Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why not a Do Over Amendment?


In 1986 I attended the Institute for Humane Studies' Summer Seminar on Liberty and Society. The lecturers included many heavyweights in the libertarian movement such as Walter Williams, Don Lavoie, Ralph Raico, Leonard Liggio, Walter Grinder, and George Smith. (Even Lavoie's three Austrian boys - Pete Beottke, Steve Horwitz, and Dave Prychitko - were there but I think mostly to get free food.) But arguably the most impressive of this distinguished group was a young law profesor named Randy Barnett (see picture of Professor Barnett at GMU in 1986 at left). Unfortunately, I didn't make an equally favorable impression on him. On the first day of the seminar he asked me at lunch what I thought of his Theory of Restitutive Justice. I had only quickly scanned his paper before the seminar so I responded, "Honestly, I didn't understand it." Which was true but a very weak response and he demanded I explain where he wasn't clear. But after his lectures on restitutive justice, I not only understood it, I thought Barnett would become a leading libertarian thinker. Fast forward 23 years . . .

Of course, he has become a heavyweight himself. He is the author of two very influential books on the Constitution. Last week he proposed calling for a constitutional convention to restore federalism. He suggested possible language for a federalism amendment. He has offered his idea as the direction for the Tea Partiers to coalesce around. He rightly pointed out that without an ultimate goal the movement would splinter or lose steam. His plan builds upon the States Sovereignty movement which the Tea Party movement was starting to get behind.
While I am generally supportive of Professor Barnett's proposal, I don't quite understand it. Since I am not a Constitutional legal scholar, my thinking may be too simplistic but why can't we have a Do Over Amendment which would simply say that all amendments ratified after the 10th amendment are null and void and Constitution is to be interpreted as originally intended? And before anyone brings up slavery . . . DON'T!. Even without the 13th Amendment, there would be no slavery today.
A Do Over Amendment would recognize that the Founders got it essentially right and that all changes since have made the Constitution less perfect, not more perfect. Sure there are some things I would like to keep or even add but that would reduce the sales pitch to the American voter. None of the other proposals, including Professor Barnett's, rely upon the purest appeal to return to the principles this country was founded upon. A Do Over says we are not wiser than James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, or George Mason, the Father of the Bill of Rights.


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