[Editor: This week was the Constitution’s birthday and to celebrate, scholar and historian Michael Farris has some welcome advise.]

A Lesson in Self-Governance

Michael Farris, 9/17/18

Three Quick Lessons for Constitution Day [or any other American day]

  1. The most important rule in the Constitution is the one that designates who has the power to make rules.

Ordinary rules (laws) can only be made by Congress. Changes to the Constitution can only be made by legislators (state and congressional).

Presidents can’t make laws. Bureaucrats can’t make laws. And the Supreme Court can’t amend the Constitution. All three of these branches routinely violate these rules.

But the way it’s supposed to work is that the people are supposed to be able to vote out rulers who make laws they don’t like.

  1. Private people can’t violate the Constitution.

The Constitution only controls the government. Pastors can not violate the “separation of church and state”—only the government can. The law professors who say that homeschool parents violate the constitutional norm of “tolerance” are doubly ignorant. First, there is no such norm. Second, private people can never violate the Constitution.

  1. State Constitutions matter

The federal Constitution does not tell us what powers are possessed by state governments. If we want to live in freedom, we need all governments to live within their enumerated powers.

But here’s the rule that is pertinent to the federal Constitution. If the power is in the state Constitution, then the federal government is presumptively without jurisdiction on the same subject.

The first resolution at the Constitutional Convention was to grant power to the federal government where the states lacked jurisdictional competence.

If the states can regulate a subject. The Feds, generally, have no authority.

Neither the Commerce Clause nor General Welfare Clause changes this—if we follow the original meaning of the text.

The federal government would be a fraction of its size and we would have no national debt if we followed these rules. And our freedom would be robust.

Let’s honor the Constitution by obeying it.