Regardless of where people are on the political spectrum, many Americans—in fact most—believe that something is gravely wrong with the political system today. According to a recent report from Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans are frustrated with the federal government. Similarly, popular trust in government is near historic lows. The Pew survey found that only 16 percent of Americans trust the government to do the right thing “most of the time.” A paltry 4 percent of respondents reported trusting the government to do the right thing “just about always.”
Charles Austin Beard (1874-1948) was a more complicated and interesting thinker than the Progressive sage commemorated during the centennial of his An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. Perhaps that’s the problem with writing a book with a thesis so simple and straightforward as to discourage careful consideration of the work as a whole.
Proper as it is to dismiss President Obama’s daring his opponents to impeach him as childish posturing for his political base – secure as he is that the Senate’s Democratic majority would prevent his conviction regardless of any Constitutional evidence brought against him – nevertheless we must note that Obama risks disaster, as do children who play with matches in the presence of gasoline. His flaunting of impeachment sets up the alternative between the unfettered power of any president supported by a Senate majority and, on the other hand, the unfettered power of any Congressional majority coherent enough to remove presidents politically unpalatable to it.
Either way, Obama is opening the door to the partisan erasure of the distinction between executive and legislative power.
Readers of this blog may remember that I have argued that the Constitution allows for the states to call for a limited Article V convention and that this convention can even be limited to deciding whether to propose a specific amendment. See also here and here. Under this legal regime, a runaway convention would be unconstitutional.
Two interesting posts on this subject have been recently written. First, Michael Stern, a former House of Representatives Senior Counsel, agrees that the states can apply for an Article V convention limited to deciding whether to propose a specific amendment. Relying on scholarship from yours truly, from Robert Natelson and from himself, Stern argues that text, structure, purpose, and history support this conclusion. Stern’s post is an excellent summary of the scholarship and itself is a form of blogging scholarship.
Second, Robert Natelson describes three different waves of constitutional scholarship on the subject of limited conventions. The first wave:
consisted of publications from the 1960s and 1970s, typically by liberal academics who opposed conservative efforts to trigger a convention. Examples include articles by Yale’s Charles Black, William and Mary’s William Swindler . . . and Harvard’s Lawrence Tribe.
Typically, these authors concluded that an Article V “constitutional convention” (as they called it) could not be limited to a single subject. The mistakes these authors made can be attributed partly to the agenda-driven nature of their writings, and their failure to examine many historical sources. They seldom ventured beyond The Federalist Papers and a few pages from the transcript of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.
I would add that these authors did not engage in a careful effort to read the constitutional text.