Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Liberty Amendments

The Liberty Amendments:  Restoring the American Republic
© 2013 Mark Levin
257 pages



The United States Constitution was written by men who appreciated their lack of omniscience, and who therefore included in Article V means for amending their handiwork, for fixing through Congress and the state legislatures any problems that might arise. How do you solve a problem through Congress, however, when Congress is the problem?   The solution, says Mark Levin, is right there in the Constitution: Article V, which establishes the means of amendment, provides two. While Congress can vote on amendments, the State Legislatures can independently  call a convention to propose amendments, amendments Congress is obliged to respect.

With that as a starting point, he introduces ten amendments intended to bring the metastasizing national government into hand. The amendments taken as a whole are strongly sympathetic to a states' rights perspective, as all three heads of the Scylla-like national government are subordinated further to the state legislatures. The legislatures are given the power to override Supreme Court decisions and acts of Congress, and  term limits are imposed on all branches, including on the formerly lifetime Court seats.  Levin's amendments make it clear that he believes sovereignty lies in the states alone. as he proposes measures intended to stifle the effort of the government to take a life of its own. The Supreme Court is denied a right it has assumed, that of judicial review (judging whether a law is constitutional), and federal programs are given an automatic expiration date that they escape only by submitting to a scrutionous review.  Most of the amendments are general and limited, with Levin arguing from what he believes the founders would have intended or believed; he draws on the Federalist papers, the anti-federalist papers, and the founding fathers' letters to inform his views. The exception to this is the tenth proposal, which requires photo ID for elections. This is so specific to current political arguments and current technology that it doesn't deserve the dignity of being attached to the Constitution: let it join the legions of acts of Congress.

As personally sympathetic as I am to any measure limiting the power of the state, and hostile to any measure intended to magnify its power,  something about this book doesn't sit right with me. Levin speaks often about the founders' firm belief in checks and balances, but his proposals put so many cards in the hands of the state legislatures something is bound to go wrong. The state legislatures are not havens of sensibility and justice; my own state has a constitution written by planters to disenfranchise the poor, place the burden of public finance on them, and force local ballot measures to be resolved by means of constitutional amendment.  On the other hand, perhaps we'd end up with something like Swiss cantons; that kind of dynamic localism is attractive.  My principle problem with Levin is that he doesn't bother with a dialogue but writes to people who already agree with him as he presents his case against the dreaded Statists, the Evil Ones.  I don't know if Levin's approach is the answer, but it's not mere talk: in late December, state legislatures sent representatives to George Washington's Virginia home in Mount Vernon to discuss the possibility of an "Article V Convention".   Thus, while Levin's amendments aren't necessarily ones I'd get behind in total (with the exception of term limits),  his basic premise of states using their article V right to discipline Congress, the Court, and the President has promise.


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