With the States Leading the Way

By Governor Greg Abbott Jan 8, 2016

[Editors note: this is an executive summary from Governor Abbott’s 91-page thesis on America returning to the rule of law. He has included nine proposed amendments to the Constitution. Take the link at the end to download the article in its entirety]

The Constitution is increasingly eroded with each passing year.  That is a tragedy given the volume of blood spilled by patriots to win our country’s freedom and repeatedly defend it over the last 240 years.  Moreover, the declining relevance of our Nation’s governing legal document is dangerous.  Thomas Hobbes’s observation more than 350 years ago remains applicable today: the only thing that separates a nation from anarchy is its collective willingness to know and obey the law.

But today, most Americans have no idea what our Constitution says.  According to a recent poll, one-third of Americans cannot name the three branches of government; one-third cannot name any branch; and one-third thinks that the President has the “final say” about the government’s powers. Obviously, the American people cannot hold their government accountable if they do not know what the source of that accountability says.

The Constitution is not just abstract and immaterial to average Americans; it also is increasingly ignored by government officials.  Members of Congress used to routinely quote the Constitution while debating whether a particular policy proposal could be squared with Congress’s enumerated powers.  Such debates rarely happen today.  In fact, when asked to identify the source of constitutional authority for Obamacare’s individual mandate, the Speaker of the House revealed all too much when she replied with anger and incredulity: “Are you serious?”  And, while the Supreme Court continues to identify new rights protected by the Constitution’s centuries-old text, it is telling that the justices frequently depart from what the document actually says and rely instead on words or concepts that are found nowhere in the document.  That is why one scholar observed that “in this day and age, discussing the doctrine of enumerated powers is like discussing the redemption of Imperial Chinese bonds.”

Abandoning, ignoring, and eroding the strictures of the Constitution cheapens the entire institution of law.  One of the cornerstones of this country was that ours would be a Nation of laws and not of men.  The Constitution is the highest such law and the font of all other laws.  As long as all Americans uphold the Constitution’s authority, the document will continue to provide the ultimate defense of our liberties.  But once the Constitution loses its hold on American life, we also lose confidence in the ability of law to protect us.  Without the rule of law, the things we treasure can be taken away by an election, by whims of individual leaders, by impulsive social-media campaigns, or by collective apathy.

The Constitution provides a better way—if only we were willing to follow it.  The Constitution imposes real limits on Congress and forces its members to do their jobs rather than pass the buck.  The Constitution forces the President to work with Congress to accomplish his priorities rather than usurping its powers by circumventing the legislative process with executive orders and administrative fiats.  And the Constitution forces the Supreme Court to confront the limits on its powers to transform the country.  Although the Constitution provides no assurance that any branch of government will make policy choices you like, the Constitution offers legitimacy to those choices and legitimate pathways to override those choices.  The people who make those choices would have to stand for election, they would have to work with others who stand for election, and crucially, they would have to play by rules that we all agree to beforehand rather than making them up as they go along.

Of course, the Constitution already does all of this.  And thus it bears emphasis at the outset that the Constitution itself is not broken.  What is broken is our Nation’s willingness to obey the Constitution and to hold our leaders accountable to it.  As explained in the following pages, all three branches of the federal government have wandered far from the roles that the Constitution sets out for them.  For various reasons, “We the People” have allowed all three branches of government to get away with it.  And with each power grab the next somehow seems less objectionable.  When measured by how far we have strayed from the Constitution we originally agreed to, the government’s flagrant and repeated violations of the rule of law amount to a wholesale abdication of the Constitution’s design.

That constitutional problem calls for a constitutional solution, just as it did at our Nation’s founding.  Indeed, a constitutional crisis gave birth to the Constitution we have today.  The Articles of Confederation, which we adopted after the Revolutionary War, proved insufficient to protect and defend our fledgling country.  So the States assembled to devise what we now know as our Constitution.  At that assembly, various States stepped up to offer their leadership visions for what the new Constitution should say.  Virginia’s delegates offered the “Virginia Plan,” New Jersey’s delegates offered the “New Jersey Plan,” and Connecticut’s delegates brokered a compromise called “Connecticut Plan.”  Without those States’ plans, there would be no Constitution and probably no United States of America at all.

Now it is Texas’s turn.  The Texas Plan is not so much a vision to alter the Constitution as it is a call to restore the rule of our current one.  The problem is that we have forgotten what our Constitution means, and with that amnesia, we also have forgotten what it means to be governed by laws instead of men.  The solution is to restore the rule of law by ensuring that our government abides by the Constitution’s limits.  Our courts are supposed to play that role, but today, we have judges who actively subvert the Constitution’s original design rather than uphold it.  Yet even though we can no longer rely on our Nation’s leaders to enforce the Constitution that “We the People” agreed to, the Constitution provides another way forward.  Acting through the States, the people can amend their Constitution to force their leaders in all three branches of government to recognize renewed limits on federal power.  Without the consent of any politicians in Washington, D.C., “We the People” can reign in the federal government and restore the balance of power between the States and the United States.  The Texas Plan accomplishes this by offering nine constitutional amendments:

I. Prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State.

II. Require Congress to balance its budget.

III. Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from creating federal law.

IV. Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from preempting state law.

V. Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

VI. Require a seven-justice super-majority vote for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law.

VII. Restore the balance of power between the federal and state governments by limiting the former to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution.

VIII. Give state officials the power to sue in federal court when federal officials overstep their bounds.

IX. Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a federal law or regulation.

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