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FAULT LINES IN THE CONSTITUTION

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 2 years, 2 months ago

10 December 2017 FAULT LINES IN THE CONSTITUTION: THE FRAMERS, THEIR FIGHTS, AND THE FLAWS THAT AFFECT US TODAY by Cynthia Levinson & Sanford Levinson, Peachtree, September 2017, 240p., ISBN: 978-1-56145-945-2

 

“I want to grow up to be a politician

And take over this beautiful land”

-- The Byrds (1971)

 

“The Articles [of Confederation] had given Congress few powers beyond making treaties with other countries and printing money, which turned out to be nearly worthless. Probably worst of all, the national government was not allowed to tax the citizenry. All it could do was issue requests, called requisitions, for money from the states, which often ignored them. Consequently, the treasury didn’t have enough money even to pay the soldiers who had fought--and won--the Revolutionary War.

In June 1783, four hundred of those soldiers stormed Congress’s headquarters in Philadelphia, clamoring for their back pay, and locked the delegates inside. When the officials were finally released, they had to run for their lives. They stayed a step ahead of the soldiers, conducting business in a series of temporary quarters in Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.”

 

Those (white, male, landed) delegates--the Framers--persisted in their work (while on the run across several states) until they’d completed a final draft of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. A couple of hundred years after the fact, FAULT LINES IN THE CONSTITUTION picks out important concepts from the broad landscape of American constitutional history and presents them through readily-understood, memorable, and pertinent stories about how the Constitution affects us today.

 

“WILMINGTON, Del. — Laquita Gardner, a sales manager at a furniture rental store here, was happy to get a raise recently except for one problem. It lifted her income just enough to disqualify her and her two young sons from Medicaid, the free health insurance program for the poor.

She was relieved to find another option was available for the boys: the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, that covers nearly nine million children whose parents earn too much for Medicaid, but not enough to afford other coverage.”

-- N.Y. Times, “The CHIP Program Is Beloved. Why Is Its Funding in Danger?” (December 5, 2017)

 

The authors introduce their discussion of the presidential veto power (Article I, Section 7) by sharing a brief-but-poignant story about a family with a special needs child who was affected by President George W. Bush’s 2007 veto of the CHIP Program’s expansion.

 

Another story, featuring the travails of a young, academically-achieving Muslim adolescent, introduces us to the idiosyncratic rules of the Senate. These rules are a byproduct of Article I, Section 5, which states, “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings…”

 

Through these stories, readers will come to recognize how long-ago compromises between the various factions of constitutional Framers directly impact our lives in the twenty-first century.

 

Some of the topics discussed in FAULT LINES involve powers the Framers left to the states. Particularly relevant today are examinations of gerrymandering and restrictive state voter requirement laws which lead to U.S. having one of the lowest voter registration rates in the world. The authors also include discussions of Washington, D.C., whose residents don’t get to elect members of Congress, and the U.S. territories, like Puerto Rico, whose American citizen residents don’t even get to vote for President.

 

“Some Framers at the Convention argued for another limitation--personal wealth. Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, for instance, proposed that no one could hold office if he didn’t own property and cash worth $50,000--that’s almost $1.3 million today. This requirement would have disqualified more than 99 percent of the population.

As preposterous as it sounds today, Pinckney’s suggestion was taken so seriously that the Framers debated it for three days.”

 

Many stories in FAULT LINES illustrate how the U.S. Constitution has been interpreted to the benefit or detriment of American citizens. It’s unnerving to read about the leeway that the Supreme Court has granted to the government in times of war or national emergency. None is more shocking than the Court’s refusal to interfere with the internment of over 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.

 

The authors conclude by grading the Constitution, and offering a long list of possible fixes. This list can be used to ignite discussions about how to improve the rules of the game.

 

FAULT LINES IN THE CONSTITUTION is a fascinating read and a great introduction to American constitutional history.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com

https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/

richiepartington@gmail.com

 

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