Mark Levin’s new book (The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, published by Simon & Schuster) should be required reading for conservative bloggers, reporters, radio talk-show hosts, state legislators, members of Congress, and grassroots activists all over America. It provides a coherent plan to restore our constitutional republic, reversing the damage inflicted by the Progressive movement over the past 100 years, and preventing us from sliding into financial and economic ruin because of a profligate political class unable to curb its spending.
Levin sounds the warning about the “necessity and urgency of restoring constitutional republicanism and preserving the civil society from the growing authoritarianism of a federal Leviathan.” Using original sources, such as James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention, as well as the extensive discussions in the Federalist Papers, Levin explains the intent of the Framers to establish a federal system with a central government of limited powers balanced by sovereign state governments.
Levin reviews the history of constitutional changes, such as the 16th and 17th Amendments, which greatly increased the power of the federal government. The 16th Amendment’s legalization of a national income tax gave the federal government the financial capacity to vastly expand its size and spending, leading to the dire fiscal mess that so perplexes Washington today. And the 17th Amendment’s requirement of popular election of senators eliminated an important check the Framers had placed on the federal government — the representation of state governments in the U.S. Senate. While basic civics classes teach about the horizontal checks and balances of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, they ignore the fact that state control of the U.S. Senate was seen as an essential, second vertical check on the power of the federal government.
It is unlikely that the Constitution would have been ratified without this essential feature preserving the “balance of power” between the states and the federal government. Levin eloquently describes the “critical blow” the 17th Amendment struck to our federalist structure:
The long silence of the states had begun. The states no longer had a legislative venue, or any venue, to influence directly the course of the federal government. This contributed significantly to the dismantlement of the states’ traditional and exclusive areas of governing responsibility. As a result, today the federal government fills whatever areas of governance and even society it chooses. State sovereignty exists mostly at the will of the federal government. The federal government’s limited nature under the Constitution was transmuted into the kind of decentralized power structure the Framers worked so diligently to thwart.
Levin also describes the effects of key Supreme Court decisions, including Wickard v. Filburn (1942) and the recent approval of Obamacare in NFIB v. Sebelius (2012), outlining how the Court has vastly expanded the power of both the judiciary and Congress far beyond what was intended. His account of how the Supreme Court surrendered to President Roosevelt’s threats in the 1930s and relaxed its strict adherence to the Commerce Clause, destroying the limits on the power of the federal government in the Constitution, is depressing. But it makes a key point undergirding Levin’s argument that we need structural changes to restore constitutional governance: People are fallible; hence we cannot depend on judges, politicians, or government bureaucrats to always act in a principled manner.
Levin also explains how Congress has fueled the massive increase in power of the executive branch by delegating “unconstitutionally lawmaking power to a gigantic yet ever-growing administrative state.” Levin’s description of a constantly expanding bureaucracy staffed by unaccountable federal civil servants is chilling. In 2011 alone, bureaucrats issued 3,807 new regulations when Congress passed only 81 laws signed by the president. In 2012, the Obama administration imposed $236 billion in new regulatory costs on our economy.
Having worked in two different federal agencies, I know from personal experience that Levin’s warnings about the dangers “unleashe[d] on society” by all these rules and regulations promulgated by faceless bureaucrats are right on target. The incontestable result of this aggregation of power in the central government is the imposition of “social engineering and central planning . . . in search of the ever-elusive utopian paradise.”