Friday, April 15, 2016

Constitution Series Part 13: Article I, Section 9, Clauses 6 through 8

Of the eight clauses of Section 9, only three seem really necessary to me: clauses 2, 3, and 7, which we'll be getting to today.

Clause 1 is a weird and uncomfortable reminder of our nation's past, but I understand it and I appreciate this reminder of how far we've come from where we started.

Clauses 4 and 5 are about taxation, and it's hard to say how vital these clauses were. Each one has some benefits and some drawbacks from an economic standpoint.

Clauses 6 and 8 each annoy me somewhat, for very different reasons. I'll be discussing them today!


Section 9
No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.
This clause was designed to protect ports from being given preferential treatment by the federal government. The concept is sound: it prevents the big, successful ports from influencing (read:bribing) legislators to enact legislation that favors particularly generous lobbyists.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has so far ruled this clause to be interpreted very narrowly. While it's true that ships are not obligated to enter any one port or pay duties to any state they haven't stopped in, Congress has through the years enacted various "incidental" preferences to certain ports, including the repair and dredging of some ports and the building of bridges over certain rivers, blocking access to some ports.

Some delegates at the convention felt the measures taken in this clause were insufficient and, in fact, led to them becoming vocal opponents of the Constitution as a whole (especially and notably anti-Federalist George Mason). And, it seems, these dissidents were right to be worried.

The clause also brings to mind the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which states that ships delivering goods from one U.S. port to another must be U.S. ships. This was intended to assist U.S. ship manufacturers, ensuring that there's a constant demand for those ships. This likely made a lot of sense in 1920, and may still make a lot of sense now for most of the continental United States. However, with the statehood of Hawaii in 1959, that law seriously inhibited the ability for Hawaii to receive goods bound to the Unites States from East Asia. Ships traveling across the Pacific Ocean can't stop in Hawaii to unload goods bound for the continental United States, despite the fact that it's a perfect mid-ocean waypoint. The practical result is an overall higher cost of living in Hawaii.

To me, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 runs counter to the intent of this clause in the Constitution. However, this clause has been rendered mostly toothless by the courts.
No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.
In short, all uses of federal money can only be used with Congressional approval, and only to accomplish things specified in law. No person, program, or other party can get paid without a law to justify it, and even then every payment must be accounted for and reported now and then.

This is an obvious limitation to put on the government, and one that has resulted in a fair bit of transparency. Though we (the public) don't exactly how much is being spent on every single aspect of the government, we get to know the gist as well at the specifics on many parts of the budget, which is more than many countries allow.

Really, though, this clause is more of a limitation on the rest of the government than it is on Congress. If anything, it hammers home the power of Congress and only Congress to decide how our tax dollars are spent. Again, Congress represents the people, so it gets to be the most powerful branch of the government, as far as the Constitution is concerned.
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
This clause just disappoints me on a personal level. It means that I, as President, would not be able to establish a knighthood and induct people into it. What is even the point of being a ruler if you can't confer titles upon cool people?

It definitely makes sense, though. If we are to be a country of equals, we can not, by definition, have a nobility. This somewhat contradicts the intention of the Senate to be made up of the more "upper class" citizens of the United States, and this clause by no means eliminated the existence of an upper and lower class, but it prohibits the federal recognition of class differences.

Except slaves, of course.

Still, it was an important and impressive ideal; that it didn't matter what sort of family you were born to, so long as you were white and male and had marketable talents and skills, you could rise above your station and live a very different life than your parents did.

The second part of the clause was intended to protect the government from foreign influence. Even now, it's customary for foreign leaders to exchange gifts with dignitaries. This clause requires that any such gifts given to members of the government only be accepted with the consent of Congress. As it is, the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act details exactly what government employees are allowed to accept and what to do with each item received. Basically, it's a handy guide that's probably more efficient than having Congress actively review and approve every single gift.

Continue to Part 14: Article I, Section 10

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