Morning Constitutional

Encouraging thought for the day

US Constitution: low hanging fruit

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In April 2009, the Mississippi state legislature repealed state laws prohibiting freedom of assembly and speech, laws passed in 1964 and intended to protect racism and racial oppression within the state.  Mississippi’s Racist Laws, Relics of a Bygone Era, Removed The laws had been pronounced unconstitutional in 1967 (fairly quickly for SCOTUS, which is reasonable considering how blatant the constitutional violations were), but Mississippi lawmakers took another 42 years to bother cleaning up their mess.

For myself, I think that those decades of inaction speak volumes about how divorced conservative Mississippian politicians are from the ideals of the US Constitution, making it nonsensical (and downright rude) for them to talk about “real Americans.”  And spitting on the First Amendment isn’t the most egregious rejection of American law and values by Mississippi law.  (After all, the 1st Amendment only explicitly mentions the US Congress, and although there is a long history of SCOTUS decisions that apply the Amendment to all federal, state and local authorities, the framers didn’t explicitly mention that breadth.)

There is, however, a place in the constitution where such breadth is deliberately and unequivocally stated.  In Article VI we find:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Seems simple enough.  The last two Mississippi Constitutions (See Jay Ron Skates’s article with text for all of the Constitutions) added a few things of interest.  Both the 1868 and 1890 constitutions add sections saying, “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.”  It might be possible for those sections to be more blatantly un-American, although I’m not sure how.  They certainly show that the framers of those Mississippi constitutions certainly fell into the set of dangerous factions that Madison warned about in Federalist Paper #10, where, “A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction…”

The fact that amendments were later made to the latter two Mississippi constitutions, adopting the “no religious test” language of the 18th century US constitution, disquiets me because the original “denial” language remains in the Mississippi constitutions, revealing that the lawmakers who allowed both to stay in law either a) didn’t care about the provision, thinking that the voters of the state were such a firmly entrenched faction that no enforcement would ever come into question or b) the lawmakers were so blinded by their own prejudices and factional thinking that they did not see the blatant contradiction between the articles and the amendments.

Denying people of color rights of assembly or speech and instituting a religious test for office:  these are blatant abrogations of the framework the founders put in place create a viable republic.  Yes, that framework changes over time — that’s part of the brilliance of the concept behind that US Constitution which is perhaps the ultimate expression of the Enlightenment.  To be sure, the original document was racist — and “we the people” didn’t mean women or children or slaves or Native Americans or the indigent and so on.  Methods were put in place, however, that allowed the peaceful evolution of the execution of those initial principles, however poorly they might have been executed at the time of signing.

That peaceful evolution is the goal of the republican system of government.  When you abandon that goal and that system (either by a legislature pushing unAmerican laws through at the state level, or by forming factions that abandon the republican system in favor of intimidation, restricting information and exposing the worst of the democratic flaws the founders worried so much about), you make the world a more dangerous and disgusting place in which to grow up.  So for my daughter’s sake, stop thoughtless and meritless discrimination, embrace reason and think before acting.

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Written by Bill O'Rights

August 18, 2009 at 4:34 pm

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