed to represent the people, equalizing votes across the collective population of our country. The House Representatives are “of the people” with short two year terms to align with the changing demands of the constituents they represent. The Framers designed our government with an inspired balance of power, representing the minority to a point, and using the legislative branch as a check for executive power.

Two changes in rules and actions threaten the balance of the Legislative Branch and the Constitution today. The filibuster changes the entire intent of the Senate and gerrymandering has removed the representative equality of the House. Our government has moved to an extreme representation of the minority which suffocates the will of the majority. In the Senate, Senators representing a mere 20 percent of the population can stop legislation and bring the chamber to a crawl. In the House, a populous minority retains control and abuses their influence to table popular legislation and misdirect funding.

Senate FilibusterThe Senate filibuster is not found in the Constitution and was first used in 1837 exploiting a change in debating rules made in 1806. The filibuster was used just a handful of times until 1970, and as a last resort. Today it is part of the process on almost every bill or appointment. What the Framers intended to be a simple majority in the Senate has now become a 60 vote super-majority. Couple this with the already imperfect representative balance of the Senate, and it is easy to understand why gridlock has ensued.

Today Republicans use the filibuster to oppose legislation and bring the legislative process to a crawl. There have been several bills these past four years, that after receiving the 60 votes needed to end the filibuster, passed 99-0. One of the most egregious examples came last December when Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell filibustered his own bill wasting time and tax payer resources. The real problem with this obtuse Senate rule is 40 minority Senators can represent less than 20 percent of the US population. Eliminating the use of the filibuster still meets the intent of minority representation as 45 Republican Senators represent 30 percent of the population.

On the other side of the Legislative Branch the House has deviated from Constitutional intent due to progressive gerrymandering by Republican governors. As the majority of the states were controlled by Republicans after the 2010 census, a $30 million dollar redistricting action plan was executed further skewing the House’s representative characteristics. In 2012 there were 1.5 million more votes for Democrats yet there are 33 more Republican Representatives in the House. The US is 64 percent white but 4 percent of Republican Congressman are minorities. 51 percent of the population are women but only 8 percent of Republican Representatives. The abuse of redistricting is so widespread I see little chance of overturning House control even with a healthy voting majority in the near future.

Between the House and Senate actions by the minority party it’s easy to understand why the Constitution is being tread on. The American government has been hijacked by a party that relies on abusing rules and redistricting to push an unpopular agenda. Legislation like firearm background checks and immigration reform should be a slam dunk given the overwhelming support by the majority of the people, but the government has failed to perform even the most mundane functions. The Constitution is crippled and the balance of power upset because the minority party does not respect the Framer’s intent.

In Mormon congregations across the country my Republican friends are correct; Joseph Smith’s quote is just as applicable today as it was at the time of the Civil War. The Constitution hangs by a thread and they are the ones holding the scissors.

8 Replies to “The Constitution Hangs by a Thread”

  1. Excellent point! I think we should be more concerned about the Senate filibuster and gerrymandering as “threats” to the Constitution than about Obama grabbing our guns.

  2. Does anyone else find it ironic that when coupled with the follow up statement from Brigham Young, which includes the idea the the “Elders of Israel” will be there to save it; that there is someone who meets that definition, in exactly the right place to be able to save it in this exact situation at this time?

    Exactly how are the Republicans going to feel when that prophesy is (at least in part) fulfilled by Brother Harry Reid?

  3. Whoa, with regards to filibuster and cloture, the Democrats are reaping what they’ve sowed. You’re forgetting to point out that the current senate dynamic was largely influenced by the procedural changes made by Sen. Byrd (D) in the 70’s, which made threat of filibuster much easier and consequently more prolific. Byrd then used such tactics with presidential appointments a staggering amount of times on matters that had previously been viewed as presidential prerogative. Flash forward to recent times, and we have Sen. Reid (D), stifling free and open debate by determining which amendments will be allowed before a bill is on the floor. This makes it nearly impossible for the Republicans to offer amendments—unless they rely on the threat of filibuster.

    What the record shows, is that senate democrats used filibuster at an alarming rate vs Bush appointees, compared to senate republicans use vs Obama appointees. Since the rise of the modern parties, Democrats have cast 84% of all filibuster votes over judicial nominees. So what strikes as disingenuous are democrat claims that it is the republicans who are being obstructionist. All that can really be said of filibuster is that democrats favor it when it comes to blocking appointees and republicans favor it when it comes to legislation. Senate politics are filled with move – countermove, and retribution acts. Those are key problems with gridlock, and can’t be affixed to one party over the other.

    As for the rest of your article, here are some points to consider. Gerrymandering is not a federal issue. It is not a question of constitutionality. There are as many examples of gerrymandering from democrats as there are from republicans. Both parties will redistrict in their favor, given the chance. It’s almost axiomatic at this point.

    I like your article and the points it raises are important to discuss. However I do not think conflating the issues raised with judgments of the political parties does much to solve the inherent challenges present in our political process. Each party is sick and the symptom is the gridlock.

    1. Cam — I am going to challenge a couple of your assumptions:

      1. Why would Sen. Byrd make procedural changes that would give the minority power more control when he was part of the majority party? The Democrats had a strong lock on the Senate through the 70’s and I don’t see any reason why any politician would relinquish control. Plus why would Byrd use the filibuster on his own party?

      2. Please look at the graph I attached. The idea that Democrats (Byrd) started the downward spiral discards the data around cloture (cloture is the act of extending debate — filibuster). I think its clear who jump started this trend.

      3. The majority party has always controlled the agenda and what bills are being voted on in each chamber. I did not address this because I believe it is part of the role of the majority (trust me – I am mad as hell when it comes to what the House is spending their time doing – they have voted to repeal Obamacare 31 times??!!)

      4. The point about which Party has used the filibuster on judicial appointments is moot. This is because President Obama has slowed the number of nominations due to Senate Republicans not giving the White House any names from their states (yes – the senators make the recommendation and the President nominates them). We currently have almost 90 Federal Judicial positions open with 60 of them critical. This is largely because the Democrat supplied names are filibustered and the Republican supplied names are missing.

      5. I am well aware that gerrymandering is not a Federal issue and not a question of constitutionality process. I am also aware there is nothing the Federal government can really do at this point. That still does not change the fact that gerrymandering treads on what the Framers saw as a representative body reflecting the people’s perspectives. The House does not represent the will of the people when places like Phoenix carry the same weight as Snowflake.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read my article and I love the debate it generates. However, we are sliding down the trail of stagnant government and the role of filibustering and the abuse of gerrymandering is spraying WD-40 on the path.

  4. It is a historical fact that the classic use of the filibuster was not exactly to promote good government, “states rights” maybe, but it was first developed to protect southern states from any encroachment on Slavery. Then for a hundred years after Slavery (well after Grant’s Administration), they used it to prevent Civil Rights for African-Americans. Sadly, much of the rest of the country acquiesced. That stalemate was finally broken by the brave and mostly peaceful protesters of the Civil Rights Movement and outmaneuvered in the Senate by the Master Politician, Lyndon Johnson, who broke out of the Southern Democrats to get Civil Rights passed – first as a Senator, then as President. And Republican Senator Everett Dirksen also gets credit for getting Republican support to break a filibuster for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  5. Mr Anselmo,

    Thank you for you post/article. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement that the US Constitution hangs by a thread.

    I also appreciate the fact that you do not even attempt to hide your political bias against the Republican party. That certainly leaves the reader no doubt where you stand–which is helpful for the reader IMO.

    I’d like to expand on your premise that today the Constitution hangs by a thread and what the causes are.

    The US federal government has a long and deliberate history of violating both the letter of and the Framers’ intent for the Constitution. Examples are prolific:

    1. The federal government going beyond the enumerated powers clauses. There are literally thousands–perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands–of examples of this. One could spend an entire lifetime of research and never be able to identify every one.

    One of the most obvious is FDR’s New Deal. Nowhere in the Constitution does it allow the federal government to create massive federal debt that must be born by future generations at their peril. It was an egregious and unconscionable abuse of Executive power. One can argue whether it was good for the country–but unfortunately an accurate judgement on that question is almost always made based on incomplete information. Complete information would include the state of the country hundreds of years hence once it is known whether the US survives the calamities that FDR may have put in motion by his massive spending program.

    On the other side of the ledger, an argument can be made that without the new deal the US would not have been victorious over Germany and Japan in WWII and therefore may not have survived as a sovereign nation years hence. For without the industrial society fostered by the New Deal the US wouldn’t been able to out-produce the Enemy–particularly in a war on both sides of the planet simultaneously.

    Regardless of your opinion on the above question, the fact remains that the Constitution does not allow what FDR did. And nearly every president and congress since FDR have presided over ever-increased public debt levels that have brought us to where we are today: on the precipice of financial collapse. (If you don’t believe that we are there as a country, then you must know something that most economists don’t and what you believes flies also in the face of common sense.)

    The important point here should not be lost: the Constitution does not allow a President or Congress to incur massive debt that must be born by future generations to their peril.

    To those who say “there is no language in the Constitution that expressly prohibits it either” I say this: there is a wide range of things that the Constitution does not expressly prohibit but at a minimum are implied. Murder is one. Illicit drugs is another. And so one needs to 1) take the Constitution in context with the Declaration of Independence; 2) take the Constitution in context of the Framer’s intent; and 3) use common sense. I fully acknowledge that therein lies the difficulty of interpreting the Constitution. However, our Federal Government rarely even attempts to adhere to the above three tenets. Example: do you honestly believe that if the following question were put to the members of the Constitutional Convention they would have approved and added a provision to the Constitution to support it? “Can a President and/or a Congress be allowed to incur federal debt that will be born by future generations to their peril?” If your answer to this question is “Yes” or “It depends,” you don’t understand what the Framers intended for this Republic.

    And yet, as I said already, EVERY administration and Congress since FDR have participated in this behavior.

    To those who say “you don’t know what the future holds: perhaps we can dig our ourselves out of this whole” I say you’re kidding yourself–and also that doesn’t make the behavior ok.

    I’m not predicting a calamity–only citing countless economists and financial advisors who are. And do you really think it’s wise to flirt with disaster anyway? Would you build your house on the sand, saying “you don’t know what the future holds–perhaps there will never be a storm that washes it away.” That’s what the residents of New Orleans told themselves for decades. Don’t like that example? There are countless similar examples in the annals of history.

    2. Roe v. Wade: this is another of the most egregious examples of Unconstitutional governance in modern history. The idea that the federal government can decide what is life and what isn’t and then impose that judgement on society is not only unconstitutional but also wicked in the extreme. Does anyone who truly believes in the Constitution or in God truly believe that either the Framers or God favor a “woman’s right to choose” to slaughter her unborn child?

    Does it occur to you that in something like 34 states it is unlawful–by statute–to harm a woman in any way that results in bodily harm to an unborn fetus that she carries? Yet in all 50 states it is legal for the mother to kill that growing fetus? Is there ANYONE for whom that contradiction makes any sense?

    The result is 55,000,000+ government-sanctioned (and even funded, in many cases) deaths in this country since Roe. Millions more occur around us over through the passing years; and many of us live our lives like it doesn’t even exist.

    3. Federal Block Grants: the idea that the Federal Government can levy taxes against the people and then, in effect, hold a gun to the head of the states and say “you do what we tell you to do or you won’t get the money that we took from your citizens.” This is not only a violation of the 10th amendment; it is also an egregious display of unconstitutional governance. If the federal government is allowed to behave in this way, what is the limit or end of the control of the federal government? There is none. And any President and/or Congress could continue to increase taxes to 40, 50, 60, 70, even 80, 90, or 100% with nothing to stop them. You don’t think that could ever happen? You’re dreaming.

    You see, the Framer’s biggest fear–bar none–was that the Federal Government would overstep its bounds and behave unconstitutionally.

    And that is exactly what has been happening since at least 1932. And it continues today with dozens of examples from the current Administration and Congress and countless more currently moving through Congress.

    Notice I haven’t made any attempt to put the blame on any one party over any other as Mr Anselmo did. That’s because there is really no point in that. Both are guilty. And though I believe–and have strong reason to do so–that one party is more guilty of it than the other–that’s beside the point. Until our federal government begins to act within the Constitution, I believe that this country is doomed. How long it takes to get there is anyone’s guess. It would be like trying to predict the Second Coming of our Lord.

    And so we see that all three branches of our federal government are not only biased toward repeated (tens of thousands of) violations of the letter and spirit of the constitution; they are also wicked and abominable (in the biblical/doctrinal judgement).

    As to Mr Anselmo’s citations of unconstitutional behaviors on the part of the Republican party: I would generally agree with the spirit (but not the letter) of his assertions. However, he very conveniently omits any of the countless examples of constitutional violations by the Democrat party. One has to question his motives for doing so. But again, that’s not at all my purpose in this post.

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