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GOP Miller Another Constitutional Know-Nothing

GOP Miller Another Constitutional Know-Nothing

The hard-right’s continued campaign against education and intellectual sophistication is coming home to roost with some significant consequences, especially in their current batch of Senate candidates.  For example, Alaska GOP U.S. Senate candidate and Tea Party darling Joe Miller has taken to displaying a misinformed, but increasingly common among the right, understanding of constitutional law. 

In many ways Miller, who just might have ousted a moderate and better informed Lisa Murkowski, represents the worst of the Beck-Palin-Bachmann-Paul know nothing Republicans rising through the ranks of GOP electoral politics.  Robin Marty provides an excellent overview of Miller and the Alaska race, giving us a clear glance into candidate Miller and just where his electoral support comes from.

First he claimed that unemployment benefits are unconstitutional.  Now he’s said the same about Medicare and Social Security.  Miller has yet to articulate the specific manner in which these social programs run afoul of the Constitution, and I suspect he’d have a hard time doing so beyond familiar talking points of “federal government encroaching on state’s rights”, but the issue is important enough to spend some time explaining the error of Miller’s logic.

Here’s why he’s wrong.

First off, let’s be clear.  No serious constitutional scholar or leader on the right seriously challenges the constitutionality of these programs–they may not agree with certain provisions and they may have a philosophical disagreement concerning the role of the federal government in administering them–but you’d be hard pressed to find an informed leader from the right agreeing with Miller and the current crop of know-nothings.

Be that as it may, attacking the constitutionality of Social Security is not new.  Even Justice Cardozo had grown weary of the challenges in 1937 when his majority authored two decisions that had hoped to put the issue to bed for good.  That year the Court upheld the constitutionality of social security (and social welfare programs in general) in Helvering v. Davis and then again in Steward Machine Company v. Collector of Internal Revenue Service

The basis of the opposition to social security and other forms of social welfare (including the recent health care reform bill) has not changed–opponents argued then and now that creating social safety programs is not part of Congress’ enumerated authority and that it contravenes the 10th Amendment by violating state’s rights to legislate for their own citizens.  And in both cases the Supreme Court soundly rejected those arguments. 

In Steward Machine Co., Justice Cardozo’s majority opinion concluded that the Social Security Act (specifically, the unemployment compensation tax and credit portion of title IX of the Act) did not violate the 10th Amendment nor did it violate any fundamental notions of federalism and in Helvering the Court put to bed the idea that creating tax and spend programs in support of the general welfare of the population was unconstitutional.  Specifically, the Helvering court maintained that, under the General Welfare clause of the Constitution, Congress could use its tax and spend authority (one of its enumerated powers) in support of the general welfare AND that Congress itself had the authority to determine when spending constituted spending for the general welfare.  To date no piece of legislation has ever been struck down because it did not serve the general welfare.

Taking Miller’s position at face value and in light of Supreme Court precedent, the only way that these social welfare programs could be found unconstitutional would be for the Court to define “general welfare” in such a fashion that excludes unemployment benefits, social security benefits and affordable access to health care for the poor as not serving the “general welfare” of the people of the United States.  Should the Roberts Court show itself to be that activist then this country would face a true constitutional crisis, the likes of which we’ve yet to witness.

And while all of this could be considered good fun during an election cycle, if Miller actually becomes a sitting US Senator (and the same is true for Nevada candidate Sharron Angle) a refusal to accept fundamental constitutional principles as settled would create some serious problems.  The Senate has already ground to a halt because of partisanship has replaced leadership.  Could we expect anything but serious policy regression should these views continue to gain airtime in mainstream news cycles?  Our issues are too real and too serious to waste another second entertaining the policy points of candidates who can’t be bothered to either learn or respect the rule of law in this country.

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photo courtesy of Thorne Enterprises via Flickr

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76 comments

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11:43AM PDT on Sep 11, 2010

There's got to be something in the water that the Tea Baggers tap to brew their potion. Miller, Angle, Rand: between them and others of their ilk, they would undo huge swatches of the fabric of American life: Social Security, unemployment, Medicare, Civil Rights, family planning. OK, fine, if that's their opinion, let them run on that and voters will decide how much or if they want the mucky mucks messing with their social stability. But I've heard NO ALTERNATIVE POLICY PROPOSALS! Replace social security with WHAT, exactly?! All the Tea Baggers -- and most Republicant's -- do is try to raise themselves up putting down everything they disagree with -- but seem to have done little or none of the analytical work that would be necessary to replace those bedrock programs and principles with any of their own, nor even shared with the voters a sensible agenda for doing so. Position papers, in-depth interviews with experts, a give-and-take exchange with economic professors or Constitutional scholars? R U KIDDING?

11:30AM PDT on Sep 11, 2010

Chris L, one reason the "Democrats are stalled in Washington" is that the Republicant's said NO to everything proposed -- EVEN TO SOME OF THEIR OWN IDEAS! -- simply to make Obama seem as incompetent as possible. They put their own party and power above the well-being of the American people, more often than not resulting to outright bold-faced lies to force a halt in progress. Furthermore, they countered the proposals of Obama they found disagreeable -- health care reform, financial reform, etc. -- with few or NO ARTICULATE, WELL-REASONED, FAIR policies of their own. That's a DEBATE? I heard no Republican counterproposal to the health care issue that was not a prescription for the insurance industry. All the better to get vast re-election contributions, no doubt! Obama's governing philosophy has been to try and and achieve some consensus. The Republican philosophy can be summed as "our way or the highway." The vast American middle class deserve health care costs and credit card/mortgage relief, but the Republicant's were, are transparently dead-set on protecting those profit centers for their benefactors. But that is unacceptable, and any president who tries to deliver the results he promised to the PEOPLE is a more decent fellow than any of the poseurs who act as if they are superior! Every time Boehner Palin opens its mouth to flap its lips and pretend to be authoritative, it says too little that is objectively accurate or sensible. Chris L, get your eyes examined.

10:24PM PDT on Sep 1, 2010

The first sentence of this article made me cringe because it's so true. Now, the GOP is taking on these dumb-asses to manipulate however they please against anything decent or good for this country; i.e., brains, culture, true leadership.

11:51PM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

Yes, Charlene R,you are right. "They realize that once the benefits [of health care reform] become apparent, they will be impossible to remove. That is exactly what happened in Canada where I live.

9:46PM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

For those not of the appropriate age, Social Security and Medicare are bi-partisan issues; just ask an elderly Republican.

Just to add 'fuel to the fire', healthcare reform will become quite acceptable, also, once it is implemented. That's what freightens Republicans in the first place. They realize that once the benefits become apparent, they will be impossible to remove and President Obama will be praised for it.

9:31PM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

The Republican Party is, certainly, attracting a lot of nut-jobs and should be very concerned. If any of these Tea Party candidates, actually win the election, the next presidential election will be a 'shoe-in' for President Obama.

The radicals do not particularly, follow the party line and cannot be controlled. They are trouble and the GOP is welcome to them.

2:45PM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

Well Terry that got us Obama, I thought you liked his lack of experience.

As for the sexual comments to describe those that disagree with your political views, it is sad that this is the best liberals can do when they meet people who they can't intimidate, bully, or convince of their brilliance. Then they scream that there is no tolerance in the world and wonder where that lack of tolerance comes from. Why it couldn't be from the love and tender party of the left. Why examine your own baggage when you can point the blame everywhere else.

You know what Ray we have African American Republicans. We choose to choose canidates based on the qualifications not race. You might want to consider that as you accuse everyone who objects to Obama as racists. Do you really believe if Obama was white all the opposition disappears and people suddenly support his agenda? Would you support an African American hard right conservative or would you want to be called racist when you objected to his/her policies? Just asking.

2:08PM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

Chris L. You make some very good arguments, but I have to agree with some that say you started off on a confrontational foot. Been their, done that. I know from experience that once you do that it is hard to get people to listen to your arugments and opinions. Others have also made some very good points.

I believe that the far left and far right do not listen, they are right and everyone else is wrong. We must stop this. We have to listen to those with different opinions. But, if we are to succeed the tone has to be respectful and civil.

One of the things that I agree 100% with Chris on is if we are to keep the social programs we have we must put them in separate funds, never bring those monies into the general fund and keep them solvent.

All in all, Jessica you got one hell of a debate going. Nothing wrong with that. I did think the article was good, but perhaps you will read all the comments and write a follow-up. I, for one, would be interested.

One thing I would like to add. I came to Care2 not to listen to the same ideas I have and to get agreement, but to share opinions/ideas/thoughts and if that results in a healthy debate and it stays respectful, I see nothing wrong with that. We all can learn from each other if we keep and open mind and heart.

2:05PM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

Ol' Bubula Bush didn't understand the three branches of government, (legislative, executive and judicial) and he was part of two of them at one time or another. The boob made statements on numerous occasions about the supreme court creating law. And he looks like a genius compared to some of the Tea Baggers.

1:58PM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

Okay, again, the article was about electing (or not) people to represent us that have no knowledge (working or otherwise) of the constitution or even history.
I personally think this is a bad idea.
If you owned a company would you hire the applicant, for a top managerial position, that obviously knew nothing about your company, what it does, or what its goals are? That was obviously ignorant of the applicable laws and regulations that affected your business? That flouted his ignorance and considered it an asset? That is what we are doing with some of the candidates that the Republican party is giving us. If Sharron Angle ect. don't care enough about our country to educate herself on the constitution, why on earth should we pay her to represent us? How can she represent us, not knowing how? She doesn't want or intend to represent us, she intends to push her own, private agenda. Do we really want to help her, and others do that?

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Lindsay Spangler Lindsay Spangler is a Web Editor and Producer for Care2 Causes. A recent UCLA graduate, she lives in... more
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