The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday is the simple fact that the Constitution of the United States is a shield to protect Americans from our own government. In Article 1, Section 9 the Constitution lists the things that the federal government cannot do. This article states that “the federal government is prohibited from passing ex post facto laws, bills of attainder, and from suspending the privilege of habeas corpus.” Article 1, Section 10 is about the things the States cannot do and includes the above mentioned items.
Chad Kent, an author and popular speaker, wrote about the Constitution being a shield from the government. “Remember, the primary purpose of the Constitution is to protect the American people from the government. If we’re going to do that effectively, we have to do everything possible to strip our politicians of the ability to target specific people for unfair punishment. The fact that these types of laws are forbidden at both the federal and the state levels gives us a good idea of just how dangerous the Founders believed they were to a free society.”
Mr. Kent explained that Article 1, Section 10 had another aspect to it – “the relationship between what the States are told they can’t do with what the federal government is told it can do. If you take a moment to compare the two, it will help you to better understand how our system of government is intended to work. Let me show you how it does that.
“We have a federal system of government where power is divided up between the federal government in Washington, D.C., and the variety of state governments. For this type of system to work properly, we want to make sure that any given topic is being handled by one – and only one – level of government.
“It should be easy to see why. Imagine what would happen if the federal government and each of the states all had the authority to negotiate treaties with foreign countries on their own. That would be a confusing mess! And ultimately, it wouldn’t work.
“Because of that, the States and the federal government were intended to play very distinct and separate roles in this country. Article 1, Section 10 is a big part of establishing that distinction between the two levels of government. For the most part, it just tells the states that they aren’t allowed to do the jobs that the federal government was created to do for us.
“As you are interpreting other parts of the Constitution, it’s very helpful to remember this idea of each topic being handled by only one level of government. The way our Constitution was originally designed – as a general rule – if a power was given to one level of government, it wasn’t given to the other.
“Put more simply, if the states can do it, the federal government cannot. If the federal government can do it, the states cannot.
“There are a few very rare exceptions to this; with taxation being the most obvious one. But as a basic rule of thumb, this idea will almost always point you in the right direction.”
This author points out in his article that Article 1 is longer than the other six Articles put together and emphasizes the concern of the Framers of the Constitution on the powers given to Congress.