With election signs everywhere it is well to note that it is unrealistic to expect national candidates to follow the Constitution when we did not insist that they did so in local and state elections. After all, many simply move up to higher office. Some may even view the Constitution as irrelevant at these levels.
Several years ago at a public debate for county supervisor in California the public was invited to offer written questions. I did so and watched the debate monitor, with a puzzled look on his face, sideline my question in preference to others. I presumed it was because it raised a constitutional concern, which unfortunately, is considered by many an irrelevant topic at the city, county, or even state levels. You are supposed to ask what “goodies” from taxpayer funding are you going to give me and is it more than your opponent?
So what does the Constitution have to do with local or state issues? Everything!! First, it is the only document that every elected public servant swears by oath to uphold. So the Founders must have thought it relevant at lower levels.
Second, candidates at lower levels successfully rise to higher levels because of the name recognition obtained at lower levels and eventually become members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, often without ever having read the Constitution they are specifically under oath to protect. When I worked as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate years ago, I was certain at least 50% had never read it at any level of government. Today I would be surprised if those who had read it exceeded 10%. No one asks candidates while campaigning when they last read it.
So again, why does this matter? Historically, the two major enemies of freedom are: 1) it is the nature of all governments to pull decision making power upward to the seat of government and, 2) the more apathetic and indifferent the population becomes the greater the tendency of the people to push decision making power upwards to the seat of government. When these two forces work together it always leads to the central government eventually having most of the power. The Constitution is full of “handcuffs” to keep decision-making power from getting to the top thus maximizing it with the individual. The Founders overriding philosophy of government, if it could be penned into one sentence, was, “never elevate to a higher level that which can be resolved at a lesser level.”
Even a casual look at the Constitution reveals the separation of powers on the federal level into three distinct branches the legislative, executive, and judicial—each with a specific list. For Congress it was a list of the four types of law they could make (Art. I, Sec. 8), for the president it was the types of executive functions he could execute (Art. II, Sec. 2-3), and for the Supreme Court the types of cases it could adjudicate (Art. III, Sec. 2). The lists exist to both restrict them and to prohibit the concentration of power into one branch. The only type of federal government authorized by the Founders was decidedly a limited one. States, counties, and cities have all the powers not listed, as per Amendment 10.
When these limitations are not understood and protected at lower levels of government, the federal government is constantly tempted to steal authority from the states or counties as per its confiscating, environmental, health, and education issues, which are constitutionally 100% non-federal government issues. States, counties, and cities should use the Tenth Amendment to tell the federal government to “butt out.” “You have no constitutional authority.” When Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the National Defense Authorization Act, December 31, 2012, both states and counties should have written Congress and the President. “You may not void Amendments 4, 5, 6, and 8, of The Bill of Rights and the Writ of Habeas Corpus for our citizens.”
Sixty years ago it may not have made much difference if a county supervisor/commissioner, or city councilman, swore allegiance to a Constitution that he had not fully studied, or worse, even read. The federal government had not yet absorbed his area of jurisdiction. Now it has! There is hardly an area where the federal government does not have its tentacles embedded, from school lunches to cross gender bathrooms. Over thirty years ago a city councilman complained to me that a third of what he voted on was already mandated because sometime in the past the council had accepted the “free money” which now obligated him. School districts are notorious for having done the same thing.
City, county, and state leaders, you are our buffer from the federal government taking from you your areas of jurisdiction. They have done so for many years because you were complacent, or ignorant of the Constitution. Consequently you have lost a large portion of our liberty. Today your understanding of the document must be known before we place you in power.
Tenth Amendment Center
The Tenth Amendment Center is a national think tank that works to preserve and protect the principles of strictly limited government through information, education, and activism. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of state and individual sovereignty issues, focusing primarily on the decentralization of federal government power as required by the Constitution. For more information visit the Tenth Amendment Center Blog.