Monday, June 25, 2012

A Blast From the Past: Retro Blog Posting (June 29, 2006)

I was wandering around my old MySpace page, and I stumbled on a blog I used to keep before law school. I discovered an interesting post from 2006, that I'd like to share with you after the jump:

So, I found an awesome site yesterday. It has some interesting sub-pages. For starters, I'll tell you about this section.  This section lists all twenty-seven amendments to the Constitution that have been ratified and made part of the Constitution, including the date they were first proposed, and the dates each state ratified the amendment.

This leads me to an interesting piece of trivia:
The 27th Amendment took a whopping 74003 days to be ratified.  That's 1,776,072 hours, 106,564,320 minutes, and 6,393,859,200 seconds.  One second per person living on the planet now.  That's a long damn time, especially for something so sensible as a restriction on Congress's ability to increase it's own salary.

Now, that's not the section that really struck my interest.  The section that really struck my interest was, rather than the amendment that were successfully ratified, the amendments that were not successful.

I'd heard about the therein-mentioned Slavery protection amendment from a radical website I sometimes peruse, which you can find here. (Author's note: This site is apparently no longer active, but a Google search turned up this site, which appears to be a reimagining of the original)  It's interesting, but just because an amendment to the Constitution was proposed doesn't mean that it is the law, and just because a proposed amendment fails to be ratified is not evidence of some sort of overarching political conspiracy.

The one that struck me as interesting, in large part, was the amendment that proposed a penalty "If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain any title of nobility or honour, or shall, without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power" The penalty established would have been that "such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States, and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them."

A pretty hefty penalty, if you ask me, but certainly in keeping with the time in which it was proposed.  The United States was still a very youthful nation, and there was much concern, with good reason, that European powers would try to subvert the new American democracy from within.  This is why the President was required to be a native-born citizen, or at least a citizen at the time of the founding of the United States, and this is why so many of our founding fathers warned against 'entangling alliances' with the powers of the Old World.

Let us start by examining what is meant, specifically, by the prohibition included in the first section of the amendment.  "any title of nobility or honour" means, more precisely, "any title of nobility, or any title of honour" this is obvious to anyone with a firm grasp of English sentence structure and construction.  Were the two items forbidden meant to be, as is presented by this site, a title of nobility and an honour, then the sentence would read as follows: "If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain any title of nobility or any honour,"  The or conjunction will always link two adjectives which modify the noun immediately preceding the most recent participle which, in this case, is of, not any, which isn't a participle at all.

A title of nobility is just what it sounds like.  Any rank of nobility granted by a summons to appear before the king, or through a writ to a distant recipient.  Titles of nobility include dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, and barons.

A title of honour also stems from royal pronouncement, though it does not confer a seat in the House of Lords (in England).  It is simply an honorarium.  The most typical title of honour is knighthood.  The title Esquire, as well, is a title of honour, but only when it stems from royal decree, those Esquires who bear the title simply by virtue of being an American attorney have the same title as one who may be the benefactor of a title of honour, but they do not have one, themselves.

The publishers of the site I linked above believe not only that this amendment was truly ratified, and thenceforth surreptitiously removed during the Civil War, but also that its ratification means that lawyers cannot serve in public office.  Their rationale stems from the use of the word honour to mean any sort of legal advantage or immunity.  Were this to be true, the amendment would deny access to government to anybody who holds a license, for anything.

Fortunately, the amendment clearly refers to titles of honour, which carries a specific legal definition which I outlined above.

A more interesting and, I think, even more powerful section of this amendment, were it to be ratified by 26 more state Legislatures and thus become law, is this section: "without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power."

It would be easy to interpret the use of the term foreign power to mean any organization originating outside the United States.  This interpretation could mean that any person employed by an international corporation that is incorporated outside the United States would not only be barred from holding public office in the United States, or in any state, but would also lose his citizenship and be, thus, unable to vote in US elections, and be provided with different protections under the laws of the US than those enjoyed by citizens.

I would compile a list of all members of Congress who would be affected by this change, but I feel it would be overly time-consuming, and unnecessary.  The vast scope of this possible interpretation is, I think, obvious to anyone.

The kicker, you might think, though, would be the fact that the Constitution prohibits ex post facto legislation, which means that nobody who commited a crime while it was not a crime can be held legally accountable for it.  They must commit the crime after the fact.  So simply having been an employee of an international corporation is not enough.  They must receive some "present, pension, office or emolument" after this amendment is ratified.  This means that international corporations cannot offer our Congressmen, nor anyone employed by them, nor anyone employed by the government at any level, anything, for if they did, and the person accepted it, he would lose his citizenship along with his position.

I suspect that this amendment, were it to be ratified by 26 more states and thus become the law of the land, would not, in the end, be interpreted this way, but if it were, I think it might just be the good, swift kick in the ass our country needs to get back on a track that takes the money out of politics, and keeps our government's priorities focused on what is best for America.

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