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Constitutional Chats Presented By Constituting America
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Constitutional Chats Presented By Constituting America

Author: Cathy Gillespie

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Cathy Gillespie, and Constituting America’s Student Ambassadors – Tova Love Kaplan, Jule Gilbert and Jorne Gilbert – chat with Constitutional experts on hot-topic issues via Zoom!
225 Episodes
We admit it.  We are big fans of federalism.  Regular listeners will understand that Constitution grants certain rights to the federal government and courtesy of the 10th amendment, remaining powers are reserved for the states.  Does this mean federalism is a function of recognition of states’ rights?  Our special guest argues this characterization is better suited if we view federalism as a function of decentralized and self-government as it relies on local authority.  Join our guest, Dr. William B. Allen, Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy and Dean of James Madison College at Michigan State University, and our student panel for this enlightening conversation on federalism.
As Americans, do we sometimes have a tendency to take freedom for granted?  When it’s something most of us have lived with our entire lives, the answer is assuredly yes.  That’s to be expected as we can’t fully comprehend what it is to live without. But ask anyone born under a dictator or totalitarian regime and they quickly remind of us of the blessings of liberty, since they once lived without it.  To help remind us of this blessing of freedom, we are honored to have Ambassador Aldona Woś.  Polish born, Ambassador Woś served as the US Ambassador to Estonia during the George W. Bush Administration and is currently the President of the Institute for World Politics. Her personal story is a compelling reminder that freedom is not free, nor is it permanent. 
The 16th Amendment gives power to congress to “lay and collect taxes.”  After all, a country has to have an ability to raise revenue. When it comes to that revenue, we have had a tradition of paying taxes on income, not the value of an investment, like paying taxes when we sell a few shares of stock in a company and not on the growth of that stock every year we own it.  Those are called realized gains.  There is discussion in the federal government to change that and tax unrealized gains meaning we would have to pay taxes on the increase in value in our homes or investments even before we sell that possession.  The genesis of this Supreme Court case was a provision in the tax cuts package passed and signed into law in 2017 to help pay for those cuts.  We know, tax code and tax law are confusing.  Fortunately, to help us navigate this confusing topic, we have a very special guest with an impressive legal career.  Paul Clement is the country’s former Solicitor General (the Department of Justice’s chief lawyer in front of the Supreme Court), now in private practice.  He has argued more than 100 cases in front of the Supreme Court, more than any other lawyer since 2000, in or out of government.
The Constitution dictates every 10 years we undergo a Census to count how many people live in each state.  Based off these population numbers, congressional seats are then apportioned.  States who lost population might lose a seat and states who grew may gain a seat or two since we can only have 435 total seats in the U.S. House.  This brings up an obvious question: who gets to redraw congressional districts after apportionment and can they redraw those districts for a political benefit?  This is where gerrymandering comes into play.  According to our guest expert, “gerrymandering” is drawing districts that are perceived to be unfair in their representation.  To further complicate the issue, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 placed restrictions on how these districts are redrawn and subsequent Supreme Court decisions have further altered this process.  The current Supreme Court case Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP has the potential to challenge again how districts are redrawn. It’s a complicated issue but we are grateful to have as our guest Mark Braden, an attorney with BakerHostetler who specializes in election law and voting issues to help us navigate this issue.
City Councils all across the country have been tackling an issue that has bipartisan concern: how to tackle homeless populations within their cities.  Grants Pass, OR., is one such city.  Grants Pass is in the middle of the Supreme Court case Johnson v. Grants Pass that is challenging that city’s ability to levy civil and criminal punishments to deter homeless encampments.  A Supreme Court decision is expected this summer.  To help our student panel understand the broad implications of this Supreme Court case and the “strait jacket” put on cities by lower courts to enforce their ordinances, we are delighted to welcome Thomas Jipping, Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation for this timely chat.
Trial by jury and fair court proceedings bound by constitutional restraint are bedrock principles of our federal government.  Imagine being charged with a crime by a federal agency except the agency handles the entire court proceedings with a judge on its payroll.  The Securities and Exchange Commission was created by a 1934 act in response to the Great Depression and Stock Market Crash of 1929.  In 2008, in response to the financial crisis, its powers were significantly expanded through the Dodd Frank Act.  Under that legislation, the SEC was allowed to have in-house court proceedings with administrative law judges it hires.  As such, prosecutorial, judicial, enforcement and punishment power is all held within a singular agency.  A current Supreme Court case, SEC v. Jarkesy, is challenging that power.  Join our all-star student panel and our special guest, Peggy Little, Senior Litigation Counsel with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, as we discuss this case, its ramifications and the caution George Washington gave us when he spoke against unfair quasi-courts.
In February of this year, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Ohio v. EPA.  This case challenges the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce the Good Neighbor Plan which aims to curb pollution carried by the wind into neighboring states. As usual, legal proceedings can easily become confusing as a lawsuit makes its way to the Supreme Court.  Fortunately, we are welcoming back Steve Bradbury, a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, to help us unravel this case as we discuss the background and ramifications of this lawsuit.
Federally, we have 536 elected positions between Congress and the President.  We then have 2.8 million federal employees.  How do we limit the power among the unelected officials we have in our federal government?  To tackle this very important question, the Supreme Court introduced the Chevron Doctrine (also called the Chevron Deference) as a result of the 1984 Supreme Court case Chevron USA v Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.  To help us understand the complexities of the Chevron Doctrine, how the powers of unelected officials have grown over the years and how current cases before the Supreme Court may affect these powers, we are happy to welcome to our discussion Jack Fitzhenry, Legal Fellow in the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
Presidential immunity is in the news a lot lately.  It derives from a notion that all three branches of government retain powers to execute their duties under the constitution.  But there is also a tradition in our country that no one is above the law.  In a nation that follows established law, not following those laws can lead to anarchy or distrust in the government.  We have a lot to unpack with this very timely and relevant topic. To help us do so alongside our student panel, we are delighted to welcome fan-favorite guest Adam Carrington, associate professor of politics at Hillsdale College.
Did you know the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear four cases pertaining to social media this term?  One of the major issues is whether or not an elected official has the authority to limit speech on social media accounts by blocking critical comments pertaining to their work in office.  We know government cannot prohibit your speech, but are elected officials required to permit all comments on their official pages, or can they censor them? What about their personal pages?  Can the government pressure social media companies to take down posts the government seems “misinformation”? There’s a lot to unpack with these various cases so we are delighted to welcome Michael Dimino, Professor of Law at Widener University’s Commonwealth Law School for this very timely discussion.
Who is the Speaker of the House and what are his duties?  How does a bill become law?  What are the three branches of government.  Let’s be honest, so many in our country are not fully educated on civics.    If we don’t understand how Congress works, we get frustrated with the whole process.  This leads to an overall sentiment that Congress is broken.  Our guest today likes to say “without public trust, you cannot govern.  Without governing, people get angry and hostile and walk away from the system.” Today, joining our student panel to discuss how we can begin to fix this, is our special guest Michael S. Johnson, author of “Fixing Congress: Restoring Power to the People.”
Winning a war was just the beginning for George Washington’s service to our new country.  After retiring to Mount Vernon post-war, Washington saw a weakness in our country under the Articles of Confederation.  He felt the future of republican democratic self-government globally was dependent on the American experiment.  If it were to fail in that perfect post-war moment, man was probably not destined to govern himself. Washington’s views on what the government should look like can seem to be contradictory in that he wanted a strong central government, as opposed to what the country had under the Articles of Confederation, but he also wanted the National government to be limited.  Rather than contradictory, this reveals a principled man.  To discuss Washington’s vision for the country with our student panel, we are delighted to welcome back Tony Williams, Senior Teaching Fellow with the Bill of Rights Institute for this historical conversation.
The relationship between the federal and state governments is not always clear.  These two governments exist simultaneously but at times have different goals and objectives.  The federal government can use its purse strings to coerce a state government to take an action and that state can simply refuse.  The Founders wanted states to solve major issues that were not under the federal purview to establish “laboratories of democracy.”  Joining our all-star student panel, we are happy to welcome Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia state senator,  Virginia attorney general and Deputy Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, as we discuss this unique relationship.
Can you name the President?  We hope yes!  Can you name your state’s governor?  More than likely yes.  But can you name your mayor and city council members?  While the issues nationally get the most attention, your local government’s actions impact your day-to-day life more.  Issues like your water supply, trash pickup, sewage, and police and fire departments are all controlled by local entities.  Some mayors aren’t paid a salary at all but one defining feature of mayors is they come directly out of the community in which they are serving.  They are your friend and neighbor.  To help us better grasp the importance of local officials, we are delighted to welcome Andrew Wambsganss, former mayor of Southlake, TX., to our podcast as we discuss the duties and responsibilities of local government officials, and why he says you can have the most impact by local government participation. 
Regular listeners will certainly recognize this famous phrase from the Declaration of Independence: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  As the governed who give consent to the government, we have several mechanisms through which we can give that consent and voice approval or disapproval with an elected official.  Perhaps the most direct mechanism is through a town hall discussion.  A town hall is simply a public meeting between an elected official and their constituents where a number of topics pertaining to upcoming or past legislation can be discussed.  To help us better understand all things related to a town hall, we are delighted to have two guests joining our student panel.  Rochelle Porto is a longtime Pennsylvania activist who regularly participates in town halls in her state and Rep. Lynn Stucky has represented parts of North Texas in the Texas Legislature since 2017.
At Constituting America, we love to talk about federalism.  Federalism is a founding principle that government authority is best when one central government does not have all authority, but it is divvied up between local, state and national government.  Have you ever thought about why we have this system and what its virtues are?  In a large country with varied geographical interests, why does this system work?  Should those closest to a problem be the ones to solve that problem, and what are the benefits of this principle of subsidiarity? To help us further grasp the virtues of federalism, we are delighted to welcome Brenda Hafera, Assistant Director and Senior Policy Analyst for the Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation, for this engaging discussion.
We have a military.  We have a militia.  When it comes to protecting our citizens, both play a role.  The same militia mentioned in the second amendment is actually defined in 10 U.S. Code § 246 as able-bodied men over 17 and under 45 years old, who are or intend to become US citizens and female citizens who are members of the National Guard.  What precisely are the differences in roles of the organized and unorganized militia compared to the military?  Under what circumstances is a militia’s Commander in Chief the President or a state’s governor?  When can the military and militia be deployed and what are the limits placed on them such as “posse comitatus?”  To help our student panel answer these questions, we are delighted to welcome back longtime friend of Constituting America, Andrew Langer.  Andrew is an author, speaker, writer, frequent guest on both radio and TV programs and the President of the Institute for Liberty.
One of the biggest events in the news lately has been the situation at our southern border and illegal immigration.  Texas, due to its lengthy border with Mexico, is front and center in this discussion that involves the role both state and federal governments play in immigration.  While the U.S. Constitution says Congress has the authority to write immigration-related laws and the executive branch has the authority to implement these laws, what can a state do if the laws are not carried out?  Joining our all-star student panel to answer this, we are pleased to welcome Lora Ries, Director of the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation.
Since World War II, the United States, as the world’s lone superpower, has promoted democracy around the world with a focus on the longevity of the nation-state.  After all, a nation-state that is whole and free, holds free and frequent elections and is representative of its people will tend to have greater stability, less war, more prosperity and greater trade opportunities.  But as our guest discusses, lately we are seeing a greater build-up of multi-lateral and regional organizations to replace the nation-state. How can the US foster a greater reliance on the nation-state as the core unit of analysis? How can we promote relationships between nation-states, instead of regional bureaucracies, for more prosperity? Joining our student panel, we are thrilled to welcome Dr. Kiron Skinner, Taube Professor of International Relations and Politics at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy.
Think about the environment under which our Constitution was drafted.  Our new nation had just waged and won a war for independence and was surrounded on all sides with hostility: the British in the north and their navy out to sea, the Spanish empire to the south, British and French ships patrolling the Caribbean and sometimes hostile Native American tribes to the west.  Our Founders knew war was necessary but also had a healthy wariness about where the power to wage it should reside.  The Founders questioned if war powers could lead to tyranny and questioned the effect of standing armies. Thus, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 gives this power to Congress and not the President.  Joining our student panel to help us further understand why, we are pleased to welcome Reid Smith, vice president of foreign policy at Stand Together where he serves as an expert of constitutional war powers and foreign policy.