America is facing a constitutional crisis.
Limits on the size and power of the national government intended by the Founding Fathers and placed in the Constitution have been violated repeatedly and with devastating consequences. The national government has grown to the point that it is now a clear and present danger to American life, liberty, and happiness.
The national debt currently stands at nearly $19 trillion and will surpass $20 trillion in 2017. National entitlement programs are all on paths to bankruptcy, some as soon as this year. Many states and cities face their own impending financial cliffs. Government debt is a “ticking time bomb” that threatens to destroy people’s savings, the economy, and America’s leadership in the world. The regulatory state is similarly out of control.
The U.S. Supreme Court and Congress are unable or unwilling to protect the Constitution from these assaults.
The strategy of confronting Leviathan issue-by-issue or program-by-program has produced many successes, but it has failed spectacularly to rein in total national government spending, borrowing, and regulating. While we rightly celebrate victories at the state level or blocking one or two national programs and repealing one or two regulations, countless other programs expand and regulations get enacted. We win some battles but we are clearly losing the war.
The root of the problem lies in the Constitution itself, a magnificent document without any doubt, “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man,” as William Gladstone wrote in 1878. But it is a document not immune to the contrivances of generations of men and women set on finding ways to evade its restrictions on their power, prestige, and access to the wealth of others. As Thomas Jefferson warned, “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
The system created by the Founders to rein in the national government is now broken. The national government has unlimited power to tax, regulate, and borrow. The courts have failed to interpret and enforce key provisions of the Constitution that limit the powers of Congress and the executive branch. State governments have become addicted to “revenue sharing,” losing their independence and hence their ability to check the growth of the national government.
Repealing past amendments and convincing future Supreme Court justices to defend the written Constitution may not be possible, but other constitutional reforms can help repair the damage they have done. Until the damage is fixed, conservatives and libertarians will continue to win battles and lose the bigger war for freedom.
The Heartland Institute's experts on constitutional reform are available for legislative testimony, speaking engagements, and media interviews.