The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, Mark R. Levin, Threshold Edition (2013)
“The great one” explains in the first chapter that the US government has strayed a long way from the original intent of the Constitution. In brief, “Statists” have seized control of the government machinery, rewritten the rules to suit themselves, and are taking control of more and more of our lives. What’s to be done?
Levin’s proposal is a constitutional convention (CC) to propose remedial amendments. The CC procedure is provided for in Article V, but the normal procedure has been for Congress to propose amendments by a 2/3 vote in each house. In either case, amendments only become effective when approved by 3/4 of the states.
Re fears of a “runaway convention,” Levin has two answers. First, the CC would be tasked with considering a specific slate of amendments – not rewriting the Constitution. Second, the amendments it proposed would only go into effect after 3/4 of the states approved them.
The rest of the book presents Levin’s proposed amendments, which are basically as follows:
Budget: Outlays could not exceed receipts or 17.5% of GDP, subject to congressional override by a 3/5 vote of each house (super majority vote) in a given year. Raising the debt limit would also require a super majority vote.
Taxes: The federal income tax rate on individuals would be capped at 15%. A VAT or national sales tax would be prohibited. The estate tax would be eliminated, and also (according to the explanatory text) taxes on investment income and on corporations.
Congress: (A) Members would be limited to 12 years of service as a representative and/or senator combined, with a phase-in provision for current members. (B) Congress could overrule specific Supreme Court decisions by a super majority vote.
Judicial: (A) Supreme Court justices could serve a maximum of 12 years, with a phase-in provision for current members. (B) “Interstate commerce” would be defined as transactions across state lines, thereby reversing a long line of decisions construing interstate commerce as including essentially all business activity.
Executive branch: (A) Administrative departments and agencies would have a maximum life of 3 years, subject to express renewal by Congress. (B) Major regulations (economic burden of over $100 million) would require approval by a joint committee of Congress before going into effect. (C) In addition to compensating property owners for the value of property taken by eminent domain, the government would be required to provide compensation for the constructive taking of property by regulations designed to serve public purposes if the resulting loss of value to an individual owner was $10K+.
States: (A) Revert to the election of US senators by state legislatures vs. by state voters. (B) Empower 3/5 of state legislatures to overrule federal statutes or major regulations within a limited period after adoption. (C) Empower 2/3 (why not 3/4?) of state legislatures to amend the Constitution without going through Congress.
Voting: Require photo ID for voting and impose limitations on early voting, e.g., not allowed more than 30 days (45 days for deployed military personnel) before elections.
Although many of Levin’s ideas make sense, it’s not clear he has offered a viable approach. First, he proposes an awful lot of amendments – many of which could be implemented by statute. Second, it’s hard to imagine undoing some of the things that have happened since 1789, notably switching back to direct election for senators. Third, if Congress could overrule the Supreme Court and the state legislatures could override Congress and amend the Constitution to boot, the results might prove quite disruptive.
So let’s chalk this book up as a good effort and keep looking for the best answer.