Thursday, August 29, 2013

Term limits top the list of Levin's 'Liberty Amendments'

Talk show host and lawyer Mark Levin says at one time he opposed amending the U.S. Constitution via the state convention process. But now his skepticism has turned to enthusiasm and in his new book, The Liberty Amendments, he lays out 11 suggested amendments aimed at "preserving the civil society from the growing authoritarianism of a federal Leviathan" and urges states to pursue them.

Number one on the list: Congressional term limits. Number three: Supreme Court term limits. And, number nine: A change in the way amendments are approved that avoids Congress altogether -- and would likely pave the way for Congressional term limits.

Levin starts off with background on the amendment process and addresses a fear many term limits supporters have expressed about amending the constitution via a convention called by three fourths of the states.

Levin suggests concerns about a runaway convention are unfounded: "The text of Article V makes clear there is a serious check in place. Whether the product of Congress or a convention, a proposed amendment has no effect at all unless 'ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states...' This should extinguish anxiety that the state convention process could hijack the Constitution."

"In Washington and most political capitals, TIME in office = POWER" -- Mark Levin

The current term limits bills in Congress (introduced by Rep. Matt Salmon in the House and David Vitter and Rand Paul in the Senate) take the other of two paths offered in Article V, a vote in the Congress followed by ratification by the states.

In chapter two, Levin lays out a concise and persuasive case for Congressional term limits, citing the lack of rotation, gerrymandering, power of the incumbency, special interest money and seniority. The bottom line, he says, is "in Washington and most political capitals TIME in office = POWER." He calls for a limit of 12 years maximum in the Congress which can be split between houses.

Interestingly Levin also calls for 12-year Supreme Court limits. Here he cites the unexpected longevity of modern justices and the increased power they wield. Most persuasively, he points to the simple fact that a lifetime position today can -- and does -- entrench the "mentally impaired, venal and even racist" who may have once been vigorous contributors to the court. Due to uncompetitive elections and the lack of turnover in Congress, he could have noted that is phenomenon is not uncommon there either.

Less persuasive is Levin's call -- as part of the same amendment -- to permit Congressional overrides of Supreme Court decisions, such as if the Court determines a Congressional law is unconstitutional.

In chapter 9, Levin calls for the ability for states to directly amend the Constitution. If two-thirds (not three fourths) of the states approve the exact same amendment within a six year period, it would become part of the Constitution. No convention. No Congress.

As he puts it, "there is no persuasive reason the states need to administratively organize their amendment efforts through Congress. In fact, among the reasons states may be moved to act is precisely because of conflicts or disagreements with Congress."

No kidding. How about the conflict of interest involved in the Congress shepherding -- or, more accurately, torpedoing -- an amendment to limit the terms of the Congress? This amendment would permit states to make an end run around Congress.

Other amendments offered in the book include a tax cap (15 percent of income), a balanced budget amendment, national voter ID requirements and explicit private property protections. Nearly all are thoughtful and reasonable, but many are also politically fanciful currently.

But the book is not simply indulgence in political fantasy. It is a thought experiment that provokes serious consideration of our history, foundational law and the nature of our political system. It is particularly valuable for those who are active in the effort to pass Congressional term limits via a Constitutional amendment. Read it.