Saturday, January 24, 2015

Is The Death Penalty Constitutional? Should We Use It?

In the 1972 Supreme Court case, Furman v. Georgia, the 5-4 court ruled that "a death row inmate's chances of being executed were completely random, and the death penalty thus served no deterrent effect" (Ivers, 2013, ch 9.3, para 13). Many argue that death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution which states: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted" (Eighth Amendment, n.d.), but the court has never expressly ruled that, in all cases, the death penalty violates the "cruel and unusual" standard.

Do I believe that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment? I believe it is definitely cruel to kill another human being. How could it not be? I wouldn't call it unusual though. People have been killing people since the beginning of time and governments have been killing people since there were governments. So, yes it is cruel, but it is definitely not unusual.

This leads us to ask the following questions: Does the Constitution protect against cruelty or just cruelty that is unusual? Does the Constitution protect against unusual punishment or unusual punishment that is cruel? It would seem that it protects against punishments that are both, simultaneously, cruel and unusual and not just one or the other.

Another argument made against the death penalty's constitutionality is that it violates the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, specially the section that states that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" (The Bill of Rights: A Transcription, n.d.). However, according to scholars who believe the death penalty is constitutional, "life, just like liberty and property, can be taken as long as an individual has been afforded the due process of law" (Ivers, 2013, ch 9.3, para 1).

With this in mind, I believe the death penalty is constitutional; however, I disagree with its use. If we, as a society, believe murder is abhorrent, what sense does it make to kill people who murder? It may not be unconstitutional, but it surely is hypocritical and shows our savage nature rather than an enlightened one. The death penalty is not about justice, in my opinion, but rather, an eye for an eye. That is not the way a civilized society conducts itself.

However, there is another, even more significant, reason that YOU should be against the death penalty. The fact is that the government can and does make mistakes. How many innocent people have been executed for crimes they never committed? One is too many and there is no way to ensure that mistakes will never be made.

For this reason, I am against the death penalty for any and all crimes. If we want to really deter criminals from committing heinous crimes, we should stop letting them out of jail if there is a chance that they could go back to a life of crime. We claim that when our prisoners get out of jail that they have paid their debt to society, but in reality, have they really? In many case, they have simply served their time or in some cases got released early due to over crowding. I believe that if we stopped crowding our prisons with non-violent felons, who have committed victimless crimes and started holding the violent felons until they are legitimately no longer a danger to society, we would be much better served.

This is coming from someone who used to fully believe in the death penalty and has since changed his mind. It is easy to be callous and cold hearted about those who are accused of terrible crimes, but we cannot allow our quest for vengeance to result in innocent blood being spilled. As mentioned before, even the courts have determined that the death penalty "served no deterrent effect". Why are we still allowing this archaic, hypocritical and unjust practice to continue?

Ivers, G. (2013). Constitutional law: An introduction. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Eighth Amendment. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2015, from
The Bill of Rights: A Transcription. (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2015, from

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Voter ID Laws and Voter Fraud

Voter ID laws have been a hot topic lately. Republicans argue that these laws are meant to prevent voting fraud. Democrats argue that they are meant to discourage low income voters, who typically vote for democrats, from turning out at the polls. Let's cut to the heart of the matter, who stands to gain from non-citizens voting in American elections? It's not the American people. It's not the Republicans. It's the Democrats! With a platform very favorable to illegal immigrants and the support for a welfare state, the Democrats all but have a guarantee that illegals voting in American elections will vote for them.

Think voter fraud isn't a real issue? Think again! "In 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that up to 3 percent of the 30,000 individuals called for jury duty from voter registration rolls over a two year period in just one U.S. district court were not citizens" (Hyde, 2008). For those of you who are keeping score, that is 900 illegal votes in just ONE district. So much for it not being a real issue. Let's also be clear, that is just one statistic and that is just what we know about. It is obvious that if we have discovered that it is happening there must be many cases that we haven't even discovered yet.

In an article written by political hack Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic he said, "evidence of fraud is scant" (Cohen, 2012). If you have read this far, I challenge to you type "voter fraud caught" in Google. It will become abundantly clear that voter fraud is a real issue. Now, onto the point of why ID should be required to vote. First, if ANY fraud happens then the entire outcome of an election should be considered fruit of a poisonous tree. Secondly, is it really that difficult to get an ID? Do you have an ID? I bet you do. I bet that you cannot name 5 people who don't have an ID. Furthermore, the government can easily provide free ID to those who cannot afford them. I would be willing to have my tax money go to that if it meant ensuring that no fraud in elections happened. Have you ever heard of the right to travel? Well you need an ID to drive. How about the right to bear arms? You need an ID for a background check. When it comes to the right to vote, why on earth would we not require an ID, when we know that one of the requirements to vote is citizenship? We can't even check the status to ensure our elections are not tainted by fraud? This school of thought is outrageous! The only reason why Democrats oppose voter ID laws is because they stand to gain from voter fraud. Plain and simple.

The positive effect of voter ID laws is obvious -- our elections will be safer from fraud. The negative effect of voter ID laws are limited, but let's discuss them. Some citizens who don't have IDs or just forgot to bring their IDs will be turned away from the polls and taxes may increase to pay for IDs for those who cannot afford them. I believe that the positive far outweighs the negative. All Americans stand to gain from fraud-free elections and it's time we stopped buying into the political games that the Democrats have been playing.

Hyde, K. (2008, Oct 27). Fraught with fraud. The New American, 24, 18-20. Retrieved from
Cohen, A. (2012, March 16). How Voter ID Laws Are Being Used to Disenfranchise Minorities and the Poor. Retrieved from

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Commerce Clause

The Commerce Clause
            The use of the commerce clause by the federal government has been highly disputed and interpreted differently by many scholars. What we see today is a far cry from our country upon its inception in 1776, but we still have the same debate that was had in those days: Do we want to allow the federal government to be centralized and powerful or should it be limited in scope and influence? The commerce clause of the United Sates Constitution has been one of the primary culprits responsible for the federal governments expanded powers. This essay will discuss the text of the commerce clause, how it has been used to expand the federal government’s influence on various aspects of American life and business, the case for the expansion of power and the case against the expansion of power.
            In the United States Constitution the commerce clause reads as follows: “The Congress shall have Power... To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes” (Ivers, 2013). Let’s examine this sentence and determine what exactly it means. It states that Congress shall have these powers, which is referring, of course, to the federal Congress. The powers include regulating commerce between foreign nations, the states and with the Indian tribes, but what does that mean? Perhaps we should be asking what the definition of the word commerce means? The definition of commerce is “an interchange of goods or commodities, especially on a large scale between different countries (foreign commerce) or between different parts of the same country (domestic commerce) trade; business” (Dictionary, n.d.).
When discussing the definition of commerce it is important to note that during the Constitutional Convention James Madison took extensive notes on the proceedings. According to Mr. Madison’s notes, “in no instance is the term "commerce" clearly used to refer to "any gainful activity" or anything broader than trade” (Barnett, 2001). Why is this important? The reason is because the commerce clause we see today is used as justification for the federal government’s involvement in situations that cannot sanely be described as trade.
For example, in the Gonzales v. Raich Supreme Court case the United States federal government, using the Drug Enforcement Agency, seized and destroyed six marijuana plants owned by a Californian citizen; however, California’s Compassionate Use Act authorized marijuana use for medicinal purposes and allowed for patients to grow a limited amount of marijuana to that end. The Drug Enforcement Agency used the Controlled Substances Act as justification for their raid and the case went to the Supreme Court. The court decided that even though the marijuana was grown for personal use and was never intended to be traded, sold or travel across state lines that the federal government still had the authority to regulate the commodity based on the powers given to it by the commerce clause and using established precedent. The court deemed that “Congress’ power to regulate purely local activities that are part of an economic “class of activities” that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce is firmly established” (Gonzales v. Raich, 2004).
According to the court, Congress had the power to regulate interstate commerce that was not interstate nor, by definition, commerce! However, it is not the first time this had happened, in fact, they were following a precedent which was established in the Wickard v. Filburn Supreme Court case. Most of us have never heard of this case, but it is responsible expanding the limits of the federal government’s regulatory powers under the commerce clause.
This case came about in the wake of the New Deal, in 1941, when Congress amended the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which put a cap on how much wheat that farmers could produce. If that cap was exceeded the farmers would be subject to a penalty or tax. Roscoe Filburn was an Ohio farmer who owned a small farm which produced wheat. Some of the wheat was meant for feeding his livestock and some was meant for selling on the market. The case was heard by the Supreme Court and Filburn argued the federal government had no right to tell him what he could and could not grow on his own land for personal use. The federal government argued that though Filburn’s personal use may seem like a trivial amount of wheat, if farmers around the country were allowed to do the same thing, it would essentially make the cap established by the Agricultural Adjustment Act useless. The cap was established to help control the prices in the American wheat market. “The Court established that Congress can regulate purely intrastate activity that is not itself “commercial,” i.e., not produced for sale, if it concludes that failure to regulate that class of activity would undercut the regulation of the interstate market in that commodity” (Gonzales v. Raich, 2004).
Now that we have addressed some of the historically relevant cases considering the commerce clause as well as the definition of commerce itself, let’s discuss the cases for and against the use to the commerce clause. The case for the commerce clause, would be a similar case that was made during the Constitutional Convention by the Federalists. They wanted a strong, centralized federal government that would be capable of dealing with any problem that the nation faced. For example, the New Deal set forth a tsunami of regulations by the federal government which attempted to put Americans to work and instill confidence in the American people concerning industry. Every aspect of American life and business was touched by these new regulations.
As for the reasons why the federal government’s use of the commerce clause can be supported, we can simply look at the creation of the United States. There was a lot turmoil when America was using the Articles of Confederation and much of that turmoil arose from interstate commerce. States were imposing tariffs on goods produced from other states and creating hostilities between each other. It looked as though America was going to tear itself apart. The Federalists argued that a strong, centralized federal government would be the glue that held the country together. In fact, James Madison, who originally was a Federalist, but eventually changed sides and became an Anti-Federalist said in a letter to Thomas Jefferson: “[m]ost of our political evils may be traced to our commercial ones” (Ivers, 2013). That was the reason the commerce clause was inserted into the Constitution. It was meant to create stability and resolve these disputes.
On the other hand, let’s remember what kind of government our founders were beholden to prior to the revolution. It was a strong, centralized federal government that used its power to impose its will on the American colonists. The Anti-Federalists were very concerned about creating the same kind of tyranny that they had just fought a bloody war to escape. When discussing the commerce clause it is important to ask ourselves the question: what would the Anti-Federalists have to say about how the federal government uses this innocuous blurb of the Constitution? It’s easy to argue the point that the Supreme Court itself would be on the side of the Federalists. It’s equally easy to argue the same for Congress and the President, but what would those who opposed centralized federal power have to say about the commerce clause's use today?
I believe that the Anti-Federalists would be shocked at how the Supreme Court has interpreted the clause. The court has taken an extremely liberal interpretation of the clause to mean that Congress has the power to literally regulate anything and everything. These powers were not expressly given to Congress in the Constitution and to make matters worse, the power of the Supreme Court to be the ultimate arbiter of all things Constitutional was not given to them by the Constitution either. They gave that power to themselves! Our government now regulates everything from what we can put into our bodies to how much water a toilet can hold. They can tell us what we can grow for our own personal consumption. Our current model of federalism where states and the federal government share power is growing disproportionately in the federal government's favor. States are losing the ability to govern themselves without the long arm of the federal government reaching in to enforce its will and I fear that this trend will only worsen as time goes on. What I believe is the most poignant argument to be made against the way the federal government uses the commerce clause is the mere definition itself. The government is now exceeding its powers based on definition alone. If commerce is trade, as defined during the Constitutional Convention, then the federal government has absolutely no justification to tell us what we can do with goods for personal consumption.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court is responsible for the way the commerce clause has been used by the federal government. The Wickard v. Filburn case create the precedent for the way the Supreme Court interprets the case to this day. Based on that precedent the federal government was given broad regulatory power to control business, industry and the way many Americans live their lives. No one can know for sure what the founder’s intent was with the creation of the commerce clause, but the debate for and against a strong federal government will continue to rage on.

Ivers, G. (2013). Constitutional law: An introduction. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Commerce. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved January 12, 2015, from website:

GONZALES V. RAICH. (2004, November 29). Retrieved January 13, 2015, from

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Marijuana and The Commerce Clause

The Commerce Clause reads: "The Congress shall have Power... To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes" (Ivers, 2013). It's important to note that in James Madison's (Father of the Constitution) notes on the Constitutional Convention, "in no instance is the term "commerce" clearly used to refer to "any gainful activity" or anything broader than trade" (Barnett, 2001). With that said, let's look at the ninth and tenth amendment of the Bill of Rights: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people" (Ninth Amendment, n.d.) and "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people" (Tenth Amendment, n.d.).

When addressing the federal government's ban on marijuana it's important to keep these points in mind. Commerce meant trade, either with foreign nations, among the states and with the Indian tribes. It didn't mean gainful activity, such as selling marijuana within a State. This is absolutely outside the bounds of the federal government's authority to regulate. If a State wants to allow marijuana to be purchased, sold and possessed, it is that State's Tenth Amendment right. If marijuana is being produced and sold within a State and not nationally, then the Federal government has no right whatsoever to be involved in the process.

Additionally, when analyzing the Gonzales v. Raich case, not only was there absolutely NO interstate trade of the marijuana in question, it was grown for medicinal use by the defendant. There was no commerce involved. The Commerce Clause does not give the Federal government the authority to restrict what plants Americans can grow, what medicine they can produce for themselves or use. The seizure by the DEA of this woman's marijuana was an overreach of federal power and arguably a violation of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. 

Lastly, the American system of government was established as a grand experiment. Each state was an individual experiment in government that would fail or succeed on their own. The successful states would be emulated by the other states and the ones who failed would serve as an example to the others of what not to do. A major benefit of this experiment is that failures are contained on a state level, leaving the other states intact. We have 50 such experiments spread across this great nation. When we allow the Federal government to regulate every state, our experiment will succeed or fail nationally. It is a lot more risky to have National programs, because if they fail the pain is spread around equally, there is no safe haven. I often use the example of lab rats. If you were a scientist conducting an experiment, would you use one lab rat or fifty? The answer is obvious.

Ivers, G. (2013). Constitutional law: An introduction. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Barnett, R. (2001, January 1). THE ORIGINAL MEANING OF THE COMMERCE CLAUSE. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from
Ninth Amendment. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2015, from
Tenth Amendment. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2015, from

The Patriot Act

Does the Patriot Act violate civil rights and liberties? That is like asking me if I want a jet pack! Of course it does and of course I do! For example, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, author of the Patriot Act, has "said the intelligence community had misused those powers by collecting telephone records on all Americans, and claimed it was time "to put their metadata program out of business" (Roberts, 2013). The government is data mining our information without a warrant. That is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution which states: 

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." (Fourth Amendment, n.d.)
The fact that the government is conducting bulk searches and seizures without warrants is by itself the definition of unconstitutional. In my humble opinion, any member of Congress who voted for this legislation and any law enforcement agent that has used this legislation has violated their oath to the Constitution. In a recent US Supreme Court case about police searching cell phones of citizens that they arrest without a warrant, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, "The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought" (Barnes, 2014). The court made it clear that if the police wanted to conduct a search or seizure that must obtain a warrant. 

There are obvious parallels between this case and the unwarranted bulk searches conducted from the Patriot Act. The constitutionally implied right to privacy contained within the Fourth Amendment are being grossly violated by the Patriot Act for the sake of security, but the sacrifice is too much! As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" (Wittes, 2013).

Roberts, D. (2013). Patriot Act author prepares bill to put NSA bulk collection 'out of business' - Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from
Fourth Amendment. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2015, from
Barnes, R. (2014, June 25). Supreme Court says police must get warrants for most cellphone searches. Retrieved from
Wittes, B. (2013, June 12). Would Ben Franklin Trade Liberty for Wiretapping? Retrieved January 9, 2015, from

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Military Industrial Complex | The Iron Triangle Model

The iron triangle model, at its essence, is the collaboration between Congress, special interest groups (such as lobbyists) and bureaucracies. Essentially what this means is that special interests groups will lobby Congress to pass friendly regulations or conduct certain actions that will benefit the bureaucracy that is being lobbied for. One example of an iron triangle is the military industrial complex or in other words, the weapon and military technology companies that benefit from increased US military spending. "It's really about the conjunction between the military itself, the weapons contractors, and in some degree the Congress. And it deals with how they kind of work in tandem" (Huey-Burns, 2011) and each has something to gain from this relationship. "In 1961, Eisenhower warned of a "scientific-technological elite" that would dominate public policy, and of a "military-industrial complex" that would claim "our toil, resources, and livelihood" (Newton, 2010).

Military technology companies are not the only ones to profit from this relationship, lobbyists profit immeasurably as well. The more success that is achieved from lobbying Congress, the more lobbyists that are hired. It may seem obvious that companies that produce weapons or military technology and lobbyists have a lot to gain from increased military spending, but what does Congress have to gain? There are many benefits for a Congress person to support the military industrial complex. For one, they may receive financial incentives such as campaign donations from these companies for their support. Also, they may be seen as supporting the troops if they vote in favor of increased military spending. Additionally, "parts of the F-22 are built in more than 40 states" (Jonsson, 2009), and with that in mind, they may be viewed as bringing jobs to their constituency by doing so. In 2009, when the Pentagon said that it was planning on putting a "cap production of America's top-of-the-line fighter at 187 aircraft" (Jonsson, 2009) many unionized workers were very upset about the possibility of losing their jobs.

When Congress takes action on behalf of their own interests, not that of their constituency, to the benefit of private companies we should all be concerned. With a national debt over $18 trillion it would not seem wise to continue military spending just for the purpose of creating jobs. In recent years, the Republican party has been a major proponent of military spending; however, the primary beneficiary of these jobs are union contractors who are generally democrat voters. It is a strange dynamic that has been created, but it is doubtful that it will change anytime soon. There is a lot of pressure on Congress to keep spending money on military technology, but it should concern everyone when their Congress men and women become financially beholden to outside interests.

Huey-Burns, C. (2011, January). The modern military-industrial complex. U.S. News & World Report, 1. Retrieved from ProQuest (Search All) database, in the Ashford University Library.
Newton, J. (2010, Dec 20). IKE'S SPEECH. The New Yorker, 86, 42. Retrieved from
Jonsson, P. (2009, Apr 08). You can't kill F-22, georgians tell gates. The Christian Science Monitor Retrieved from

The Electoral College Debate

The founding fathers of the US Constitution had many concerns about the election of the President through direct democracy; however, there were debates on both sides. Those debates have continued today. Many Americans still do not understand how the Electoral College works and think it is unfair and undemocratic. The selection of the Electoral College is done in one of two ways: either state legislatures choose members or they are chosen by a popular vote by the citizens within a state. There are "538 people from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., called electors. According to the Constitution, they are responsible for electing the President and Vice President. The winner needs a majority - 270 - of the 538 electoral votes" (ELECTORAL COLLEGE 101, 2008).

"Support for changing election rules in the United States has been gaining momentum since the contested 2000 presidential election, which was followed by a lengthy legal battle in Florida that ultimately ended with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore" (Karp & Tolbert, 2010). The controversy about the 2000 election was primarily due to the fact that Gore won the popular vote by approximately 500,000 votes, but Bush won the electoral vote. This has lead to many calls for the abolition of the Electoral College altogether. There has also been calls to make changes to the electoral system that would alter the way it functions, while avoiding its dissolution. For example, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. has proposed a "National Bonus Plan" that would give the winners of the popular vote in each state and the District of Columbia an extra two electoral votes. This would increase the total number of electoral votes by 102. Schlesinger argues that this would eliminate "the most undemocratic feature of the Electoral College, the tremendous weight given to small states" (Bates, 2004). An example of the advantages that small population states receive from the Electoral College is illustrated perfectly with the state of Wyoming. Wyoming has three electoral votes: one based on population and two from their senators. This is the bare minimum of elector votes that each state receives. They may receive more based on population levels. "California, with a population over fifty times as large as Wyoming, has only a little more than eighteen times as many electoral votes. This means that a vote in Wyoming counts about three times more than a vote in California" (Bates, 2004).

Some who argue against the Electoral College claim that no other democratic country in the world uses an Electoral College to elect Presidents and that it goes against the concept of democracy. Others say that it gives smaller states too big an advantage in elections. There are also those who point out that it causes Presidential candidates to only focus their attention in swing states, which leads to states that will likely vote for or against a candidate getting mostly ignored. This means that voters of those states which are heavily in favor of one candidate or another have less opportunity to get in front of all the candidates, because they don't visit those states often.

On the other side of the debate, "conservatives, respecting both tradition and the rights of states, have historically supported maintaining the form of electing Presidents crafted by the Founding Fathers" (Gizzi, 2011). Additionally, the Electoral College is seen as a buffer between the presidency and mob rule. Many founders were concerned about an ill-informed populace voting a tyrant into power. Many in the revolutionary era were concerned that a "man on a white horse" would emerge in a time of crisis, supported by the people, and would seize power. These fears were not without merit, if one looks at the history of the Roman empire. Julius Caesar usurped power and became the first Roman emperor, backed by public support, resulting in the end of the Roman republic. The founders feared a repeat of this historical event and the Electoral College was a measure that they established to prevent such a thing from happening in America. Another argument for the continued use of the Electoral College is the concern that a few small, but densely populated areas may silence the voices of the many lower population states in presidential elections.

The Electoral College's affect on the leadership capacity of a President, within the bounds of the Constitution, are nonexistent. The President was never meant to be elected directly by the people. This bulwark acts as a hedge against tyrants and thus a President who possess actual leadership skills may lead through persuasion, debate and ideas. This author's personal judgement is that the Electoral College should remain, primarily to ensure that dense population centers do not have power over the rest of the country and because it has worked for us this far with only a few hiccups that were settled. To look at the way other countries do things is a blunder that America should not make. There is now and never has been a country like America. No other country in the world holds individual liberty as dearly as we do and it would be a mistake to emulate countries that do not possess our values. Furthermore, America has always lead from the front with bold, new ideas about government. It would be a mistake to deviate from this path. We look to our Constitution and history for guidance, not the rest of the world.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE 101. (2008, Nov 03). New York Times Upfront, 141, 6-7. Retrieved from
Karp, J. A., & Tolbert, C. J. (2010). Support for nationalizing presidential elections. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 40(4), 771-793. Retrieved from
Bates, Nathaniel. (2004) What Are the Arguments Made in Favor--And Against--the Electoral College? Retrieved December 18, 2014, from
Gizzi, J. (2011, May 30). GOP leaders united in defense of electoral college. Human Events, 67, 5. Retrieved from