The Weiner Component #112A – How the United States Government Works

During the Grand Jury examination of the August 8, 2014 shooting of 6’4” eighteen year old Michael Brown by the 6’4” police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri the question was asked by one of the jurors as to which predominated, the state laws or the Federal laws. The Assistant District Attorney never really answered that question for the Ferguson Grand Jury. The Constitution gives that power to the Federal Government and the issue was ultimately resolved by the Civil War which solidly placed power in the hands of the Central Government of all the states.

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The basic document for the organization of the Federal Government is the Constitution of the United States which defines all aspects of our government. Initially, during and directly after the American Revolution, this country was ruled by the Articles of Confederation of the 13 states with most of the power resting within the governments of each of the 13 states. The central government was run by a Congress of the States and had very little direct power. Any measure that it passed had to be agreed upon by all the states involved. It had to no power to tax and had to rely on the states for anything it needed. To fill its monetary needs it had request funds from the states which would simply and individually send money or not.

For these and other reasons this system of government did not work well. A meeting was called to have elected representatives come to Philadelphia during the summer of 1787, from May 25 until September 17. Its purpose was to amend the Articles of Confederation. This assembly occurred nine years after the start of the new nation. Not all the states sent representatives and not all the representatives stayed the full hot summer to work upon the reform.

George Washington, probably the most trusted man in the new nation, was elected chairman. They met during a very hot Philadelphia summer and had to be done when the meeting place would again be used by the state legislature. It was early determined to keep no record of the meetings and to keep the results secret until they were done.

They very early concluded that the Articles of Confederation were completely inadequate and could not be reformed to form a proper government. They determined that they had to start from scratch and develop a totally new government with the power to run the new nation. What emerged at the end of the summer was the United States Constitution. It required 9 of the 13 states to vote approval for the document to come into being. Not all the states initially voted to join.

Interestingly the one issue never resolved at this time was where did the ultimate power rest, with the states or with the new Federal Government? That issue was not resolved until the end of the Civil War. The power rests with the Federal Government.

Virtually everyone has heard of the Constitution but many people don’t quite know what is contains or how it works. They have not read it or remember what they learned in school about it. This lack of knowledge has caused all sorts of confusion and, at times, a lack of voting.

The Constitution begins with a statement of its purpose: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”. This statement is highly important; it explains the reason for the government.

The document itself contained seven articles. The first establishes the government’s legislative powers, establishing a bicameral law making body, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House was to be elected directly by the People for a period of two years while the Senate was to be elected for a six year term at the rate of 1/3d of the Senate reelected every two years by the state legislatures. The House represented the people directly and the Senate represented the States. The minimum age for the House was 25 and the Senate, 30. House representatives were apportioned by population with each state having a minimum of at least one, while each state had two Senators. The Vice President headed the Senate with no vote except in cases of a tie with the second in command being the President pro tempore, the leader of the majority party. The House had to sole power of impeachment while the Senate served as the jury in such cases. All tax bills were to originate in the House of Representatives allowing the people to indirectly tax themselves.

Every bill after being passed in both Houses of Congress had to be signed by the President in order to become law. The President can sign the bill, veto the bill, or ignore it. After ten days an unsigned bill automatically becomes law.

Article 1 also enumerates the powers of Congress: lay and collect taxes, regulate commerce, coin money, declare war, raise and support a military, and establish the primacy of the Federal Government over the states.

It is important to keep in mind that only Congress can pass laws. The President can issue executive orders but generally they last only during his tenure in office. Another president can cancel them by a stroke of the pen.

Article 2 deals with the executive power, establishing a President and Vice-President for a four year period. The means of election is stated, requiring that the individual be a natural born citizen, at least 35 years of age. The people vote for electors whose total number equals that of all the Senators and members of the House of Representatives. Upon the removal of the President by death or for any other reason the Vice-President succeeds him.

The specific oath of office is stated. He is commander and chief of the military and can grant pardons. His appointments and treaties require the advice and consent of the Senate. He is to give Congress the State of the Union information and recommendations from time to time. The President can be removed from office on Impeachment for “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

From what has been stated the overall powers of the President have been specifically defined over the years by the way the men who have held that position have acted.

Article 3 deals with the judicial power of the United States. It requires a Supreme Court and such other Federal Courts that Congress establishes. It sets the judges tenure as lifetime and the Constitution as the basis for all court decisions. The document defines the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the specifics and structure of the Supreme Court and the entire court system is left to be defined by Congress.

Article 4 deals with citizens and state’s rights throughout the nation and with new states coming into the Union.

Article Five has to do with amending the Constitution.

Article Six Pertains to business contracts, the supremacy of Federal law over state law, and having all elected and judicial officials taking an oath to support the Constitution.

Article Seven deals with ratification of the Constitution. It required nine states to ratify the Constitution for it to come into being.

While the process of ratification was going on some of the states complained that there was no Bill of Rights within the document. The founders promised to add one after the Constitution was ratified.

James Madison wrote twelve Amendments to the Constitution. Following Article Five, it required a 2/3d vote for the Amendment to become part of the Constitution. Twelve states had ratified the Constitution. Nine states approved ten of Madison’s twelve Amendments and they became the first ten Amendments to the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

Seventeen additional Amendments have been added to the Constitution since its inception making the total present number 27.

In 1865 the 13th Amendment abolished slavery.

In 1868 the 14th Amendment was passed. It extended civil rights making all people equal.

In 1870 the 15th Amendment specifically extended Black suffrage.

In 1913 the 16th Amendment legalized the income tax.

In 1913 the 17th Amendment authorized the direct election of Senators by the people.

In 1913 the 18th Amendment authorized the prohibition of liquor and the 21 Amendment in 1933 repealed prohibition.

In 1919 the 19th Amendment gave women the vote throughout the United States.

In 1951 the 22nd Amendment limited future Presidents to two terms.

In 1965 the 24th Amendment made poll taxes illegal for anyone to vote.

In 1971 the 26th Amendment moved initial voting from 21 years of age to 18.

The Constitution of the United States is, with some exceptions, a general document. The interpretation of what it means has shifted over the years as the country has gone from a rural nation with some cities to an industrial one with some agriculture. It is a flexible document whose interpretation has been largely defined by the way it was run and by the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, which has the final say upon what it means. And what it means has changed over the years.

By being flexible the Constitution remains as valid today as it did in 1789 when it was first put into existence.

This document was originally set up with a system of checks and balances. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives serve as a check upon each other since both have to pass the exact same bill in order for it to become law. The President by signing or vetoing the bill serves as a check upon the Congress. The President is essentially an administrator and can only suggest that certain bills be passed by Congress. The Supreme Court has, among other things, the power of judicial review which was created by its third chief justice, John Marshall, in the case of Marboro v. Madison and has functioned ever since. Also the Supreme Court can make the final decision about what a law or any part of a law means.

In addition it is important to remember that only Congress can make and pass a law. The President is the Chief Administrator in the government. He can issue an Executive Order but he cannot make laws only Congress or the People can do that.  Congress by passing a law and the People through Amending the Constitution.

 

 

The Weiner Component #95 – The Ferguson, Missouri Fiasco

On Saturday, August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, a 6’3” Black youth eighteen years of age who had recently graduated from high school was stopped while walking in the street by a patrolling police officer in an official vehicle. He was unarmed but shot six times, with one bullet entering the top of his head, and killed. Another bullet was removed from the wall of a nearby house. There may have been other rounds fired.

The police officer, Darren Wilson by name, wrote up no report on the shooting, presumably on the advice of his attorney. He is currently on administrative leave with pay awaiting the outcome of this occurrence. Even though he has made no official statement about the shooting over $234,000 has been collected for his defense.

A report was issued about a week later, because it was demanded by the Freedom of Information Act, which had been put out by the Ferguson Police Department stating that a homicide had been committed on August 9th without stating who had been shot or who did the shooting.

A Grand Jury which meets once a week has been empowered to hear the evidence about the killing. Presumably Wilson has been invited to testify before this group. To my knowledge this is an unheard of event since he is the one being investigated.

The Ferguson police captain in his initial statement gave out no information about the shooting but stated that Brown was suspected of stealing cigars at a convenience store. When asked by a reporter if this had anything to do with the shooting he answered emphatically that it did not.

The next day some unknown individual, presumably on the police force, stated that evidence of marijuana was found in the autopsy. This was neither confirmed nor denied. It would seem that the police position is to support their man without finding our why the police officer emptied his revolver into an eighteen year old teenager.

I was somehow reminded of the United States in the 1950s when we were in the middle of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Dwight David Eisenhower was president and John Foster Dulles was his Secretary of State. Dulles’ policy with the Soviet Union was one he called “Brinksmanship.” Whenever the Soviet Union did something the U.S. did not like he would threaten to drop an atomic bomb in order to solve the problem. Unfortunately the use of an atomic bomb was too much force for a minor infraction.

At the time a Las Vegas bookie would have given very low odds against the U.S. getting involved with W.W.III. Hollywood made films dealing with the world after an atomic war. Fortunately there was no atomic war. We came close at times, particularly in the early 1960s with the Cuban Missile Crisis but there was never a hot war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. We may not now be friends with Russia or approve of everything she does but we are not about to go to war with that nation. Somehow all problems were eventually solved diplomatically; war is not an option.

Why did police officer Darren Wilson kill Michael Brown? Had he been around in the 1950s and acted as precipitously the world would not today be as it is.

From what we know Brown had been jay-walking in the street? Did the policeman say something overly sarcastic to him and did Brown respond in an overly negative fashion to him? Did the White police officer feel he was being disrespected by a Black who was far down the pecking order from him? Was the effect of this to put the officer into an emotional rage and did he draw his pistol and leave the car at this point emptying his gun into the teenager who had raised his hands in surrender? Would he have done as much with a white youngster? If it had been a Black policeman and a White youngster would the officer been put on administrative leave with pay? The issue here is totally crazy. Would a defense fund been contributed to a Black police officer?

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Ferguson is a former “Sundown Town” with a population that is 63% Black. What does this mean?

When I was in the military, stationed at an installation, near Aiken, South Caroling in the mid-1950s I remember going to town in the evenings and seeing elderly Blacks walking in the street. While it was no longer necessary this had been required prior to W.W.II and the Civil Rights Movement. The elderly Blacks still did it from force of habit or remembered fear.

A “sundown town” did not even do this; the place was closed to all Blacks after sundown. No Blacks were allowed out on the streets at that time.

This is the tradition in Ferguson of which, no doubt, all its Black citizens are cognizant.

There are in the city three Black police officers on the Ferguson police force. The overwhelming majority is White. The White police chief, by his actions, does not seem particularly sensitive to his community or overly bright.

The killing brought out the citizens of Ferguson who continued protesting and marching throughout the day and night. The police were present during that night and others with military gear and weapons so that they could keep order. They used canned smoke and tear gas upon crowds that were not disorderly. They claimed that shots had been fired and Molotov Cocktails had been thrown. Fortunately for them the bullets were so badly aimed that they did not hit anyone and the Molotov Cocktails also did no damage. The probability is that both of these claims were a fiction by the police to justify their behavior.

The governor of the state took the policing of the city away from the local police and gave it to the Highway Patrol which was headed by a Black man and brought sanity to the situation. However the protests still continue and tear gas and smoke were again used in the city.

What is the point of all this? In addition to the murder of Michael Brown and wanting justice for his death, against what is the purpose of the protest?

What is the value of a Black life against that of a White person? Statistically one of every three Black males will spend some time incarcerated. Is this because they are criminally bent or because a basic prejudice and fear exists against Black males. Statistically they are just as innocent or guilty as White males. Slavery may have ended in 1865 with the 15th Amendment to the Constitution but the feelings it engendered are still with us. Isn’t it time the United States became a country where all its population is treated equally?