Liberal Pipe Dreams About Remaking the Constitution Pick Up Steam in New Congress
As Democrats took the majority in the House of Representatives last week, they wasted no time in drafting legislation to remake the U.S. Constitution, shifting the rules in their favor. One bill would abolish the Electoral College. Another would make voter registration automatic, repeal voter ID laws, drastically limit free speech in politics, and create a system where the government funds particular candidates — all in one bill!
Democrats push these bills in the name of good government, but they are attempting to fundamentally shift the playing field of American politics permanently in their favor. In 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama won the Electoral College, liberals sang the institution's praises — because it represents the will of the states as well as the people. Only when Republicans win by the same rules do Democrats advocate the abolition of this American institution.
A rising chorus of liberals has begun to advocate "reforms" to the Supreme Court — not in order to apply the laws, but to check the influence of President Donald Trump's more originalist justices. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (R-N.Y.) made no bones about her plan to "pack the Supreme Court," as Franklin Delano Roosevelt threatened to do. Yet the Right's focus on the Court stems from liberal justices using the judiciary to force liberal change on the country for decades, most notably on abortion and same-sex marriage.
As Republicans held onto their Senate majority in 2018, a rising chorus of liberals in the media lamented that the Senate was not representative of the direct will of the people. Readers of the Federalist Papers would counter that the U.S. Senate was never intended to represent the direct will of the people, but rather that of the states. Indeed, until 1913, senators were nominated by state legislatures.
Democrats, so insistent that their policies represent the will of the majority of the people, desperately push for changes to the political system so that "majority will" can override everything else. This is fitting for a movement that considers itself "Progressive" in the same sense as reformers in the early 20th century. These activists also argued that the Constitution wasn't democratic enough — that it made radical change too difficult. The founders considered that a strength, not a weakness.
There is no guarantee that higher voter turnout will lead to Democratic victories, but liberals often present a kind of conspiracy theory that suggests the levers of power are unfairly weighted against "the people" (i.e., Democrats) and in favor of "dark money," "corporations," and the "evil oppressors" (i.e., Republicans). The reality is far more complicated, and radical alterations to the government far less popular than Democrats believe.
According to a Pew Research Center poll from April 2018, 58 percent of Americans say democracy in the U.S. is working very or somewhat well. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (72 percent) said so, while only 48 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners agreed.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Democrats and Democratic leaners — members of the party out of power — proved more likely to call for significant changes in the design and structure of government. A whopping 68 percent of them said so, while 50 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners did so.
Technically, America is not a "democracy," and it arguably should not be one. In order to preserve the influence of separate states and to temper the passions of the people, the founders crafted a complex system of government that would protect minority rights by restraining the power of any one majority. The more government attempts to kowtow to a majority, the more prone it becomes to massive swings in policy that have unintended consequences and foster even more division — like the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage by fiat, with huge political fallout, and the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) without any votes from the minority party.
The founders intentionally created a system in which "faction" — what now goes by "partisanship" or "tribalism" — could not easily succeed in altering policy. Activists would have to form broad coalitions across different states in order to achieve reform. Thanks in part to the (albeit unfulfilled) Progressive Era reforms, the spirit of tribalism has become worse as America has become more democratic.
The Electoral College, one powerful remnant of America's original political order, forces presidential candidates to win votes in many states, rather than allowing them to rack up votes in major cities alone. The system may be less effective than it was under the original Constitution, but it still serves as a check to the unvarnished will of the majority, which speaks through the House of Representatives.
H.R.1, the omnibus bill from Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) that would reshape the process of American voting, proves an excellent example of how Democrats couch their radical demands in the language of good government. The bill would strike down the ability of states and local governments to determine their own standards on voting, preventing them from fighting fraud by requiring identification and stopping them from setting their own voter registration standards.
As for "money in politics," money is a proxy for speech. Citizens United v. FEC (2010) allowed individuals to band together and spend money to support various candidates and causes. If the ruling is overturned, the government can regulate how much money is spent in politics, and by whom. The government already requires transparency for direct donations to campaigns, but the rise of other political groups enables individuals to support causes anonymously.
The landmark Supreme Court case NAACP v. Alabama (1958) protected the anonymity of members of the NAACP, who would have faced harassment and worse if Alabama were able to determine their identities and publish them. "Jim Crow" Alabama Attorney General John Patterson demanded the names of the NAACP's dues-paying members, but the Supreme Court defended their rights to free speech and free association.
In recent years, liberal leaders have demanded that conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity (AFP) publicly reveal their list of donors. In 2015, California Attorney General Kamala Harris attempted to force AFP to divulge its donors.
Liberals have launched many public shaming campaigns against people who donate to conservative causes. Brendan Eich was forced out of Mozilla for donating to a campaign against same-sex marriage. Supporters of Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisc.) had their homes raided at midnight thanks to an aggressive Democrat DA. During the 2012 presidential campaign, an IRS employee leaked donor information from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to the LGBT activist group Human Rights Campaign, resulting in public attacks — and a $50,000 settlement.
During an age in which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a far-Left attack dog that lists mainstream conservative and Christian groups along with the KKK, commands influence in the legacy media and online, donor privacy is extremely important. Any loss to this privacy would almost certainly chill conservative speech and help Democrats.
Finally, it is no secret that members of the massive bureaucratic state lean Left, and if the government were to decide which small donors could have their political contributions matched by the government, it stands to reason that more liberals would receive taxpayer funds than conservatives.
Americans should indeed debate about their governing system, but most of the calls for radical changes to the Constitution such as abolishing the Electoral College, altering the Supreme Court, or making the Senate representative of the people rather than the states are projects of partisan liberals, worsening the spirit of faction and wishing to alter the rules in their favor. Some of these radical proposals have already reached the floor of the House, and Americans need to speak against them.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.