Table of Contents:
- a. Limits on the Power of the Federal Government & Federalism
- b. The System of Checks-and-Balances: The Branches of Government
When the early states came together to discuss the possibility of establishing a confederacy, they did so with a great deal of hope, but also a great deal of trepidation. The hope was that a federal government might be formed that could handle the few issues that were common to all the states but which could not be dealt with by the states individually. The fears, on the other hand, were that this government might come to gain an enormous amount of power; that this power might come to be concentrated in the hands of very few; and that the federal government as a whole might end up overreaching its purview and meddling in affairs that ought rightly to be left to the states and the various local governments (if not individuals themselves).
Thus the constitution was framed in such a way that the power of the federal government would be split between 3 separate branches—each acting as a check-and-balance on the power of the others. And the power of the federal government as a whole was limited to certain specific areas—all other areas being left expressly to the power of the states and local governments (and individuals).
Over the past century, though, this original arrangement has largely been undone. Indeed, after numerous constitutional amendments—and loose interpretations of the constitution itself—each of the branches of the federal government has, by turns, usurped (or been left with) more power than it was ever meant to have, and the federal government as a whole routinely involves itself in matters far from federal in nature—to the extent that it now insinuates itself into virtually every aspect of life, political, economic, and social.
For author and commentator Mark R. Levin it’s time we reversed this situation. For while those who made for the changes may have thought they were strengthening the nation, the fact is that the changes have contravened the very wise principles upon which the nation was built, and the practical results have been nothing but negative. Specifically, the changes have left the nation with nothing but ever-increasing taxes, ever-mounting debt, and ever-more soft tyranny for some with ever-reduced freedom for everyone else.
And the reform we need, according to the author, runs more than legislation-deep. It is reform that needs to happen at the very source: it is the constitution itself that must be reformed. For only radical constitutional reform can undo the radical and misguided reform that has come before.
Specifically, Levin proposes 11 constitutional amendments. They include: 1) term limits for members of Congress; 2) the election of Senators to be returned to state legislatures; 3) term limits for Supreme Court Justices (and the opportunity for federal and state legislatures to override Supreme Court decisions with a supermajority); 4) limits on federal spending (with an eye to curbing federal debt); 5) limits on taxation; 6) limits on how much power Congress can delegate to the federal bureaucracy; 7) limiting the federal government from interfering with economic activity that does not pertain to interstate or international trade; 8) requiring the government to compensate property owners for the devaluation of property caused by regulations; 9) allowing the states to amend the constitution directly (without having to go through Congress); 10) granting states the right to overturn the laws and regulations of Congress with a supermajority; 11) requiring voters to produce photo identification at election booths.
Of course, the federal government cannot be expected to make the proposed changes itself (since many of the amendments entail limiting this government’s power). Thankfully, though, it needn’t; for as the author points out, provisions exist under Article V of the constitution that allow the document to be amended not just at the instigation of Congress, but at the instigation of a state-led convention—which is precisely what Levin is pushing for here.
What follows is a full executive summary of The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic by Mark R. Levin.
The American Confederation was first established by the early states in 1776 through 1787. And when it comes to the impetus behind this action, it was distinct and well-defined: the states recognized that there were aspects of political life that affected each of them but which they could not handle individually (such as national defense, and trade disputes between the various states [loc. 1631-50])—and thus they wanted to establish a federal government to address just these issues.
a. Limits on the Power of the Federal Government & Federalism
But—and this is important—the states were wary that the federal government they established would be wont to impinge on matters that extended beyond those that could not be handled by the individual states (and individuals themselves). And thus they took special care to frame the constitution in such a way that the federal government would be empowered to handle those and only those issues that could not be handled except through coordinated action. As Levin explains, “other than the limited, specified powers granted to the federal government, the states retained for themselves plenary governing authority. The debates during the Constitutional Convention and the state ratification conventions are unequivocal in this regard. During the ratification period, the Federalists repeatedly assured the Anti-Federalists and other skeptics of the proposed federal government’s limits. For example, [James] Madison argued in Federalist 14, ‘In the first place, it is to be remembered, that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws: its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any.’” (loc. 187).
And in case the Constitution is not already clear enough on this point, an amendment was later added (the 10th) to reinforce the issue. As Levin explains, “the Tenth Amendment underscores generally and simply the division of authority between the federal and state governments: ‘The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people’. The Constitution would not have been ratified [Levin continues] had the Federalists refused to agree to the inclusion of this explicit recognition of state sovereignty, carried over from the Articles of Confederation, as part of a series of amendments—which would be adopted when the First Congress convened. It is a declaration of the indispensable role of the states in American life, which is loosely referred to as federalism” (loc. 2012).
b. The System of Checks-and-Balances: The Branches of Government
The Framers of the Constitution worried, though, that even this arrangement might be compromised if power was allowed to be concentrated in too few hands in the federal government. Thus they sought to counteract this by way of dividing-up the power of the federal government between multiple branches (the legislative, executive and judiciary), with each branch organized in such a way that it might act as a check-and-balance against the others. As Levin explains, “The Framers attempted to control the purview of the federal government through a carefully balanced retinue of checks on each branch of the federal government’s power. These divisions of enumerated authority between the branches meant that no one part of government could dominate the others or subsume the states’ power. In this way, the civil society and individual sovereignty could be preserved. The blueprint for this system, the Constitution, was the greatest mechanism for human governance ever created” (loc. 397; see also loc. 174, 324, 1328, 2063, 2210).
*For prospective buyers: To get a good indication of how this (and other) articles look before purchasing, I’ve made several of my past articles available for free. Each of my articles follows the same form and is similar in length (15-20 pages). The free articles are available here: Free Articles