Tag: federal government

Supreme Court Upholds Precedent Allowing Double Jeopardy

Othman J. Mekhloufi | @othmanmekhloufi

On the morning of Monday, June 17th, the Supreme Court of the United States reached a decision— in the case Gamble v. United States — that allows an individual to be charged and tried in state and federal court for the same crime, citing that state and federal governments are “separate sovereigns”. The ruling was reached 7-2 with only Justices Neil Gorsuch and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in dissent. Essentially, an individual may be tried twice for the same crime, a legal proceeding deemed “Double Jeopardy”.

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Reflections on the Nature of Government

Jack Shields | United States

This week I got to participate in a program run throughout my school district where seniors get to go for a few days and work at a real job they are interested in. My friend and I were lucky enough to spend three days working in the office of the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. I learned a lot of things, but most importantly being there reaffirmed my beliefs that government ought to be limited, local, and that voters need to examine just what is important to them.

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Government Shutdowns and Debt Ceilings

Craig Axford | Canada

Government shutdowns and flirtations with default by putting off raising the federal debt ceiling have become regular occurrences in Washington, D.C. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised given the number of representatives and senators regularly expressing disdain for the very institution they were elected to run, but still.

Americans like to believe their nation is exceptional, and it is: it’s the only developed nation on the planet that doesn’t guarantee all its citizens healthcare, higher education is more expensive there than just about anywhere else, it has the only government that it’s possible to shut down without having to resort to violence, and it’s the only nation that flirts with suicide by requiring votes on its debt ceiling.

That’s right. No other governments have even one, let alone two, kill switches built into their system. And why would they? What’s the point? Unless the intent is to erode public confidence in government it makes no sense for elected officials to even contemplate closing down popular national parks or giving all the people in charge of enforcing our public health and safety regulations an extended unpaid holiday?

The habit of shutting down the government now and then (as well as the continuing resolutions passed to avoid them) is an unintended bug in the American system rather than a feature of it. So too is the necessity to authorize more borrowing periodically once the national debt has reached a predetermined threshold. Both of these bugs are extremely dangerous but, unfortunately, they are likely to remain unfixed for the foreseeable future.

America’s founding fathers were revolutionaries. As such, they were no fans of the British government, which by the late 18th century was already well established and quite recognizable to any citizen of the 21st century. Though King George III was the titular head of state, like his contemporary successor Queen Elizabeth II, he had very little actual power to match the privileges that came with his hereditary title. Parliament was already very much in charge.

Nothing like what took place in Philadelphia following the American Revolution had ever been seriously considered, let alone attempted, in London. To intentionally sit down and craft rules for a new government quite literally being built from scratch was a radical idea if ever there was one. To call America an experiment is not an exaggeration. As with any experiment, the outcome is unknown until it has come to a close. The American experiment hasn’t ended, but so far it certainly has produced some unanticipated results.

In creating the modern world’s first republic, America’s victorious rebels were faced with the task of establishing rules for a country that no longer had centuries of tradition to fall back on. The norms of the mother country they had just abandoned had evolved over hundreds of years of power struggles between the aristocracy and the crown, with a nascent merchant middle class increasingly making its own demands over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. The newly independent colonies wanted to distinguish themselves from the nation they had just liberated themselves from, but how?

The US Constitution settled for a president instead of a monarch, while the House of Representatives took the place of the House of Commons and the Senate stood in for the House of Lords. Each elected member of these respective branches is subject to regular fixed terms of office, with the power balanced more or less equally between them rather than resting largely in the representative branch (i.e., parliament) alone. With the exception of the extremely rare and difficult case of impeachment, the US Constitution provides no opportunity to hold any single officeholder accountable for failure during the period between elections, let alone the government as a whole. Federal judges receive lifetime appointments, something else not seen in any other developed representative democracy to this day.

In a parliamentary system, the failure to pass something as routine as an annual budget triggers a crisis. Under the Westminster parliamentary model followed in the UK, Canada and several other members of the Commonwealth, this crisis brings down the government and forces the monarch or her designated representative to dissolve the government and call an election. In unstable periods when minority governments are common, elections tend to be relatively more frequent, while in less turbulent political times a majority government can persist for five years or so before facing a vote.

Likewise, when a parliament authorizes spending beyond the government’s anticipated revenues, it is understood they have necessarily approved an increase in the national debt. Therefore, there is no need to consider raising the debt limit independently. From the perspective of citizens living in parliamentary countries, it makes no sense that the same Congress that approved deficit spending one month can spend time the next flirting with a refusal to allow any borrowing. It’s like having a government that doesn’t know its own mind.

Unfortunately, the kind of crises that bring down governments in parliamentary systems has become commonplace in the United States. Budgets go years without being approved, with Congress lurching from one continuing resolution to the next while various factions hold federal employees and the citizens dependent upon their services hostage until some pet project or favorite policy or another is approved in exchange for keeping things running for a while longer. A Prime Minister Donald Trump would either be facing a vote of the people at this point in the budget process or a leadership challenge by members of his own caucus. One year in office would be unlikely, but four would almost certainly be impossible.

I’ve been living in Canada for the better part of a decade now. On most days I find myself feeling pretty ambivalent about the monarchy if I even think about it at all. That’s not because I can see equal merit in both sides of the argument regarding having someone born into the role of head of state. It’s because I recognize all societies require a sense of continuity and for some countries that can take the shape of a monarchy that has existed in one form or another for centuries. A woman that appears on our money while playing an entirely ceremonial role is harmless, if not for the actual person forced into the job by an accident of birth then at least for the rest of us.

I’m not feeling so ambivalent about having a parliament, however. I have strong opinions about the two Canadian prime ministers I’ve lived under so far. But the extent of my approval or disapproval aside, at least I know that the nearby Pacific Rim National Park will, weather permitting, always be open and that with the exception of national holidays at the local Services Canada office the door will never be locked. Even the UK Brexit debacle hasn’t convinced me parliaments are less effective or ultimately less democratic than the divided governments that have become the norm in the US.

If for some reason, it turns out parliament can’t do its job there will be an election lasting a little over a month while the people try to vote one in with a sufficient mandate to do it. In the meantime, things will go on pretty much as before without any nightly news reports about government employees unable to pay the rent because someone got it into their head they wanted to build a wall. I know it’s incredibly unAmerican to say so, but if you were to put me in a time machine and send me back to 1776, I would tell the founding fathers to get rid of the monarchy if they must, but at least keep the parliament.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com


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America Did Not Listen to the Founders

By Jack Parkos | United States

The founding fathers of our nation gave us plenty of advice on how to run the country they formed. They warned us on many threats to liberty, explaining how to prevent a tyrannical government from growing. Unfortunately, America did not listen to the advice. Our government has grown tyrannical and our liberties are waning daily. The founders knew how easily this could happen and did all they could to prepare us. Frankly, we failed them.

Warnings on Factions

It seems sometimes that many of the founders predicted the future of America. James Madison, in particular, seemed to have this power. The former president warned us of many things in his writings and philosophy, most notably mob rule. In the Federalist Papers, Madison strongly criticized democracy and urged for a constitutional republic. He clearly feared factions growing in America. The essays warned how mob rule would be a threat to the liberty, outlining the fears that factions would only lead to groups pursuing interests that ran opposed to freedom.

Washington, the only president in our history without a political party, expanded on this idea. In his farewell address, he warned about the dangers of political parties and how they could lead to despotism. No one listened to his warning: not even the other founding fathers. This led to many disputes throughout history and continues to be a major issue today.

Words Against War

Once again, Madison came in with some great advice that most people ignored. He clearly warned that wars were a threat to liberty, going so far as saying:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.

Madison knew how when a nation is in constant warfare, liberty is in danger. War also has the ability to create more enemies for the people that only will cause more tension and conflict in the future. The founders would not have cared about wars in Yemen: they would have safeguarded American liberty first.

Limiting the Federal Government

The federal government was supposed to be limited in what powers it had. Its main goal was to unify the states and prevent European dominance from ruining the American experiment. The federal government, however, has grown to such great lengths that the founders may not have been able to even conceive. In fact, by modern standards, even old George was a very modest tyrant, whose demands of the people were far more reasonable than those of the American government today.

One justification for such growth of government was the “General Welfare” clause. Basically, politicians believed their unconstitutional practices were acceptable, as long as they were intended to help the general welfare of the public. Once more, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, rebukes this:

If Congress can apply money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may establish teachers in every State, county, and parish, and pay them out of the public Treasury, they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post roads. In short, every thing, from the highest object of State legislation, down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress; for every object I have mentioned would admit the application of money, and might be called, if Congress pleased, provisions for the general welfare.

James Madison explicitly states that “general welfare” does not mean the federal government can do whatever it wants. Roads, education, and law enforcement are of no business of the government. Madison warned how officials could use this clause, but the people ignored him.

Consequences of Ignoring the Founders

The above stated are not the only examples of wisdom we ignored, but they are ones that have a big impact on modern-day America.

Partisanship has only grown, to the point where our system exactly matches what Washington warned against. As a result, elected officials are putting party over country, Constitution, and liberty. Tribalism is also spiking. Mob mentality has taken over politics and law. Public opinion, rather than clear examination, is the new grounds for looking at the Constitution. If a large majority believes in a false interpretation of the Constitution, it will change and liberties will die. This is what the founders warned about: people using politics for their pursuits and sacrificing important liberties in the process.

The United States has never listened to Madison’s wisdom on war and its negative impact on liberty. In fact, it is hard to think of a time that America has not been at war. In recent years, we have been in continuous wars in the Middle East. These have led to numerous deaths, and for the survivors, more debt and fewer freedoms. We have not been able to preserve liberty throughout the wars, just like Madison stated.

Perhaps we need to stop waiting for a new revolutionary idea or leader to come about to fix our country. We can look to the past to our country’s founding to save our liberty and our prosperity.


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