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Author Topic: How would you modify the Constitution?
Doug64
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Just for fun, what changes would you like to see made to the US Constitution? Off the top of my head, for me:

Article I:
  • Term limit all members of the House of Representatives to six two-year terms.
  • Set a maximum percentage of the US population that a member of the House of Representatives can represent, so that the House will automatically grow in size as the population it represents does.
  • Make senators appointed by state legislatures rather than directly elected.
  • Require that every piece of legislation passed by Congress references the clause in the Constitution that gives Congress authority to regulate whatever area the legislation covers, eliminate the General Welfare clause.

Article II:
  • I like Larry Sabato's suggestion for presidential terms: at the end of a president's fifth year in office, hold a vote of confidence. If the president wins, he gets another three years in office. If he loses, he gets one more year to wrap things up while the country elects a new president.
  • Clarify the president's powers as commander in chief, to limit his ability to get us into undeclared wars, perhaps prohibiting the president from sending US troops to foreign countries without the express permission of Congress, except for posts such as embassy guards and in cases where citizens of the US or our official allies are in immediate danger.

Article III:
  • Limit the terms of federal judges to twenty years on a particular court with a mandatory retirement age of eighty.
  • Grant 2/3 of the states the power to overrule federal court rulings. If the states overrule a court's ruling, the court must rule again (though no retrial is required).

Article V:
  • Reduce the percentage of both houses of Congress required to pass constitutional amendments to 60%, while leaving the number of states needed to ratify amendments at 75%.
  • Set a mandatory time limit of five years on the lifespan of any amendment sent to the states for ratification.

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OpsanusTau
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I feel glad that it is very difficult to modify the Constitution.
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Doug64
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quote:
Originally posted by OpsanusTau:
I feel glad that it is very difficult to modify the Constitution.

I'm glad it was as difficult as it is in the beginning. Like Solon leaving Athens for a decade after creating his new constitution, it forced us to work within the rules we set up instead of trying to change them for each little problem. But now that things have been more settled, I think making it easier to get amendments though Congress will make the Constitution a more flexible document, more capable of adapting to changing circumstances.
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RickyB
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Or make it subject to every passing whim until it loses all graivtas and is filled with talking points from both sides that taint the whole document for both sides.

So I'm with Ops. It's a very good question though, because difficult or not, it should of course be possible.

In a country that agreed with me, I'd enshrine first trimester abortions as a total, unlimited, unequivocal right, with strong protections for second trimester ones and the extant ones for third.

I'd bar the state from criminalizing intake of any substance that does not give an unfair advantage in any relevant context.

I'd... I don't have a wording, but I'd bar what Bush did and Obama is doing in terms of the Imperial Presidency.

That's all I can think of right now.

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Doug64
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quote:
Originally posted by RickyB:
Or make it subject to every passing whim until it loses all gravitas and is filled with talking points from both sides that taint the whole document for both sides.

So I'm with Ops. It's a very good question though, because difficult or not, it should of course be possible.

I certainly agree that amending the Constitution shouldn't be easy, I definitely don't want another California, it's a mess. I just think it should be easier. That's why I only lowered it to 60% of the houses of Congress rather than a bare majority while leaving the number of states needed the same. Mind, one additional twist that could help is to make it clear that within the five year window states have the right to withdraw support as well as give it until the magic number is reached, so that the amendment needs the ratification of 3/4 of the states at the same time.
quote:
In a country that agreed with me, I'd enshrine first trimester abortions as a total, unlimited, unequivocal right, with strong protections for second trimester ones and the extant ones for third.
How about simply leaving it up to the states to institute such laws as they prefer? Then you don't have to worry about the "in a nation that agreed with me" part. You also don't have to worry about convincing the entire nation to go along with you, just whatever state you are living in.
quote:
I'd bar the state from criminalizing intake of any substance that does not give an unfair advantage in any relevant context.
Ditto my above comment, though I'll agree that I'd prefer that to be the standard law. It would do wonders for the situation in Columbia and Mexico. [Crying]
quote:
I'd... I don't have a wording, but I'd bar what Bush did and Obama is doing in terms of the Imperial Presidency.
Just which aspects of the "Imperial Presidency" are you referring to?
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RickyB
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"How about simply leaving it up to the states to institute such laws as they prefer? Then you don't have to worry about the "in a nation that agreed with me" part. You also don't have to worry about convincing the entire nation to go along with you, just whatever state you are living in."

Right, but I do have to worry about the inalienable rights and health concerns of women, even if they happen to be living in a state dominated by the intolerant. That's if we're thinking of one nation here. I don't believe states should be able to deny basic inalienable rights.

"Ditto my above comment, though I'll agree that I'd prefer that to be the standard law. It would do wonders for the situation in Columbia and Mexico. [Crying] "

Ditto mine. It would do wonders for any county, district and state it was instituted in. View: Portugal.

"Just which aspects of the "Imperial Presidency" are you referring to?"

Oh, I dunno, the en masse suspensions of habeas corpus and civil liberties? The instituting of "free speech" zones 2 miles from where the president is speaking? The idea that just because he's engaged in one of his non-constant duties, he gets to suspend the constitution, refusing to obey court orders in the name of national security, warrantless spying... Need me to go on?

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Ben
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Doug64, I'm a bit confused on the following:

quote:
Set a maximum percentage of the US population that a member of the House of Representatives can represent, so that the House will automatically grow in size as the population it represents does.
I think this is somewhat similar to what currently exists now as enacted by Congress's putting a cap on the total number of representatives. Do you mean setting a maximum number of people for a representative to represent?
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Doug64
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quote:
Originally posted by Ben:
Doug64, I'm a bit confused on the following:

quote:
Set a maximum percentage of the US population that a member of the House of Representatives can represent, so that the House will automatically grow in size as the population it represents does.
I think this is somewhat similar to what currently exists now as enacted by Congress's putting a cap on the total number of representatives. Do you mean setting a maximum number of people for a representative to represent?
Right you are, I meant a maximum number of citizens, not percentage, oops.
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Viking_Longship
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The only thing I'd touch is some clarification of what the 2nd Amendment actually means.
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RickyB
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Good one, VL. Most necessary.
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Doug64
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quote:
Originally posted by RickyB:
Right, but I do have to worry about the inalienable rights and health concerns of women, even if they happen to be living in a state dominated by the intolerant. That's if we're thinking of one nation here. I don't believe states should be able to deny basic inalienable rights.

While that's certainly open-hearted of you, that's like a citizen of the UK being concerned about the treatment of women in, say, Poland (to draw a country at random).
quote:
Oh, I dunno, the en masse suspensions of habeas corpus and civil liberties? The instituting of "free speech" zones 2 miles from where the president is speaking? The idea that just because he's engaged in one of his non-constant duties, he gets to suspend the constitution, refusing to obey court orders in the name of national security, warrantless spying... Need me to go on?
Well, the first time I can remember the free speech zones of a sort was in reference to protesters at abortion clinics; while I'll agree the "two miles away" part is extreme, it's an extension of something the courts started themselves. As for the rest, the respective sides have been fighting it out in court and AFAIK the Bush administration never refused to follow a court decision against it. While Obama hasn't been in office long enough to have the opportunity to do the same, I expect he'll act the same way.

While I think that in its eagerness to protect US citizens the Bush administration did go too far in some ways, the system has been working like it should to trim back the worst excesses.
quote:
Originally posted by Viking_Longship:
The only thing I'd touch is some clarification of what the 2nd Amendment actually means.

To me, the 2nd Amendment is perfectly clear - it protects individuals' right to bear arms the same way that the 1st Amendment protects individuals' right to free speech and to practice their own religion. The first phrase is explanatory, the 2nd Amendment was probably included because the Constitution gives Congress the right to regulate the militias and the amendment prevents Congress from using that power to strip the people of their arms.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
To me, the 2nd Amendment is perfectly clear...
Enough people disagree, though, that a clarification would be useful.
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Doug64
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
To me, the 2nd Amendment is perfectly clear...
Enough people disagree, though, that a clarification would be useful.
Now that I think about it, a clarification of how the Incorporation Doctrine applies the 1st Amendment to the states would be useful. While the original intention of the Founders dealt with the right of US citizens to protect themselves from the federal government as organized state militias, when the 14th Amendment was created and ratified a major concern was Black newly-freed slaves being violently oppressed by White private citizens while state governments stood back and did nothing - personal defense against fellow citizens with the government failing to provide the protection that is one of government's fundamental jobs, a very different animal from state militias.
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Viking_Longship
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I keep heaaring the argument that we have the 2nd amendment to protect ourselves from the federal government but I suspect the actual reason it was incorperated (regardless of Jefferson's opinion) was as a first line of defense against foreign invasion, indian attacks and slave uprising.

If there has been an atempt to defend oneself from the feds by force of arms that has ever ended with victory of the defender I have yet to hear of it. Whereas the use of overwhelming force by the government against armed civilians has been seen scores of times, most recently and notable the siece of the Branch Davidian compound.

If the purpose of the 2nd amendment were to protect us from the feds we should have access to any weapons we could afford. We don't. (The ATF went after the Davidians because they thought they were preparing grenades.)

On the other hand private weapons could slowdown an invader or internal enemy briefly until the National Gaurd arrived.

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Doug64
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The point of the 2nd Amendment was to see to it that state governments continued to have their own military forces. At the time the 2nd Amendment was ratified, the militia fell into two parts: the special and general militia. The special militias were weekend warriors, or supposed to be, while the general militia was all white males of military age. That hasn't changed over the centuries, except for the "White" part, the current federal law covering who's in the militia is:

quote:
(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

(b) The classes of the militia are—
(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.

Note that the National Guard is considered part of the militia, and IIRC a few years ago when we were closing a number of unneeded military bases a state government successfully sued to keep a base open because it was home to a National Guard unit, and thus part of the state militia.
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hobsen
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quote:
I suspect the actual reason it was incorperated (regardless of Jefferson's opinion) was as a first line of defense against foreign invasion, indian attacks and slave uprising.
That is an interesting thought, but I wonder why those who wrote the Amendment should have expected that any United States government would want to encourage foreign invasions, Indian attacks or slave uprisings. That would seem like inserting a provision forbidding the government to poison the public water supply. There seems no point in forbidding a government from doing something unless it is something which a government might reasonably be tempted to do.

The more natural interpretation seems to me that the amendment is an attempt to justify the American Revolution, and to provide a continuing possibility for such revolutions in the future. Under international law as accepted at the time the colonies had no legal way to throw off the authority of the King of England. Furthermore, in most of Europe, it was at the time accepted that monarchs held their authority from God, so any rebels against a monarch were rebels against God also, and so had no chance of avoiding eternal damnation. Thus the Declaration of Independence affirmed the contrary theory that God had given natural rights to men, and that among these was the right to overthrow any despotic government at their pleasure by force of arms. The problem with that theory today is that the right to possess arms confers no power to overthrow a despotic government which may be willing to make a lavish use of nuclear weapons to destroy any part of its own territory which rises in revolt. So the United States now suffers all the inconvenience of having private weapons widely distributed among the criminal and mentally unstable, without at the same time gaining any security against a government which may become despotic.

As a practical matter at the time, the possession of private arms did provide some security against foreign invasions and Indian attacks and slave uprisings - which was all to the good. (I have some reservations about preventing slave uprisings, but the consequences of the successful slave revolt in Haiti have been disastrous to this day. In practice freed slaves tended to establish regimes in which conditions for most of the population may have been worse than remaining in slavery.) But a specific provision to require the government to permit this obvious safeguard seems needless.

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Viking_Longship
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quote:
That is an interesting thought, but I wonder why those who wrote the Amendment should have expected that any United States government would want to encourage foreign invasions, Indian attacks or slave uprisings
No I meant that the Feds were expecting these from external forces. I am saying I don't believe that the 2nd Amendment is there to protect us from the federal government in any way shape or form.
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Doug64
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quote:
Originally posted by Viking_Longship:
No I meant that the Feds were expecting these from external forces. I am saying I don't believe that the 2nd Amendment is there to protect us from the federal government in any way shape or form.

Sure it's there to protect us from the federal government - to keep it from taking away the right of the states to maintain their own military forces. And as the best weapon is the one you don't need to use, the best military is the one that convinces other governments to leave you alone. And if anyone in Washington did impose on states' rights to the point that they're threatening rebellion or secession, the fact that Washington couldn't be certain that all the trained military forces inside US borders would side with it would be worth its weight in gold.
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Funean
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In an alternate reality I am fond of imagining, when the Taliban arrives in Afghanistan it finds a population of heavily armed women.
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Ben
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I'd suggest that the individual right to self defense should have been included and specified with the second amendment. That would sidestep the idiotic strawman that someone has the right to own a tank or other heavy weaponry which are offensive war tools owned and operated by state recognized militas, but still allow for individual ownership of non-automatic military style guns (aka the scary "assault weapon") which can be kept and used defensively.

I'd also put in some type of provision for senators to face annual votes of confidence / no confidence by the state legislatures, and if any lost such votes, be forced into retirement for the next year's election and be ineligible for that office again. I'd hope that'd make them more likely to behave. However they get elected doesn't concern me so much as how they should BEHAVE as representatives of the state rather than playing to the population at large, which role is covered by the house of representatives. Or if we went back to the state legislatures selecting the senators, the confidence / no confidence votes would be done by the citizens of that state, to balance out influences and avoid corruption.

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RickyB
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"that's like a citizen of the UK being concerned about the treatment of women in, say, Poland (to draw a country at random)."

No, it's not, and that's exactly what I mean by one country. Poland and the UK are two separate, distinct, sovereign nations. States (of the United States) are NOT sovereign nations, and they MUST accord the rights guaranteed by the US constitution as interpreted by the SCOTUS. And if and when the UK decides to join the EU fully, then yes, what happens in one will be the business of the other.

[ June 19, 2009, 01:21 AM: Message edited by: RickyB ]

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RickyB
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"Well, the first time I can remember the free speech zones of a sort was in reference to protesters at abortion clinics; while I'll agree the "two miles away" part is extreme, it's an extension of something the courts started themselves."

You remember wrong, sorry. Look it up. Nothing to do with abortion clinics. People have a right to protest the president when he comes to town and he does not have the right to cosset himself from it. People were dragged away violently for merely wearing t-shirts expressing dislike of Bush. Please.

"and AFAIK the Bush administration never refused to follow a court decision against it."

Again, you remember wrong.

"While Obama hasn't been in office long enough to have the opportunity to do the same, I expect he'll act the same way."

In some cases he has, and I've vilified him as well for same. In some cases he hasn't.

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Rallan
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For now I'd probably limit myself to just clarifying the first amendment. A little addendum at the end of the amendment saying "And I double-dog dare you to show me where it says this doesn't apply to pornography" would be adequate [Smile]

As for the rest of the constitution, I'd have to read the darn thing first. I'm not all that familiar with much of it apart from the Bill of Rights and a few other historically significant amendments, or with how the various bits of it have shaped the function and structure of the US government.

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KidB
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quote:
To me, the 2nd Amendment is perfectly clear - it protects individuals' right to bear arms the same way that the 1st Amendment protects individuals' right to free speech and to practice their own religion. The first phrase is explanatory, the 2nd Amendment was probably included because the Constitution gives Congress the right to regulate the militias and the amendment prevents Congress from using that power to strip the people of their arms.
What's often overlooked is the word "regulated." The militias of the time were subject to all kinds of regulation, including mandatory weapons inspection by local officials. Protection from "The feds" was a big part of it though.

VL said:

quote:
If the purpose of the 2nd amendment were to protect us from the feds we should have access to any weapons we could afford. We don't. (
At the time it was written, weapons technology being what it was, it was entirely imaginable that a militia could outnumber and outgun the Feds. The present scenario is totally beyond the scope of 2A. The amendment is completely inapplicable to present-day reality.

Doug said:

quote:
And if anyone in Washington did impose on states' rights to the point that they're threatening rebellion or secession, the fact that Washington couldn't be certain that all the trained military forces inside US borders would side with it would be worth its weight in gold.
You don't need the constitution to make that a reality...just human nature.

Ben said:

quote:
I'd suggest that the individual right to self defense should have been included and specified with the second amendment. That would sidestep the idiotic strawman that someone has the right to own a tank or other heavy weaponry which are offensive war tools owned and operated by state recognized militas, but still allow for individual ownership of non-automatic military style guns (aka the scary "assault weapon") which can be kept and used defensively.

I'm not sure a "right to self-defense" would specify any specific weaponry. It would just specify a right to self-defense. 2A is already more specific than that, because it specifies "arms," which means firearms which can be carried by an indvidual person, and it gives a reason as well.
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IrishTD
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quote:
In an alternate reality I am fond of imagining, when the Taliban arrives in Afghanistan it finds a population of heavily armed women.
Awesome post. [Big Grin]
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scifibum
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1) Go ahead and make it explicit that laws and governmental regulations must have a strong secular basis, and laws without one are unconstitutional. "Strong secular basis" defined in the document to exclude religious justifications for laws, but to permit justification based on ethereal concepts like the right to life, liberty, and all that jazz. The full wording would be very tricky. I don't believe this would substantially alter modern federal legislation - with perhaps the exception of DOMA - but would have some impact on local and state laws and would shorten a lot of arguments about what laws are a good idea.

2) Require that federal legislation be packaged in 'substantially related' chunks. No earmarks for baloney farmers in a bill ostensibly about military bases. (I consider it a good thing that this would make it hard to pass as much legislation as we currently do.)

3) Explicitly codify some human rights for foreign nationals, with regard to their treatment by the U.S. government.

I do agree with the need to clarify the 2nd amendment.

[ June 19, 2009, 03:26 PM: Message edited by: scifibum ]

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Ben
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KidB,

I thought I was being clear about the right to self defense being included with the 2A to mean that the right to bear arms would be included in the right to self defense. But looking back, I guess it wasn't clear as I first thought. Someone else could probably word it better, but the right to bear arms is a necessary equalizer in the right to self defense, given the world we live in where bigger and stronger people otherwise find it easy to bully and attack or take advantage of weaker people who are unarmed.

The government cannot guarantee that criminals will otherwise be unarmed or never attack citizens, or that all citizens will be well trained in martial arts to otherwise neutralize any attackers. It then follows that the government must allow us to have the necessary tools to defend ourselves individually. If not, the government does not protect us well, or if the government does, it has to otherwise control almost everything to some degree of Big Brother, or establish some type of police state with agents posted everywhere to "protect" its citizens.

I agree, awesome post by Funean [Smile] Can I nab that to support my post?

I also like Scifi's ideas he just posted about restricted legislation.

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Doug64
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quote:
Originally posted by hobsen:
The more natural interpretation seems to me that the amendment is an attempt to justify the American Revolution, and to provide a continuing possibility for such revolutions in the future. Under international law as accepted at the time the colonies had no legal way to throw off the authority of the King of England. Furthermore, in most of Europe, it was at the time accepted that monarchs held their authority from God, so any rebels against a monarch were rebels against God also, and so had no chance of avoiding eternal damnation. Thus the Declaration of Independence affirmed the contrary theory that God had given natural rights to men, and that among these was the right to overthrow any despotic government at their pleasure by force of arms.

True, but the right to revolution is a moral one, not a legal one (contrary to the statement by Benjamin Franklin in the movie "1776": "Revolution is always legal in the first tense - 'our revolution'. It's only in the third tense - 'their revolution' - that it is illegal.") And the understanding at the time of the ratification of the US Constitution was that, legally, once a state joined it couldn't unilaterally withdraw. So whether you think the later attempt by the southern states to secede was morally justifiable by the standards of the Declaration of Independence (I don't), it had no legal justification.
quote:
The problem with that theory today is that the right to possess arms confers no power to overthrow a despotic government which may be willing to make a lavish use of nuclear weapons to destroy any part of its own territory which rises in revolt. So the United States now suffers all the inconvenience of having private weapons widely distributed among the criminal and mentally unstable, without at the same time gaining any security against a government which may become despotic.
Of course, this assumes both the possession of nuclear arms and a willingness on the part of those that would actually have to push the button to use them. If a new civil war actually broke out in the US, and assuming that only the government in Washington retained control of all the US's nuclear stockpile and that the politicians would rather nuke cities than lose control of part of the country, do you think the soldiers actually in charge of those nukes would be willing to fire on US cities? I don't.
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As a practical matter at the time, the possession of private arms did provide some security against foreign invasions and Indian attacks and slave uprisings - which was all to the good.... But a specific provision to require the government to permit this obvious safeguard seems needless.
All true, and so not what the 2nd Amendment was about. It was about preventing the federal government from disarming the states, and as you point out the only logical reason for doing so would be to remove the potential for revolt on the part of the states.
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(I have some reservations about preventing slave uprisings, but the consequences of the successful slave revolt in Haiti have been disastrous to this day. In practice freed slaves tended to establish regimes in which conditions for most of the population may have been worse than remaining in slavery.)
Again true. If you want to read an excellent Space Opera that explores this question, check out Crown of Slaves by David Weber and Eric Flint.
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Originally posted by RickyB:
"that's like a citizen of the UK being concerned about the treatment of women in, say, Poland (to draw a country at random)."

No, it's not, and that's exactly what I mean by one country. Poland and the UK are two separate, distinct, sovereign nations. States (of the United States) are NOT sovereign nations, and they MUST accord the rights guaranteed by the US constitution as interpreted by the SCOTUS.

While you are right about the states being legally bound by Supreme Court rulings, the Supreme Court is itself required by the Constitution to recognize the sovereign rights of the states that the Constitution requires, especially in both the 2nd and 10th amendments. there's a good reason why the American Creed states:
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I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies. (emphasis added)

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Originally posted by RickyB:
You remember wrong, sorry. Look it up. Nothing to do with abortion clinics....

So abortion protesters weren't required to keep their distance from people seeking abortion clinics' services?
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Originally posted by Rallan:
As for the rest of the constitution, I'd have to read the darn thing first. I'm not all that familiar with much of it apart from the Bill of Rights and a few other historically significant amendments, or with how the various bits of it have shaped the function and structure of the US government.

That is sadly true of most citizens of the US. Personally, I would have no problem with requiring people to pass a test on the Constitution before being permitted to vote for federal offices.
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Originally posted by KidB:
What's often overlooked is the word "regulated." The militias of the time were subject to all kinds of regulation, including mandatory weapons inspection by local officials. Protection from "The feds" was a big part of it though.

All true, but you need to include the word "properly" in front of "regulated" - proper regulation of state militia's doesn't include removing their right to exist as effective military organizations.
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At the time it was written, weapons technology being what it was, it was entirely imaginable that a militia could outnumber and outgun the Feds. The present scenario is totally beyond the scope of 2A. The amendment is completely inapplicable to present-day reality.
No, because the militia covered by the 2nd Amendment includes the various state National Guard units.
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I'm not sure a "right to self-defense" would specify any specific weaponry. It would just specify a right to self-defense. 2A is already more specific than that, because it specifies "arms," which means firearms which can be carried by an individual person, and it gives a reason as well.
Right, which means that as far as Washington is concerned, it is constitutionally forbidden from banning personal ownership of weapons carried by your standard light infantry (which is what the general militia falls into) or heavier weapons by state National Guard units. Thanks to the Incorporation Doctrine, I'd go along with the states being constitutionally unable to ban weapons that would provide a reasonable self defense. And yes, now that I think on it the 2nd Amendment could use language clarifying that.
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Originally posted by scifibum:
1) Go ahead and make it explicit that laws and governmental regulations must have a strong secular basis, and laws without one are unconstitutional. "Strong secular basis" defined in the document to exclude religious justifications for laws, but to permit justification based on ethereal concepts like the right to life, liberty, and all that jazz. The full wording would be very tricky. I don't believe this would substantially alter modern federal legislation - with perhaps the exception of DOMA - but would have some impact on local and state laws and would shorten a lot of arguments about what laws are a good idea.

I have to disagree with you on this one. I don't really see much difference between "because God said so" from theology and "just because" from philosophy. Besides, separating them out can get seriously tricky.
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2) Require that federal legislation be packaged in 'substantially related' chunks. No earmarks for baloney farmers in a bill ostensibly about military bases. (I consider it a good thing that this would make it hard to pass as much legislation as we currently do.)
Agreed, though giving the president a version of the line-item veto would accomplish the same thing.
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