13 July 2011

A lobby for the Constitution?

A press release arrived in the office today announcing the formation of a "constitution lobby" for the state of New York -- "a permanent non-political, non-profit [lobby] with the sole purpose of holding elected officials accountable to the State and Federal Constitutions, the local City Charters and the Rule of Law." The lobby's name is We The People of New York Inc., and its stated purpose is "to defend the Constitution on purely legal, not political grounds," because "the Constitution cannot defend itself." The press release states that the lobby will hold a series of informational meetings in the Capital District, with the object of recruiting members toward a goal of 800,000 -- 5% of the state's population. Annual dues of $25 will be charged, according to one of the group's websites.

The Constitution lobby hopes to form a "critical mass...a more formidable force than all the lobbies and unions now in New York -- who will keep a permanent watchful eye on what government is doing at every level, and will hold those in power directly accountable." Those dues will go toward paying "approximately 1,240 Constitutional Monitors" who will be trained to review "the constitutionality of all official actions of all public officials." Violations of any constitution will be reported to the attorneys at a Citizen Vigilance Center, which will recommend appropriate action.

At this site, the lobby details its purposed response to unconstitutional measures:

1. Measure the actions of their public servants against the requirements of their city charters,state and federal Constitutions, local laws and oaths of office.

2.In the event of a violation, serve a Petition for Redress of Grievance and instructions of remedy, as protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, upon all parties involved.

3.Make the public aware of the violation and remedy and apply public pressure on the serving parties to reply and/or comply with the remedy.

4.In the event there is no substantive response,take steps to enforce the Rights of the People that have been violated via coordinated Civic Actions by the Lobby members.

The ultimate goal, as the membership drive appears to envision, is to establish a "constitutionalist" voting bloc that would ideally transcend established party lines. The question must inevitably arise, however, of how apolitical such a lobby can be. Nearly every Supreme Court decision reveals deep disagreements over the meaning of the Constitution and its relevance to current affairs. For generations, many Americans have asserted that the true two-party system of the country divides the strict constructionists of the Constitution from those whose looser interpretations enable more extensive government. If the organizers of the lobby (Robert Schulz is identified as "a prominent Constitutional activist") sincerely believe that they can form a formidable lobby or voting bloc based on a non-partisan reading of the founding document, they are probably doomed to be mistaken.

Any implicit claim of ideological neutrality in the press release might be belied by the inclusion of the "Articles of Freedom" among the group's recommended readings. The Articles were drafted at a "Constitutional Convention" in November 2009. They are "the conceptual foundation guiding the mission of the Constitution Project." I don't have time now to review the Articles in detail, but even a cursory glance reveals instant controversy on many topics and a bias in favor of libertarian or paleoconservative readings of the Constitution. While the lobby nowhere asserts that assent to the Articles is a precondition of membership, the organizers' apparent reliance on them must alienate large segments of the politically-conscious population. If organizers insist on assent to the Articles, their lobby immediately becomes "political" unless that word means something very different to them. I may have a chance to find out more for myself next week, so the jury is out for the time being.


Anonymous said...

I move we start a lobby to keep an eye on the Constitutionalists to ensure that they are following their own articles and charter faithfully. I'd say we'll need about 3400 members to keep tabs on their 1700 members. Also, to ensure they are following all federal, state, county and municipal laws.

Anonymous said...

Okay, perusing the link in your article, I checked out their website. The first thing I notice, causing me to stop dead in my tracks, is their base reason for forming, in part: "the sole purpose of organizing a large number of citizens into a Constitution Lobby that will watch what government is doing at every level and hold them directly accountable without undue reliance on the political process."

Since the "political process" is set forth by the constitution, doesn't that already mean they have failed? Or is it the usual right-wing doublespeak saying that they will hold politicians, but not themselves, to be bound by the Constitution?

Seems to me that all they are, like the teabaggers, are right-wing malcontents who just don't seem to get it. Since they do NOT make up the majority of people in this country, they CAN NOT have things entirely their way.

If that is the case, those of us on the left who uphold the spirit, not the letter, of the Constitution, will fight them every step of the way.