Paul Jacob

Those sworn to represent us in government often represent themselves, instead. And sometimes these same self-actualizing politicians find that our constitutional rights merely get in the way of their political desires.

Years ago, then House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) proposed substantial re-writing of the First Amendment, arguing: “What we have is two important values in conflict: freedom of speech and our desire for healthy campaigns in a healthy democracy. You can’t have both.”

Gephardt’s constitutional gambit was designed to provide very healthy incumbents in Congress the absolute power to dictate the terms of any unhealthy campaign spending — and, therefore, speech — set against them.

Thankfully, it failed.

In The Washington Post last Sunday, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens authored an opinion piece entitled, “The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment.” Boy, did he mean “fix.” Fix it good. Fix it so that the amendment would no longer protect your individual right to self-defense, only permitting you to bear arms when working under the direct authority of the government.

Beware politicians with scissors or permanent markers anywhere near our written constitutions.

Take Colorado State Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver). Puh-lease. On her website, Court presents “Improving the Citizen Petition Process” as a critical issue upon which she is focused, taking copious credit for legislation (HB 1326) passed in 2009, which she claims “will improve the initiative process.”

Apparently, one person’s “improvement” is another person’s machete attack. From all across the political spectrum, howls of protest met Court’s massive re-write of Colorado’s petition law.

“The cost of qualifying a measure for the ballot has increased dramatically as a result,” complained pro-marijuana activist Mason Tvert.

“Colorado lawmakers … were supposedly so concerned about the integrity of the petition process that they passed a 24-page bill clamping down on the way signatures are gathered,” wrote columnist Vincent Carroll in the Denver Post. “But they weren’t concerned enough to apply the new law to themselves.”

The law also allowed an initiative’s opponents to sue the measure’s proponents for fraud, and to win attorney fees expended in their witch-hunt, potentially bankrupting the proponents — and not incidentally making it unlikely any person would dare to sponsor an initiative measure in the Rocky Mountain State.

Now fraud is fraud, and should be actionable, of course. But Court’s law didn’t merely allow proponents to be sued for fraud those proponents committed, but rather, for fraud they had no knowledge of or any involvement in that might be alleged against anyone associated in any way with the campaign. Jon Caldara, head of the Independence Institute, had to face just such a politically motivated lawsuit almost immediately.

Caldara and Tvert joined numerous other citizens and groups in filing suit in federal court against Court’s law, arguing that it contained numerous violations of their First Amendment rights, along with attempting to amend Colorado’s constitution with a simple statute. Last year, the case concluded with the judge striking down Court’s usurpation of the initiative petition rights of Colorado citizens.

But Court is back, promoting a constitutional amendment to — get this — prevent constitutional amendments. A local CBS News report, “Colorado Lawmaker Feels It Should Be Harder To Change The Constitution,” informed viewers: “Court feels it’s too easy to change the constitution in Colorado.”

“I know that the people know that their constitution is a sacred document and I know they get frustrated seeing a cluttered ballot,” Court said knowingly, though she added, “I’m not sure they understand the way it all happens.”

By definition, of course, no political constitution written by men is “sacred.” If it were, well, only folks like Court — and perhaps, Michael Bloomberg — would seek to amend it.

But Court’s goal isn’t really to make changing the Colorado Constitution “harder.” She only seeks to make certain changes more difficult. Her amendment, which she claims has bipartisan legislative support, would double the number of petition signatures required for any new addition to the constitution.

But not for an amendment to abolish the supposedly “sacred” part of the state constitution that she and other pols have long wished to murder in a dark alley: the Taxpayer Bill of Rights or TABOR, for short.

Her changes would not apply to repealing any current constitutional provision, read: axing TABOR’s limit on state spending and taxes. Yet, it would apply if you wanted further tax cuts or other reforms.

Regular readers know that TABOR is also now being sued by other Colorado politicians and insiders — a bizarre, but important federal court case.

Court’s constitutional re-write does not lack for audacity. No sooner does the Colorado Constitution say, “The first power hereby reserved by the people is the initiative,” then comes Court with her magic marker to scribble, “EXCEPT” so she can create a two-class system — the easier path for what she wants to change, the more than twice as difficult process for what others might seek to put to a vote.

In all her self-serving attempts to “fix” the initiative process she so despises, Court’s condescension is crystal clear: “We must insure that citizens understand the ballot and the consequences of their votes.”

Hmmm, perhaps here she does have a point. State Rep. Lois Court being Exhibit A.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.