Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Twenty-Fourth Amendment

It is difficult to find any American who has heard of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, but it is easy to find European clauses which sound like it. It proposes little which imports anything different from the rest of the Constitution, or what I happen to believe. But it manages to suggest wide-spread flouting of the compromises which will now need re-emphasis. The language of Gouverner Morris suggests total prior agreement or at least total contemporary obedience, and that is true of the Bill of Rights as well. This Amendment sounds like scolding and thus sounds political. It sounds as though a sizeable minority of citizens intend to flout it, even if maybe dangerously close to a majority. In short, it sounds like what the author believes they ought to believe, not what they agreed to do.

The author of this amendment ought to re-read the preamble, where it is stated that the people are the real source of power, and this is what we the people agreed to believe. This is not a Bible, telling people what to believe. It is a misstatement of what they already agreed to do in this case. They can change their minds, but they have agreed to do so in a certain way.

The nice way to say this without quite saying it is technical. It is an unconstitutional amendment of the amendment process set out in Philadelphia two hundred years ago. The older part of the same document holds that judging elections is a function of the several states. Taking another step and stating that federal elections obey a new set of different rules from what the states decide for their own elections, is a violation of the original compromises which made ratification possible. Thirteen colonies gave up some of their sovereignty in order to have a unified state. As John Dickinson said to James Madison: "Do you want a Union, or don't you?"The federal government retains control of the national defense, and the ability to collect unified taxes. In return for that, everything else stated several different ways, belongs to the several states, means acting in a prescribed way. If you want to fight the Civil War all over again, you need a convention or a war. The Twenty-Fourth Amendment is an unconstitutional method of amendment--of the amendment process.

Originally published: Thursday, August 08, 2019; most-recently modified: Friday, August 09, 2019