Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Toast to the American Constitution Society, the Federalist Society, and the Agreed-upon Constitution

By popular demand, here's the toast from the Columbia Law School's ConLaw Mixer, held on January 23, 2007. The event was jointly hosted by the local chapters of the American Constitution Society, the Federalist Society, and the Constitution Law faculty here at Columbia.

When ACS President Jon Sherman asked me to say a few words for this event, I initially thought I’d focus on the differences in how the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society approach the Constitution.

I mean, every ACS member knows that the members of the Federalist Society look longingly at the days before pasteurization — that they fancy themselves as yeoman farmers on the New Jersey frontier where they dream of a world in which interchangeable parts will someday be a reality.

Similarly, every FedSoc member knows that when the members of the American Constitution Society hear someone talking about "penumbras formed by emanations," they promptly instruct the bartender that they’ll have what that guy’s having.

. . . but these differences are minor. Today, let’s celebrate the similarities — of which there are many. I’ve spent the past couple days pouring over this document, locating areas of significant agreement. I’ve found three areas of broad agreement about the Constitution. Interpretations upon which we can all agree, areas that we can all toast.


AREA #1: We agree on the many of the powers assigned either to the states or the various branches of our federal government.

What does this mean?

For the States, we shall not rest until states stop granting Letters of Marque and Reprisal and until they stop granting Titles of Nobility. We insist they settle their past debts using gold or silver.

For the Congress, we demand that it not shirk its duty to establish post Roads, to erect needful Buildings in D.C., and — as stated in Article 1, Section 5, clause 2 and reiterated the 20th Amendment — that it meet at least once every year.

For the Judiciary, we insist it remain vigilant to the needs of justice, that it insure no Attainder of Treason work Corruption of Blood, and that no one shall not be convicted of Treason without a rigorous trial consisting of at least 2 witness presenting evidence against her.

Most importantly, we ask that the judiciary fully enforce the 11th Amendment, whether that amendment actually means what it says . . . or whether actually every word of that amendment means the exact opposite of what it appears to mean.

Finally, concerning scope and appropriate exercise of Executive power, we… you know what, let’s just move on to Area #2.


AREA #2: I know I speak for everyone in this room when I say we supports the passage of the original 1st Amendment — the Congressional Apportionment Amendment.


As many of you know, on September 25, 1789 the 1st Congress introduced 12 — not 10 — amendments to the states as the Bill of Rights.

The original 2nd Amendment — barring Congress from granting itself immediately effective pay raises — became the 27th Amendment on May 20, 1992. However, the original 1st Amendment was only ratified by 11 states — 2 shy of passage at the time. Since Coleman v. Miller makes clear that all amendments are considered pending before the state indefinitely unless Congress establishes a deadline within which the states must act, only 27 states are now needed to ratify this amendment for its passage. Hey 27 states, pass the original 1st Amendment.

If passed, the Congressional Apportionment Amendment would establish guidelines for the size of the House of Representatives. The Amendment’s math is a little hazy, but it ends with this important instruction: "there shall not be . . . more than one Representative for every 50,000 persons."

With a present US population of more than 300 million people, this introduces the possibility of a 6,000-member House of Representatives. I know I speak for everyone here when I say that if there’s one thing that the august body of the House needs to be truly effective, it’s to have 5,565 members added to its ranks.


In closing, Area #3 is really a pledge:

AREA #3: We pledge from this day forth that we shall write like the authors of our Constitution.

Not only shall we employ capitalization seemingly at random and use either British, tortured, or inconsistent spelling whenever possible, but — like the Constitution’s signatories — we shall sign our name to documents using absurd abbreviations.

I mean, why grace the document with your full name — it’s only a Constitution? These people, these founders, signed the Constitution with all the formality of someone signing a traffic ticket. William Blount went with the predictable "Wm." but William Livingston chose the path of a hipster, abbreviating "Wil:" Jonathan Dayton became "Jona:" Robert Morris became "Robt." . . . and anyone who has studied with Professor Hamburger will know who I’m talking about when I tell you that one of them merely signed "Gouv."

5 of the signatories determined that their signatures constituted little micro-sentences, worthy of ending with a period. We, too, shall end our signatures with periods. From this day forward, if you see a document signed "And: Brad:." know that it is me.


As you can see folks, our points of agreement are broad and substantial. So here’s to our agreements and our differences, here’s to our faculty and our constitutional societies, and here’s to the wig-and-tight-pants-wearing founders who made it all possible. Cheers!

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