Greg Weiner: Our Constitutional Emergency

James Madison lithograph

The New York Times: “Our Constitutional Emergency”

By Greg Weiner

“During the June 1788 convention at which Virginia ratified the Constitution, Patrick Henry, a critic of the proposed government, accused James Madison, its foremost defender, of failing to protect against corrupt or lawless politicians. “Is there no virtue among us?” Madison replied. “If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.”

That exchange is worth recalling as the House of Representatives prepares for a vote scheduled for Tuesday on whether to override President Trump’s veto of a congressional resolution to nullify the national emergency he declared to build a border wall. The House is almost certain to fail to muster the two-thirds majority required of both legislative chambers to override a presidential veto. It seems likely that the Senate, for its part, will not even do its constitutional duty and try. Republicans, especially Republican senators, are being justifiably excoriated for failing to defend congressional authority.

But blaming them alone misdiagnoses the constitutional problem. Congress’s impotence indicates an appalling failure of constitutional awareness and education in the United States. The Republican base — like the Democratic base during President Barack Obama’s tenure — is demanding, and getting, a constitution of expediency rather than of law…”

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Gregory WeinerGregory Weiner is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Assumption College. His research and teaching interests include the political theory of the Constitution, the political thought of James Madison, civil liberties, and the role of the Supreme Court. He is the author of American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan (2015) and Madison’s Metronome: The Constitution, Majority Rule and the Tempo of American Politics (2012), both published by the American Political Thought Series of the University of Kansas Press. Professor Weiner’s research and teaching are informed by the several years he spent as a high-level aide and consultant in national politics, including his service as Communications and Policy Director to U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey, D-Nebraska, and as founder of the Washington, D.C.-based speechwriting firm Content Communications, LLC.

Professor Weiner is a Jack Miller Center fellow.

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