The Golden Anniversary of the Worst Amendment
By Bruce Walker
April 18, 2011
The Constitution, despite what leftists think, has always been able to “grow” without the arrogation of ultimate power by the Supreme Court. Article V provides two ways to amend to the Constitution, and both ways demand very strong political consensus. As a consequence, the Constitution has only been amended twenty-seven times. Some of those amendments, like the Bill of Rights and the post-Civil War amendments, have been reaffirmations of the underpinning political values of America since before the Revolution: freedom of expression, religious toleration, due process of law, equality before the law, voting rights for all citizens, and limited federal power.
Some amendments have been “housekeeping” amendments. In the early days of the Republic, the vice president was the man who came in second in the Electoral College voting for president. Presidents once imposed a voluntary two-term limit until FDR violated the unwritten protocol not once but twice. What happens if a president is unable to perform the duties of his office? The 25th Amendment addresses the problem of presidential succession when the president is not dead but is incapable by physical or mental impairment of continuing in office.
Several of the amendments had dubious value. Direct election of senators, for example, knocked away one of the most important protections of states’ rights. Prohibition spawned crime and dangerous drink. Without the 16th Amendment, granting Congress the absolute power to tax income, the federal government might be much smaller than it is today. On March 29, 2011, our nation “celebrated” one of the very worst amendments to the Constitution: the 23rd Amendment, granting the federal district as many electoral votes as the smallest state, or three votes.
The idea that people in the District of Columbia were somehow “disenfranchised” from power is absurd. Folks in North Dakota or Idaho or Arkansas – voters physically far away from the capital – suffer a very real disenfranchisement. Their culture, their values, their lives, their opinions are a dim echo in the corridors of federal power. In November 2010, for the first time in a long time, the Tea Party reminded the comfortable potentates in the secluded salons of power that the rabble in the colonies – Flyover Country – actually could assert rights and resist the imperium of Washington.
As political power gravitates to Washington, and particularly into the unelected offices of Washington – the Supreme Court, the federal regulator agencies like the FCC, the army of congressional staffers, the boulevards of lobbyists and influence peddlers – the very last thing our Republic needs is the idea that those Americans who choose to live in the District of Columbia are somehow oppressed. The federal district was long presumed to be like a territory, which is just what most states began as in our national system. As these territories became states, they took their place as sovereign members of the union.
Even from the earliest days of the District of Columbia, it was realized that it was a great advantage to neighboring states to be next to that small district. One of the greatest problems of American government is that federal power, which increasingly is nearly all government power, is all crammed in a small region very far from the center of America. The House of Representatives has granted the District of Columbia the right to a representative in that legislative chamber who can vote on procedural matters and in committees, but not on substantive House votes. Periodically there are plaintive calls for “statehood” for the District of Columbia. Thank the dreadful 23rd Amendment for this sort of thinking.
Here is a very simple solution to the “problem” that citizens in the District of Columbia face by being deprived of senators and congressmen: move the federal district to the demographic center of our nation and, thanks to the latest census data, we know that center is in southern Missouri. The poor, disenfranchised Missourians in that small federal district, whose property values would have increased ten-fold overnight, would have to choose whether to simply live next door to Congress, the Supreme Court, and the new White House or move a few miles outside the district and vote for senators and congressmen as before. Those happy people in the old District of Columbia could rejoin Maryland and have all those precious political rights that everyone in Flyover Country possesses (although, of course, these new Marylanders would be about 1,500 miles from their nation’s capital.)
There is nothing fixed about the federal district. Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 limits this district to ten square miles. The Constitution also grants Congress, and only Congress, authority over that district. Why should the capital of a great nation stay in the same place as the nation itself changes? What better guard against the encrustations of central power than to move the capital around, as the nation’s population moves, so that it is as accessible as possible to the maximum number of Americans? Will some bold Republican introduce a bill to bring our nation’s capital back to us? Is this a “serious” idea? Yes: why not?
Bruce Walker is a long-time conservative writer whose work is published regularly at popular conservative sites such as American Thinker.