Conservative Political Views



Our Constitution isn’t broken

Published: Sunday, September 23, 2012, 8:10 AM
Star-Ledger Guest Columnist By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
us-constitution.jpg archives.govThe U.S. Constitution

By Richard A. Merkt

The Star-Ledger recently featured an opinion piece by Tom Moran (“Our broken Constitution,” Sept. 16) positing that the U.S. Constitution is “broken” and that Americans’ “solemn reverence” for the document prevents us from fixing its flaws. In support of his thesis, Moran cites the work of University of Texas professor Sanford Levinson, who has made it his life’s mission to press for fundamental changes in the Constitution. Failure to address its deficiencies, Levinson argues, will make this a worse world for future generations.

Moran highlights three specific proposals put forward by Levinson to fix what he sees as problems with the Constitution: the Electoral College; the composition of the U.S. Senate; and partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C.

I am more optimistic about the continuing validity of the existing Constitution than either Moran or Levinson. My reverence for it is grounded in a deep respect for the genius manifest in its creation. It was not a flawless document at the time of its ratification, nor is it perfect now, notwithstanding having been amended 27 times. Yet it remains, after more than two centuries, a model of how to structure a central government so as to avoid tyranny. It behooves us as a free people to be deliberate in considering any proposals for fundamental change to the document.

Related: Letter: The Constitution isn’t broken

Levinson’s first proposal is to replace the Electoral College with a national popular vote in choosing presidents. Although superficially appealing, this idea risks serious unintended consequences: Voter fraud could effectively rig national elections, leading to uncertainty as to both an election’s outcome and legitimacy of the resulting administration. The Electoral College, whatever its shortcomings, provides clarity of outcome, with the House of Representatives as a backup, should no candidate win a majority of the electors.

His second proposal is that large states receive a number of senators proportionate to their population. Such a change would vest de facto control of the Senate in just nine states, rendering the other 41 states (including New Jersey) constitutionally incapable of blocking federal legislation adverse to their interests. The current Senate allocation protects smaller states from potential federal abuses of power, while the proportionately allocated House of Representatives protects large states. Levinson’s idea would leave smaller states at the mercy of their more populous counterparts. It would completely sacrifice a balanced and reasonable compromise — tempering majority rule with respect for minority rights — worked out by the Founders.

Levinson’s third proposal is to empower a newly elected president to appoint 50 members of the House and 10 members of the Senate, or switch to a parliamentary system. Aside from muddling the separation of powers, this idea would drastically weaken the legislative branch of federal government, as well as exacerbate the problem of imperial presidencies in which the chief executive wields ever more political power without the moderating check, balance and influence of an independently elected Congress. If partisan gridlock is a problem in federal governance, then the cure will more likely be found in free elections rather than in revamping the Constitution to strengthen an already overly powerful executive.

The larger challenge facing America today lies not in tinkering with the Constitution, but rather in enforcing its safeguards against a potentially despotic central government. How do we halt the progressive and unintended concentration of political power in the federal government?

Expressly designed to protect the American people from the abuses of unchecked centralized power, constitutional limits today are routinely disregarded by a federal government intent on expanding its role and authority over our lives, just as Thomas Jefferson feared. All three branches of government play along because they gain greater political power. Sadly, neither states nor citizens have displayed any meaningful ability to resist this process.

Expanded federal power comes at a steep price, in terms of both state authority and individual liberty. If the federal government is capable of ignoring the limits placed on its power by the Constitution, of what real value are our personal “constitutional” rights, ostensibly guaranteed by the same document?

So although I would concur with Moran and Levinson that reform is needed, the change required does not relate to constitutional editing. The key question is, how do we return our federal government to fidelity to the Constitution?

Richard A. Merkt is a Mendham Township committeeman. He was a Republican assemblyman from 1998 to 2010.


September 24, 2012 - Posted by | Here And Now | , , , , , , ,

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