Walter E. Williams

Let's think about whether all acts of Congress deserve our respect and obedience. Suppose Congress enacted a law -- and the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional -- requiring American families to attend church services at least three times a month. Should we obey such a law? Suppose Congress, acting under the Constitution's commerce clause, enacted a law requiring motorists to get eight hours of sleep before driving on interstate highways. Its justification might be that drowsy motorists risk highway accidents and accidents affect interstate commerce. Suppose you were a jury member during the 1850s and a free person were on trial for assisting a runaway slave, in clear violation of the Fugitive Slave Act. Would you vote to convict and punish?

A moral person would find each one of those laws either morally repugnant or to be a clear violation of our Constitution. You say, "Williams, you're wrong this time. In 1859, in Ableman v. Booth, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 constitutional." That court decision, as well as some others in our past, makes my case. Moral people can't rely solely on the courts to establish what's right or wrong. Slavery is immoral; therefore, any laws that support slavery are also immoral. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions (is) a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy."

Soon, the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Obamacare, euphemistically titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There is absolutely no constitutional authority for Congress to force any American to enter into a contract to buy any good or service. But if the court rules that Obamacare is constitutional, what should we do?

State governors and legislators ought to summon up the courage of our Founding Fathers in response to the 5th Congress' Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. Led by Jefferson and James Madison, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 were drafted where legislatures took the position that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional. They said, "Resolved, That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government ... (and) whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force." The 10th Amendment to our Constitution supports that vision: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to 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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