Walter E. Williams

One of the more disgusting revelations of the Human Events report came when a simple question was put to high-level bureaucrats in charge of running these outrageous programs. Human Events asked them to state the constitutional authority for the programs. Warren Flatau, Federal Railroad Administration spokesman, said he wasn't a legal scholar but opined that the same question could be asked of other agencies. Chris Tollefson, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, answered that it was his understanding that authority for ESA "is based on the commerce clause." Former Rep. John Erlenborn, R. Ill., now president of the Legal Services Corp., answered: "Probably the same one that lets the federal government build highways. I don't know. The general welfare clause."

The correct answer to Human Events' question about the constitutional authority for these outrageous programs is: There is no constitutional authority whatsoever. Grossly ignorant or conniving politicians tell constitutionally ignorant Americans that it is the general welfare clause that authorizes these programs. You figure it.

Here's what James Madison, the father of our Constitution, said about the welfare clause: "With respect to the two words ‘general welfare', I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators."

Thomas Jefferson said, "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." The detail or enumeration to which Madison and Jefferson refer is found mostly in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., has introduced the Enumerated Powers Act several times. It would require each act of Congress to contain a concise and definite statement of the specific constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that act or else the bill could not go forward. Shadegg's Enumerated Powers Act (HR 175) went down to three crushing defeats.

Can we ask for more compelling evidence of Congress's contempt for our Constitution, or do you think our congressmen are simply reflecting the constitutional contempt of the people?

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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