20 December 2010

The 'Repeal Amendment'

The incoming Republican controlled House of Representatives is now expected to push for ratification of what would become the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Known among supporters by the charming label of the "Repeal Amendment," it would empower a two-thirds majority of states to repeal any act of Congress. A website promoting the amendment gives its text as follows:

Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed.

Needless to say, some Democrats and liberals have already come out against the amendment. They consider it undemocratic because a theoretical supermajority of states can be had without representing a majority of the U.S. population. But that's also true about ratifying a constitutional amendment in the first place -- a fact that might temper some opponents' dismissal of the amendment's chances. Its chances may actually be doomed by the Senate remaining under Democratic control, but that could change after 2012. Then, it'd become a question of whether we have a supermajority of states-rights minded states, and the sparsely-populated mountain states might make a difference in the amendment's favor.

The amendment's boosters consider it necessary to "restoring our nation's economic liberty." That doesn't exactly follow, since any given state is in theory as much a danger to individual "economic liberty" as the federal government is. The Repeal Amendment really expresses an enduring fear of centralized government and a persistent sense of alienation from national identity in some parts of the country. But if it gets through Congress and gets ratified in the normal way it'll be the supreme law of the land. The least that can be said about its supporters is that they know what they want, know how to get it, and aren't intimidated by the odds against them. Amending the Constitution is within anyone's power, and the advancement of the Repeal Amendment on the national agenda ought to prod some concerned citizens into coming up with counter-proposals. If you don't like this amendment, come up with something better.


Anonymous said...

This leads to some rather interesting questions. In a democratic society, wherein the government is elected from a pool of citizens by the general consent of the citizens, what reason does any group have to fear the "central" government? This seems more a tactic to give the minority an "out" when they don't get their way.

This would seem to be further proof that Republicans really neither believe in, nor support democracy. If the reason they give for such an amendment is based on fear of a central government, then, as members of that government, it seems to me it would be far simpler for them to simply limit themselves - to practice self control.

When one digs deeper, it really seems to be just another way for them to undermine the authority granted the Federal government by the constitution and to inhibit anyone or group whom they disagree with from passing any law that they don't like or support.

This is definitely a move that could eventually turn around and bite them on the butt, should two-thirds of the states decide that laws passed by republican/conservative/right-wingers in the federal government be bad laws.

Samuel Wilson said...

Fear of centralization goes back to the Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution and is based on a fear that the central authority inevitably has an interest in aggrandizing itself at the expense of local autonomy. The Founders believed that a more energetic central goverment than prevailed under the Articles of Confederation was still compatible with a large degree of local autonomy, but throughout history people have always feared "power" as if it had a mind of its own that made its interests different from those of the people who empowered it.

The Repeal Amendment is transparently designed to give "red" states a safeguard against any return of Democrats to full power in Congress, on the assumption that many of the most sparsely populated states are also among the most conservative, but as you note, the amendment is potentially a double-edged sword. That may prove that its backers really do fear centralized government more than they fear liberalism or the Democratic party.

Anonymous said...

Any attempt to weaken the federal government is an attempt to weaken the nation as a whole.

A weak federal government would lack the resources and necessary authority to deal with national emergencies, while small, localized governments would lack the organization necessary to deal with the same emergency. This was proven during the Katrina debacle.

Anyone who fears their own government without reason probably has treason at heart to begin with.

Anonymous said...

The logical solution isn't to weaken the central government, but rather to enact laws, policies and checks & balances to ensure an honest and transparent government that does not become entrenched interests. Term limitations, campaign finance laws, non-partisan oversight, etc. is the easiest way to do so.

But lacking any real desire to act in a non-partisan manner, both sides make the simple, logical solution nearly impossible with the present age of paranoia, mistrust and open hostility towards those of the opposing party.

Anonymous said...

Another question that brings to mind is exactly how would a state's "interests" differ from those of the citizens of the state and, furthermore, from the interests of the American people as a whole?

Really, what this comes down to is the right-wing hubris in assuming their and their constituent's interests are somehow different or more important than the interests of the nation as a whole - the same mentality that lead to the civil war in the first place.