Porter talks about Constitution

By Page H. Gifford

“In 1835, Alexis De Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America that “… every citizen is taught the history of his country and the leading features of its Constitution. … it is extremely rare to find a man imperfectly acquainted with all these things, and a person wholly ignorant of them is sort of a phenomenon,” said Porter. He added, “Today’s Americans don’t know their Constitution very well, as documented in numerous polls. Why do Americans need to know the leading features of their Constitution? There are many reasons, some that may surprise you.”

Porter,  also the executive director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative, will answer these questions and others about the U.S. Constitution in two presentations on May 3, at 1-3 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. at Forever Faithful, a new shop that recently opened at 106 Crofton Plaza. His presentation will also focus on the “State of the Constitution in 2022” which he said will help others understand the damage done to the document with over 200 years of Supreme Court rulings.

Bonnie Mackey, one of the owners of Forever Faithful, a shop featuring local artisans and writers, is also working to become  a gathering place for community discussions – this being the first.

“A friend suggested having Mr. Porter come and speak with those interested in learning more about the Constitution since so many people I spoke to knew very little about the Constitution,” she said.

Porter, a former U.S. Air Force pilot who also worked for defense contractors, has been  re-enacting James Madison, in period costume, for five years, distributing pocket Constitutions to school children, and having “Madison” explain his role in creating the Bill of Rights.

Porter has spoken on constitutional issues at regional and national conferences, and spoken before a committee of the Virginia Assembly. For two years he hosted a weekly radio show called “We the People, The Constitution Matters” on a Philadelphia-area radio station. 

After familiarizing himself with James Madison, he believes Madison would be appalled to see the state of American democracy today and cited the lack of decorum in civic discourse and large-scale abandonment of public virtue. He quoted Madison’s famous speech at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, in 1788, where Madison stated: “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government can render us secure. To suppose liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”

Known as the father of the Constitution, Madison believed in a strong central government but one limited in scope and in later years supported states’ rights. His Bill of Rights and amendments to the Constitution were the elements that helped democracy thrive. Nowadays, Porter sees the Supreme Court as an influence on the Constitution with its rulings.

“Madison would be alarmed and disheartened to see the near plenary power the Supreme Court has given the federal government over the years through expansive interpretations of the Constitution, at the expense of state sovereignty and power,” he said. He quoted Madison from his speech at the Virginia Ratifying Convention: “The powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.” His view is that the Supreme Court rulings have given the federal government more power than it deserves though some would disagree given the current environment where states seem to have an upper hand when it comes to legislation.

A complex document, to say the least, Porter’s focus will be on Article V regarding 2/3 of the state ratifying a proposed amendment. 

“Seeing that Congress today has no intention of amending the Constitution in any way that reduces its massive power, Madison would, I believe, support an Article 5 Convention of the States,” he said.  He explains that Article V contains two methods of proposing amendments and two methods of ratifying them.

“All 27 amendments we currently have, has been proposed by Congress and Congress approves the amendment with a 2/3 vote of the members present in both chambers before it can be sent to the states for ratification.”

“The second method of proposing amendments, is for the states to propose amendments in a convention called when 2/3 of the states (34) apply to Congress for such a convention.  Once the amendment has been sent for ratification either 3/4 (38) of the state legislatures or 38 conventions of the people can debate the proposed amendment and perform the ratification. This second method has only been used once, in the case of the 21st Amendment.”

He adds that a term limits amendment would be high on the agenda at a Convention of States convened under Article V since it seems unlikely that Congress is ever going to propose such a limitation on themselves. The convention might also consider limiting the term of federal judges and justices. This would be a strong consideration for most Americans.

I think Madison would be saddened to see how poorly the American people understand their Constitution,” he said and added a line from Madison’s first inaugural address where he said, “Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.”  For more information contact Bonnie Mackey at mackey_bonnie@yahoo.com or stop by Forever Faithful at 106 Crofton Plaza.

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