Friday, August 26, 2011





Sunday, August 21, 2011


What follows is quoted directly from Wikipedia:

Term limits, or rotation in office, date back to the American Revolution, and prior to that to the democracies and republics of antiquity. The council of 500 in ancient Athens rotated its entire membership annually, as did the ephorate in ancient Sparta. The ancient Roman Republic featured a system of elected magistrates—tribunes of the plebs, aediles, quaestors, praetors, and consuls—who served a single term of one year, with reelection to the same magistracy forbidden for ten years. Many of the founders of the United States were educated in the classics, and quite familiar with rotation in office during antiquity. The debates of that day reveal a desire to study and profit from the object lessons offered by ancient democracy.

In 1783, rotation experiments were taking place at the state level. The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 set maximum service in the Pennsylvania General Assembly at "four years in seven." Benjamin Franklin's influence is seen not only in that he chaired the constitutional convention which drafted the Pennsylvania constitution, but also because it included, virtually unchanged, Franklin's earlier proposals on executive rotation. Pennsylvania's plural executive was composed of twelve citizens elected for the term of three years, followed by a mandatory vacation of four years.

On October 2, 1789, the Continental Congress appointed a committee of thirteen to examine forms of government for the impending union of the states. Among the proposals was that from the State of Virginia, written by Thomas Jefferson, urging a limitation of tenure, "to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office the members of the Continental Congress. The committee made recommendations, which as regards congressional term-limits were incorporated unchanged into the Articles of Confederation. The fifth Article stated that "no person shall be capable of being a delegate [to the continental congress] for more than three years in any term of six years."

In contrast to the Articles of Confederation, the federal constitution convention at Philadelphia omitted mandatory term-limits from the second national frame of government, i.e. the U.S. Constitution of 1787 to the present. Nonetheless, due largely to grass roots support for the principle of rotation, rapid turnover in Congress prevailed by extra-constitutional means. Also George Washington set the precedent for a two-term tradition that prevailed (with the exception of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's four terms) until the 22nd Amendment of 1951.

However, when the states ratified the Constitution (1787-88), several leading statesmen regarded the lack of mandatory limits to tenure as a dangerous defect, especially, they thought, as regards the Presidency and the Senate. Richard Henry Lee viewed the absence of legal limits to tenure, together with certain other features of the Constitution, as "most highly and dangerously oligarchic." Both Jefferson and George Mason advised limits on reelection to the Senate and to the Presidency, because said Mason, "nothing is so essential to the preservation of a Republican government as a periodic rotation." The historian Mercy Otis Warren, warned that "there is no provision for a rotation, nor anything to prevent the perpetuity of office in the same hands for life; which by a little well timed bribery, will probably be done...."

The fact that "perpetuity in office" was not approached until the 20th century is due in part to the influence of rotation in office as a popular 19th century concept. "Ideas are, in truth, forces," and rotation in office enjoyed such normative support, especially at the local level, that it altered political reality.

James Fennimore Cooper, the novelist, described the common view that "contact with the affairs of state is one of the most corrupting of the influences to which men are exposed." An article in the Richmond Enquirer (1822) noted that the "long cherished" principle of rotation in office had been impressed on the republican mind "by a kind of intuitive impulse, unassailable to argument or authority."

Beginning about the 1830s, Jacksonian democracy introduced a less idealistic twist to the practice of limiting terms. Rotation in office came to mean taking turns in the distribution of political prizes. Rotation of nominations to the U.S. House of Representatives – the prizes – became a key element of payoffs to the party faithful. The leading lights in the local party machinery came to regard a nomination for the House as "salary" for political services rendered. A new code of political ethics evolved, based on the proposition that "turnabout is fair play." In short, rotation of nominations was intertwined with the spoils system.

In district nominating conventions local leaders could negotiate and enforce agreements to pass the nominations around among themselves. Abraham Lincoln was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1846 under such a bargain, and he returned home to Springfield after a single congressional term because, he wrote, "to enter myself as a competitor of another, or to authorize anyone so to enter me, is what my word and honor forbid."

During the Civil War, the Confederate States constitution limited its president to a single six-year term.

The practice of nomination rotation for the House of Representatives began to decline after the Civil War. It took a generation or so before the direct primary system, civil service reforms, and the ethic of professionalism worked to eliminate rotation in office as a common political practice. By the turn of the 20th century the era of incumbency was coming into full swing.

A total of 8 presidents served two full terms and declined a third and three presidents served one full term and refused a second. After World War II, however, an officeholder class had developed to the point that congressional tenure rivaled that of the U.S. Supreme Court, where tenure is for life. "Homesteading" in Congress, made possible by reelection rates that approached 100% by the end of the 20th century, brought about a popular insurgency known as the "term-limits movement."

Here is a simple amendment which would limit Congressional terms to eighteen years:

No person shall serve as a member of more than nine Congresses.


Back in 1982 a student at the University of Texas, researching the federal constitution for a term paper, stumbled onto a constitutional amendment proposed by the Congress in 1789, but never ratified by the states.

There was no deadline for ratification in the proposal, so Gregory Watson wrote his paper arguing that the amendment could still be ratified.

He got a “C.”

The professor thought it was just ridiculous to suppose that a proposal that was advanced by Congress 193 years before was still active.

Watson disagreed.

To prove his point, he started writing letters to the state legislatures. Within a year, Maine ratified the amendment, then Colorado. In 1992 Alabama became the 38th state to ratify  and the 27th Amendment was born.

The Professor still refused to change Watson’s grade.

Here’s what the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution says:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

In short, it prevents members of Congress from feathering their own nests; giving themselves a pay increase. They have to go back to the voters and get reelected before their paychecks are sweetened.

At least that is what everybody who worked to get the 27th amendment ratified believed.

But you gotta hand it to those Congressmen. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. They had plenty of will, so they came up with a clever way. They adopted COLA for themselves. COLA; that’s short for Cost Of Living Adjustment. Just like the unions.

Talk about clever. They included their COLA in a law they called The Ethics Reform Act of 1989. They could see the ratification of the 27th Amendment coming.

Apparently, they thought the ethical thing to do was to hurry up and give themselves an automatic annual raise before the 27th Amendment became the law of the land.

Oh, and by the way, the computation of their COLA included the provision that the annual adjustment could never be less than zero. Up every year, but never down.

To his credit, Gregory Watson didn’t give up. He and a few others brought an action in federal court to challenge the congressional COLA as a violation of the new 27th Amendment.

A federal District Court Judge in Colorado decided that the COLA, having been adopted before the amendment, was perfectly all right.

Watson and friends appealed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court said they couldn’t take the case, because the plaintiffs didn’t have ‘standing’ to complain. The United States Supreme Court agreed, and refused to hear the case, too.

It’s a sad story. The general public was, and still is, overwhelmingly in favor of limiting the power of the politicians to increase their own compensation.

But what about COLA? Should their salaries by increased to reflect the cost of living?

Most Americans like COLA. They figure inflation isn’t their fault. They see their buying power going down, their savings shrinking in value, and they want to make more money to keep up.

But the first premise doesn’t apply to members of Congress. Inflation is their fault. The devaluation of currency is their fault. The cheapening of the dollar is the direct consequence of wild and irresponsible spending by the government in Washington.

I believe that the compensation of members of Congress should be spelled out in the Constitution. In dollars and cents. No adjustments. No power to give themselves or their successors a raise.

Why? Very simply because the Constitution of the United States gives the Congress the exclusive power to coin money. The power to coin money carries with it the responsibility to assure that the money which is coined is a stable and reliable medium of exchange.

Inflation is the most regressive form of taxation. It takes from the rich and poor alike. It impunes every contract.  It invades every savings account.

How does it make sense to protect members of Congress from the inflation which they, themselves, have suffered to be visited upon their constituents?

If the compensation of members of Congress is fixed, their personal self interest will best be served by legislation which protects and even enhances the value of the dollar.

Fixing the compensation of members of Congress is an important first step in establishing a balanced budget and retiring the national debt.

And while we’re about it, we ought to close off another avenue of self aggrandizement. The House and Senate should be forbidden to pay extra money to the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, the majority and minority leaders of both houses and the chairmen or members of any committee.

It’s time to remind elected officials that they are public servants and not rulers. How about this:

All members of Congress shall receive a compensation of one thousand dollars for each day of attendance and no other compensation during or after their service. No law shall exempt members of Congress from any tax or obligation imposed by law.


 As the American people begin to gear up for another Presidential election, the issue of controlling the Supreme Court once again lands on the front burner.

And why does it matter?

It matters because the Supreme Court of the United States has become just another political branch of government. Just another center of power where people go to get what they can’t get from the Congress, or from their state legislatures.

It used to be that folks argued about activist judges versus strict constructionists.

Conservative Justices were just supposed to interpret the laws and the Constitution. Stay out of the voting booth. Stay off the editorial pages. Leave the hot button issues to the representatives elected by the people.

Bush versus Gore put an end to that. If you’ve got a majority of the Court, you’re the seven hundred pound gorilla. You can do whatever you want to do.

Then again, maybe, just maybe, the stars are well aligned to talk about how to get back to basics. Lots of folks are ticked off with both parties. Tea and coffee parties have emerged because the folks don’t even want to be called Republicans and Democrats.

Independents are on the march. Here’s something they ought to be marching for: a non partisan Supreme Court.

Is that possible? Isn’t everyone something? Right, Left or whatever. But not just nothing.

Well, of course, nobody’s just nothing. Every judge has principles and preferences, experiences and opinions. It’s human nature.

But almost all of the 50 states have found a way to insulate their judiciary from the nitty gritty of partisan politics. Non partisan elections, Missouri Plan nomination, appointment advisory boards. There are lots of ways to soften the hard edges of party loyalty.

So here’s my thought for the day:

The Supreme Court shall consist of the current nine justices and their successors who shall be appointed for eighteen year terms by the President, without confirmation, from among a panel of five candidates nominated by the Chief Justices of the highest courts of the several states.

The Court shall interpret the Constitution and its amendments as understood by the people who ratified them and shall render no opinion enlarging or diminishing the powers of the government or the rights of the people.

I submit that this amendment would put an end to talk of court packing, to Presidents appointing justices to promote political agendas, to Senatorial confirmation circuses, and to tottering, dottering old men and women sitting on their Supreme Court seats, waiting for their party to win the White House.

If you’re with me on this, let me hear from you.

Friday, August 19, 2011


There has been talk about amending the Constitution to require a balanced budget for years.

Ronald Reagan endorsed the idea. Back in his day, there were more than thirty states demanding a convention under Article V of the constitution for the purpose of framing such an amendment.

Congress got scared and passed the so called Graham-Rudman Act which was supposed to reign in deficit spending.

No so. The federal deficits have continued and the accumulated federal debt has now surpassed 14 trillion dollars.

In connection with the recent raising of the debt limit, there was a lot of discussion about a constitutional amendment that would require balanced budgets in the future.

A proposal was in fact introduced in the Congress. It required super majority votes to approve deficit budgets, except in time of war or other emergencies. There was no automatic enforcement provision written into the proposal, however. It is, therefore, only an aspirational statement that can simply be ignored by the Congress because nothing will happen if they do.

To be effective, a balanced budget amendment must have automatic and immediate consequences.

Here is language that would achieve the goal:

Any member of Congress who introduces, sponsors or votes in favor of a federal budget in which estimated expenditures exceed estimated revenues shall be ineligible to serve in the next succeeding Congress. This amendment shall be enforceable in federal courts on the petition of any state.

It’s simple. It’s automatic. It can be enforced by the courts.

And it does not prevent the government from incurring a deficit when required by war or other emergency. Members of Congress who sincerely believe that a deficit budget is necessary ought to be willing to step aside from the next Congress and let others address the problems.

After all, we ask many of our young men and women to sacrifice their lives for their country.  It ought not be too severe a consequence for patriotic politicians to give up their offices for a couple of years.

No doubt the idea will be debunked on the same ground as other balanced budget proposals: what is to stop the Congress from overestimating revenues or underestimating expenses?

Especially when a line item is simply described as “New taxes” or “Reduced Expenses” the fact that the totals are equal is obviously a fa├žade.

The amendment addresses that problem by authorizing legal action by the states in federal courts. If the federal budget is a mere subterfuge, that fact can be proven in court.

Comments are invited.