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What Congress is Doing to Curb the Supreme Court

What Congress Is Doing to Curb the Supreme Court

“Bills to counter recent Supreme Court rulings are starting to make their way through Congress. How much further will Congress go? Everything about the Court – how it operates, terms of judges, scope of rulings – is about to get a thorough review, the first in decades.

US News & World Report – July 12, 1957 – Congress is starting to strike back at the Supreme Court. A score of bills have been introduced to curb the Court’s power and to sidestep the effects of controversial decisions. It is clear that a growing number of Congressmen are convinced that new laws must be passed to overcome the effects of these decisions. Other Congressmen propose to go much further and trim the powers of the Court itself.

Senator Herman Talmadge (Dem.) of Georgia, for example, proposes to amend the code of laws to remove public schools from the jurisdiction of federal courts. Others have offered amendments to the Constitution giving States the exclusive power to regulate schools and all other matters relating to health and morals.

Limits on Tenure? Court decisions during the recent term have produced a rash of bills to make Supreme Court Justices less safe in their lifetime jobs. Senator Russell Long (Dem.) of Louisiana, offered a constitutional amendment to require reconfirmation of a justice by the Senate after 12 years on the bench.  Senators Olin D. Johnston (Dem.) of South Carolina, and James O. Eastland (Dem.) of Mississippi propose amendments to require reconfirmation every 4 years.

Behind all the proposals affecting the appointment of Justices is the objection in Congress that recent decisions have been more political than judicial in purpose and in effect.

To promote full debate, Senator Talmadge also is sponsoring a bill to require the Court to give a full hearing, with oral argument, on any case it decides. His contention is that the Court acted in at least ten cases during the recent term without hearing arguments.

All of these bills, in effect, are telling the Court that it is asserting too much power over Congress, the President and the States.”

It Wasn’t About Slavery Nor a “Civil War”

Once the Constitution was ratified in 1789, a State’s declaration of independence from it was recognized and fully acceptable. New York, Rhode Island and Virginia specifically noted this reserved right in their ratifications of the US Constitution, just in case the Tenth Amendment was ignored.

What we refer to as our “civil war” is erroneously claimed to be caused by a desire to abolish slavery when it was not. The decision for independence by several Southern States in 1860-1861 – secession – was not a cause for war as it was an inherent right of a State to do so. Lincoln’s minority government had no constitutional remedy to stop any States from departing. The “cause” of war was Lincoln’s decision to instigate a violent incident at Fort Sumter and then unconstitutionally raise an army without the sanction of Congress to wage war upon a State. Though many governors refused Lincoln’s request for troops to subjugate Americans, those who did were also guilty of treason.

The US Constitution’s very definition of treason in Article III, Section 3 is the waging of war upon “Them” – the States – and adhering to their enemies. What Lincoln unleashed cost a million lives lost along with our Constitution, Americans in the South subjugated and disenfranchised, the North saddled with enormous debt, inflation and fiat money, and the US government embarking on a career of imperialist ventures.

It Wasn’t About Slavery Nor a “Civil War”

In his excellent “It Wasn’t About Slavery,” author Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. notes that “The noted historian Shelby Foote was right: those who say that the Civil War was all about African slavery are just as wrong as those who declare that the war had nothing to do with African slavery.  The fake historians and purveyors of the myth of the North’s noble and enlightened cause to end slavery willfully ignores other cause, including huge constitutional issues such as a State right to withdraw, nullification, and judicial overreach – which led Thomas Jefferson to refer to the federal judiciary as “a despotic branch.”

The issue of secession can be dealt with very simply. The United States itself was the produce of secession and the Declaration of Independence was the most beautiful ordinance of secession ever written.”

A “civil war” is a struggle of competing factions within a nation or country for control of its government. The Southern States pursued political independence from the United States in 1861 just as the thirteen colonies pursued political independence from Britain in 1776.

Mitcham notes that the North’s war did indeed actively destroy the South’s agricultural labor system and armed these workers against the South, and importantly that “freeing the slave was a result of the war, not the casus belli.”

(It Wasn’t About Slavery, Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. Regnery History Press, 2020. Pp. xvi-xvii)

 

Chief Justice Taney and Dred Scott

What follows is an abridgment of an article written by a descendant of Chief Justice Taney to clarify the legal question presented and facts considered. Taney was 12 years old when Washington died and lived long enough to see the Constitution overthrown by military force. It is said that his arrest was ordered for defying Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus.

Chief Justice Taney and Dred Scott

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (pronounced “tawney”), 1777-1864, is mostly known for his decision in the Dred Scott v. Sanford case in 1857. Largely forgotten is his 30 years on the bench of the Supreme Court, and his steadfast understanding that the Constitution is a compact among sovereign States. In his view, most matters of importance were the domain of States, not the federal government, and the Court was to interpret the Constitution according to the original constitutional meaning when it was first adopted.

The primary question the Court was to decide in the Dred Scott case was whether black people in the United States were “citizens” of the United States. It must be recalled that in the antebellum United States people were first citizens of the individual States, and by virtue of that, the United States.

Taney’s Court was to determine whether people of African descent were actual members of the American political community under the original intent and meaning of the Constitution. His study and understanding reflected that the United States in 1789 were primarily white, Anglo-Saxon people and black people were not part of what was an original political creation of Europeans. The racial viewpoint of the latter toward African people was primary in his consideration.

He and his Court saw that in all States, North and South, laws restricted relations between the white and black races because it was widely believed that “a perpetual and impassable barrier was intended to be erected between the white and black race.” Clearly, this is in general an accurate assessment of 17th and 18th century colonial law.

The Court also explored whether the Declaration of Independence proposition that “all men are created equal” altered the legal and social status of black people in America. Taney argued that if understood in its proper historical context where blacks and whites occupied different legal and social spheres, “it is too clear that black people were not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this Declaration” in 1789.

It was clear then as it is now, that the Declaration of Independence stood only for the proposition that the American colonists, as Englishmen, had the same rights to self-determination and self-government as their British kinsmen. The Founders of course provided for future amendments to their work, but Taney and his Court were considering this legal question in 1857.

Taney’s Court also investigated whether the Constitution itself had changed the status of black people so as to make them part of the American political and legal community. Taney noted that as the Preamble declared that the United States was formed “by the people” – which was those who were members of the different political communities in the several States forming the United States. Taney concluded that as most States, North and South, had long distinguished between blacks and whites in terms of social and legal rights, and the Constitution itself implicitly distinguishing between the races in its Migration and Importation clause (permitting the abolition of the slave trade after 1808) and the Fugitive Slaves clause, black people were simply not intended as part of “the people” described in the Constitution.

As Taney reviewed federal statutes to further divine the Founders’ minds in 1789 and what they considered “the people of the United States,” he found two federal laws passed within a few years of ratification. One was the first naturalization law of 1790, which provided that only “free, white persons” could become citizens and therefore this was the political community. The other was the first militia law of 1792, which required the enrollment of every “free, able-bodied white male citizen.”

Though one could contest Chief Justice Taney’s interpretations at that time, eminent historian Carl Brent Swisher wrote in his well-respected biography of Taney that his decision was based upon an “accurate portrayal of relations between the two races in communities where both lived in considerable numbers” at the time it was written.

Thus, investigating this important question in 1857, Chief Justice Taney concluded that people of African descent were not citizens of the United States, and therefore the Dred Scott case did not fall under federal jurisdiction. To rule otherwise, Taney warned, “would require that the Court give to the words of the Constitution more liberal construction in their favor than they were intended to bear when the instrument was framed and adopted.”

Such a “liberal construction” would exceed the Supreme Court’s authority.

No Troops from North Carolina

In mid-April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln himself raised an army – which only Congress may accomplish – for the purpose of waging war against South Carolina. The United States Constitution, Article III, Section 3 states that “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving the Aid and Comfort.” Lincoln had sworn to defend and uphold the Constitution, a document better understood by the North Carolina governor.

No Troops from North Carolina

“Mr. Lincoln took his seat as President on March 4, 1861. He did not receive an electoral vote in any Southern State and out of a popular vote of 2,804,560 only 1,857,610 were cast for those electors favorable to him. He carried but 16 of the 33 States then in the Union. He was inaugurated as president without having received a majority of the popular vote either of the States or the people.

An attempt by President Lincoln to reinforce the US garrison at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, was resisted by the Confederate forces under General Beauregard, and on April 14, 1861, after a bombardment lasting thirty-six hours, the fort surrendered.

On the next day, April 15, President Lincoln issued his proclamation calling on the several States to finish their quota of 75,000 troops “to suppress combinations too powerful for the law to contend with.”  The same day, Secretary of War Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, telegraphed North Carolina Governor John W. Ellis: “Call made on you tonight for two regiments of militia for immediate service.”

Reclining on his couch in the executive office, a mortal disease robbing him of his life’s blood, Governor Ellis received the dispatch and at one replied:

“Sir: I regard the levy of troops made by the Administration for the purpose of subjecting the States of the South, as in violation of the Constitution and a gross usurpation of power. I can be no party to this wicked war upon the liberties of a free people. You can get no troops from North Carolina.”

Governor Ellis at once issued his proclamation calling the Legislature to meet in special session. On its assembling, the Legislature issued a call for a convention of the people and authorize the enrollment of 20,000 volunteers.”

(An Address on the Services of General Matt W. Ransom, William H.S. Burgwyn, delivered in the North Carolina Senate Chamber before the Ladies Memorial Association and citizens, May 10, 1906)

The Choice Between War and Peace

Lincoln was without question a sharp Whig attorney who knew the intricacies of Illinois politics. On the national stage he led a conglomeration of former Whigs, anti-Catholic Know Nothings, radical abolitionists, free-soilers, Transcendentalists and tariff protectionists who valued their own interests above all. As stated in the second paragraph below he knew that his political support from this rainbow of varied interests and controlled by Radicals, would fall apart should any compromise to save the Union be embraced. He placed his party above his country.

His predecessor James Buchanan was not a supporter of secession but aware that a president waging war against a State was committing treason – Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution. His attorney-general confirmed this. A president could not raise an army – only Congress could do this – Lincoln circumvented the Constitution with Republican governors sending him their own State troops until Congress met in July. By that time congressmen were aware that they faced arbitrary arrest for “treason” should they oppose Lincoln’s actions.

The Choice Between War and Peace

 “Lincoln’s cabinet was almost equally divided between Conservatives and Radicals. The Radicals favored an immediate attempt to resupply Fort Sumter even should this precipitate war. These men thought the new Confederacy would crumble upon the first show of force, because a small junta had caused all the trouble, and the Southern people would have no heart in a conspirators’ war.

The Conservatives believed that given peace and adequate time, the Union could be reconstituted. Would it not be better to withdraw the small garrisons from forts to so as to prevent immediate hostilities and secure the Border States to the Union? Seward knew there were no military reasons for keeping Sumter and had no doubt that it would soon be evacuated. On March 7, Lincoln told a caller that if Sumter were abandoned, he would have to leave the White House the same day.

On March 12 1861 Stephen Douglas began a debate designed to force the Radical Republicans either the accept or attack Lincoln’s peace policy as stated in his inauguration speech.

He reviewed at length the legal status of federal authority in the South. As the laws stood, the Executive could not use the army and the navy to enforce the law in the Southern States. What would be involved in the use of force? He had secured estimates from competent military authorities as to the troop requirements in the event of war. At least 285,000 men would be needed to compel submission and it would cost at least $316,000,000 to keep them in the field for a year. How could eighteen States ever pay the cost of subjugating fifteen?

The Republicans sat silent as he talked, smiling contemptuously. When he finished, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, attacked him as the country’s outstanding alarmist. Douglas lost his temper and taunted the Republican Radicals with desiring the Union dissolved. The Republicans were unyielding, the few Northern Democrats were impotent but the galleries applauded wildly.”

(The Eve of Conflict: Stephen A. Douglas and the Needless War, George Fort Milton, Houghton, Mifflin Company, 1934, pp. 548-551)

A Civil War in the North?

Connecticut’s Hartford Times of November 7, 1860, after referring to the danger that the Southern States would “form a separate confederacy, and retire peaceably from the Union,” proceeds to say “If they do decide and act, it will be useless to attempt any coercive measures to keep them within the voluntary co-partnership of States . . . We can never force sovereign States to remain in the Union when they desire to go out, without bringing upon our country the shocking evils of civil war, under which the Republic could not, of course, long exist.”

The misunderstanding of “treason” is noted in the text below, but its actual definition is found in Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” It is clear then, whoever waged war upon the several seceding States (them) was guilty of treason. Outgoing President James Buchanan understood this and admitted no authority to wage war against a State, as did his Attorney-General.

A Civil War in the North?

“Prominent supporters of Mr. Lincoln asserted that “secession is treason, and must be treated by the government as treason,” and that “the government has the right and the power to compel obedience.” A considerable number of Republicans, while they emphatically denied the right of secession, questioned the policy of forcibly preventing it. They held, that, if an undoubted majority of the adult population of any State deliberately pronounced for separation, the rest of the States, though they might legally compel that State to remain, would do better to assemble in national convention, and acquiesce in her departure from the Union. Withdrawal under these sanctions is the only secession ever deemed valid or permissible by any number of the supporters of Mr. Lincoln. Many who had voted against him also concurred in this view.

Some of the opponents of the President-elect denied the right of secession, but claimed there was no constitutional remedy against it. The greater part held that the recusant States were theoretically if not practically right; that the United States was simply a confederation of sovereign States, any one of which possessed a constitutional right to withdraw whenever it should consider the arrangement no longer profitable. They deemed an attempt to coerce a State, in order to vindicate the supreme authority of the Federal Government and to preserve the territorial integrity of the Union, to be both illegal and useless.

The opponents of Mr. Lincoln . . . asserted that the Southern people had abundant provocation for their . . . conduct. They . . . declared that the conservatives of the North would never consent to coercion; adding the not infrequent menace, that, “if war is to be waged, that war will be fought in the North.”

(History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-1865; W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill Publisher, 1869, pp. 30-32)

Subjugated Hostile and Belligerent Enemies

The idea of some States using military force to coerce another into remaining in the political union against its will, and ”reconstructing” if it dared exercise independence, would have bewildered the Founders. The Tenth Amendment itself, inserted for the express purpose of stating that any authority or power not specifically delineated in the Constitution as a power of the federal government, was reserved to the States.

Fielding its first presidential candidate in 1854, it required only 6 years for the new Republican party to drive one State out of the Union, and one month more for several others to depart as well. Its first presidential candidate gained victory through a plurality of 39% and more votes cast against rather than for him. Thus installed in the White House, this new President waged war upon the States, which is treason as defined in Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution he was sworn to uphold.

Subjugated Hostile and Belligerent Enemies

“In April, 1862, [Michigan] Congressman Fernando Beaman claimed that as a consequence of rebellion a Southern State “ceased to be a member of the Union . . . as a State.” Therefore, Beaman reasoned, Congress must establish a provisional or territorial government in each of the seceding States, before it could again exercise full power. One of the first to take “an advanced and correct position on the question of reconstruction,” Beaman was congratulated by Charles Sumner for his views.

Because of its emphasis on the presidential role in Reconstruction, Lincoln’s 10% plan inspired scant respect among Michigan congressmen. John Longyear claimed that . . . only Congress had the authority to admit new States. The Southerners, stated Longyear, should be treated as subjugated enemies. Until a majority became loyal, [Senator Jacob] Howard advocated keeping the South out of the Union and in “tutelage” up to twenty years.” Howard reasoned that a hostile and belligerent community could not claim the right to elect members of Congress. “Are public enemies,” he asked, “entitled to be represented in the Legislature of the United States?”

[Senator Zachariah Chandler growled], “a secessionist traitor is beneath a Negro. I would let a loyal Negro vote. I would let him testify; I would let him fight; I would let him do any other good thing, and I would exclude a secession traitor.”

[Like other Radicals who disliked Lincoln], Senator Chandler reacted [to his death] in a calculating manner. “I believe that the Almighty continued Mr. Lincoln in office as long as he was useful . . .” Had Lincoln’s policy been carried out, he believed that Jefferson Davis and his followers would be back in the Senate; “but now, gloated the Senator, “their chance to stretch hemp [is] better than for the Senate . . .”

Radical Republican Motivation: A Case History, George M. Blackburn, Journal of Negro History, Vol. LIV, No. 2, April 1969, pp. 111-113)

The Pursuit of Liberty

“Daniel Webster has said, and very justly as far as these United States are concerned: “The sovereignty of government is an idea belonging to the other side of the Atlantic. No such thing is known in North America. Our governments are limited. But with us all power is with the people. They alone are sovereign, and they erect what governments they please, and confer on them such powers as they please.” Jefferson Davis

The Pursuit of Liberty

“If any lingering doubt could have existed as to the reservation of their entire sovereignty by the people of the several States when they organized the federal Union, it would have been removed by the Tenth Amendment . . . the particular one in which they substantially agreed, and upon which they most urgently insisted. Indeed, it is quite certain that Constitution would never have received the assent and ratification of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and perhaps other States, but for a well-grounded assurance that the substance of the Tenth Amendment would be adopted. The amendment is in these words:

“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.”

To have transferred sovereignty from the people to a Government would have been to have fought the battles of the Revolution in vain – not for the freedom and independence of the States, but for a mere change of masters. Such a thought or purpose could not have been in the heads or hearts of those who molded the Union.

The men who had won at great cost the independence of their respective States were deeply impressed with the value of union, but they could never have consented, like “the base Judean,” to fling away the priceless pearl of State sovereignty for any possible alliance.”

(Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Jefferson Davis, D. Appleton and Company, 1881, pp. 146; 156)

 

Civil, Human and Natural Rights

1964 Presidential candidate Goldwater was the last Old Right conservative to emerge after the marginalization of Robert A. Taft by the leftist Rockefeller wing of the Republican party, who cheered on political-waif Eisenhower as their candidate. Ike’s contribution after eight years as president was to appoint Earl Warren Chief Justice as a political payoff, and warning Americans of the military-industrial complex he helped create.

Civil, Human and Natural Rights

“[The authority of individual States] are easy enough to define. The Tenth Amendment does it succinctly: “The powers not delegated to the United States [government] by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Civil rights should be no harder. In fact, however, thanks to extravagant and shameless misuse by people who ought to know better – it is one of the most badly understood concepts in modern political usage.

“Civil rights” is frequently used synonymously with “human rights” – or with “natural rights.” As often as not, it is simply a name for describing an activity that somebody deems politically or socially desirable. A sociologist writes a paper proposing to abolish some inequity, or a politician makes a speech about it – and behold, a new “civil right” is born! The Supreme Court has displayed the same creative powers.

A civil right is a right that is asserted and is therefore protected by some valid law . . . but unless a right is incorporated in the law, it is not a valid civil right and is not enforceable by the instruments of the civil law.

There may be some rights – “natural” or “human”, or otherwise, that should also be civil rights. But if we desire to give such rights the protection of the law, our recourse is to a legislature or to the amendment procedures of the US Constitution. We must not look to politicians, or sociologists – or to the courts – to correct the deficiency.”

(The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater, Victor Publishing Company, 1960, excerpt pp. 32-33)

No Equality Other Than Political

No Equality Other Than Political

Mr. Justice [Henry] Brown, after stating the facts in the forgoing language, delivered the opinion of the court in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)

“This case turns upon the constitutionality of an act of the general assembly of the State of Louisiana, passed in 1890, providing for separate railway carriages for the white and colored races. (Acts 1890, No. 111, p. 152).

The constitutionality of this act is attacked upon the ground that it conflicts with both the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except a punishment for crime, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits certain restrictive legislation on the part of States.

One: That it conflicts with the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery . . . is too clear for argument. In the Civil Rights cases, it was said that the act of a mere individual, the owner of an inn, a public conveyance or place of amusement, refusing accommodations to colored people, cannot justly be regarded as imposing any badge of slavery or servitude upon the applicant, but only as involving an ordinary civil injury, property cognizable by the laws of the State, and presumably subject to redress by those laws until the contrary appears. ‘It would be running the slavery question into the ground,’ said Mr. Justice [Joseph P.] Bradley, “to make every act of discrimination which a person may see fit to make as to the guests he will entertain, or as to the people he will take into his coach or cab or car, or admit to his concert or theater, or deal with in matters of intercourse or business.”

A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races, and which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished form the other race by color, has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races, or re-establish a state of involuntary servitude. Indeed, we do not understand [why] the Thirteenth Amendment is strenuously relied upon by the plaintiff in this connection.

Two: the object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a comingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either. Laws permitting, and even requiring, their separation, in places where they are liable to be brought into contact, do not necessarily imply the inferiority of one race to the other, and have been generally, if not universally, recognized as within the competency of the State legislatures in the exercise of their police power.

We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist of the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by the reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.  The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the Negro except by an enforced comingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition.

If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other’s merits, and a voluntary consent of individuals.

Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts, or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.”

(www.statesrightsjournal.com, accessed April 24, 2004)

 

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