John Cornyn on the Constitution
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By jank - Last updated: Wednesday, September 10, 2003 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Interesting “op-ed”: yesterday in the WSJ by Senator John Cornyn. There’s a lot of anxiety in the halls of Congress about the lack of ability to operate without a quorum in the event of a terrorist attack in DC. He’s promoting a Constitutional amendment to simplify the operation of the Legislature, citing important things like After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress responded swiftly in appropriating funds to bolster national security, stabilize our economy and provide for victims’ families. He sees Congressional action as the key to the US surviving 9/11, not the actions of the citizens.

What kills me about the article is that Cornyn completely acknowledges that the Founders made it difficult for the US Congress to operate without a quorum of members from throughout the country on purpose:

bq. _As Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist 59, the Constitution empowers states to shut down Congress by refusing to send representatives. In fact, during the first Congress, neither the House nor the Senate was able to operate for an entire month, because a majority of representatives and senators failed to appear for duty. Both chambers waited for “a quorum, consisting of a majority of the whole number.”_

bq. _This vulnerability was deliberate. As one Constitutional Convention delegate urged, “in this extended Country, embracing so great a diversity of interests, it would be dangerous to the distant parts to allow a small number of members of the two Houses to make laws.”_

bq. _Congressional power exercised by just a handful of members thus not only is constitutionally dubious; it raises serious questions of democratic legitimacy as well. The Founders properly rejected the notion that a small body of members from one region might enact national legislation or confirm federal officials to govern the entire country._

As usual, I side completely with the Founders. During times of crisis, local and state governments are much better suited to respond to the needs of their constituents than the Feds. But, since we’ve got a nationalized media (since long before the recent consolidation, but the consolidation isn’t helping), it’s much more cost effective to report on the goings-on in Washington instead of looking in our own back yards.

Amending the US constitution is something to be done only in a rare case, and this isn’t it. Allowing a small body to take the reins of government is a dangerous proposition, even in the event that the Congress is attacked. The people deserve to keep their voice in choosing who represents them. Items such as ‘authoriz(ing) the use of military force’ are outside of the Constitutional authority of Congress (Cornyn is using a liberal interpretation of declaration of war; as Commander in Chief, the president can authorize the use of force on his/her own, and under most rules of engagement, military commanders can authorize the use of force in the defense of US citizens without prior approval.) ‘(S)ecur(ing) our airports and borders” isn’t in Congress’ purview, but rather falls under the charter of the FAA/INS and other people who spend our money.

If, for some reason, the current laws don’t allow for these organizations to function without Congressional insight, then there’s a problem. (And rather than placing blame on the Executive for 9/11, we ought to be holding our Representatives and Senators accountable.) Congress should work to make sure that the rest of the government operates smoothly before it begins to strip democracy from the people. Electing our Congress isn’t a right we should give up, even in the face of disastrous attack.

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