Rights, Powers and Duties
On every question of construction [of the Constitution]
let us carry ourselves back to the time when the
Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested
in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be
squeezed out of the text, or intended against it, conform
to the probable one in which it was passed.
— Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), letter to Judge William
Johnson, (from Monticello, June 12, 1823)
If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or
modification of the constitutional powers be in any
particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in
the way which the Constitution designates. But let there
be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one
instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the
customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.
— George Washington, Farewell
Do not separate text from historical background. If you
do, you will have perverted and subverted the
Constitution, which can only end in a distorted,
bastardized form of illegitimate government.
— James Madison (unverified)
Potestas stricte interpretatur. A power is
In dubiis, non praesumitur pro potentia. In cases
of doubt, the presumption is not in favor of a power.
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General Constitutional Issues
Landmark Court Decisions
— Local archive, with commentaries on the rulings and the
of jurisdiction, Jon Roland, December 11, 2010.
Constitutional Rights, Powers
and Duties, Jon Roland
of Constitutional Rights, Jon Roland
Declaration of Constitutional
Principles, Jon Roland
Constitutional Construction, Jon Roland
Legal Theory of the Right to
Keep and Bear Arms, Jon Roland
Veto Message to Congress, James Madison, March 3, 1817,
of public works bill.
Crockett on the Power to Make
Veto Message to Congress, Franklin Pierce, May 3, 1854,
of welfare bill.
on Powers of Congress, Larry Becraft
The Demise of the
Right-Privilege Distinction in Constitutional Law, William
W. Van Alstyne, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 81:1439.
Original Meaning of the Commerce Clause, Randy E. Barnett,
68 U. Chicago Law Review 101.
Lysander Spooner. Site created by Randy E. Barnett.
the Boundaries: The Scope of Congress's Power to Regulate
Commerce, Robert H. Bork and Daniel E. Troy — Current
doctrine in conflict with original understanding. Paper
delivered at symposium sponsored by U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Misreading John Bingham and the Fourteenth Amendment,
Richard L. Aynes, Yale Law Journal, October, 1993, Page
57 — Argues that the Fourteenth Amendment was understood by its
authors and ratifiers as extending the jurisdiction of U.S.
Courts over cases between a citizen and his state over rights
protected in the U.S. Constitution.
Evolving Police Power: Some Observations for a New Century,
Glenn H. Reynolds, David B. Kopel, Hastings Constitutional
Law Quarterly, Spring 2000.
Scholarship of the Original Understanding of the Constitution,
Robert G. Natelson, Independence Institute.
The Kentucky and Virginia
Resolutions: Guideposts of Limited Government, William J.
Watkins, Jr. — These 1798 documents are comparable in
importance, for our understanding the Constitution, to the Federalist
or Madison's Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention.
Forgotten, Newest Amendment: Is It Already A Dead Letter?,
Eastman. Commentary on violations of the 27th Amendment.
Today, when a concerted effort is made to obliterate
this point, it cannot be repeated too often that the
Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on
private individuals — that it does not prescribe
the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of
the government — that it is not a charter for
government power, but a charter of the citizen's
protection against the government.
— Ayn Rand
Constitutional Interpretative Commentaries by Jon Roland
Understanding of the Commerce Clause, Jon Roland: July 29,
the Fourteenth Amendment was to Protect All Rights,
Safety or Bills of Attainder? — Law Review Article:
written Jun. 14, 2000, published UWLA LR Vol. 34, 2002
meaning of "Offenses against the Law of Nations"
An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no
rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it
creates no office; it is in legal contemplation as
inoperative as though it had never been passed.
v. Shelby County, 118 U.S. 425 (1886)
The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute,
though having the form and name of law, is in reality no
law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose;
since unconstitutionality dates from the time of it's
enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so
branding it... No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional
law, and no courts are bound to enforce it.
— 16 Am Jur 2d, Sec 177 late 2d, Sec 256
Specific Constitutional Issues
of federal public works bill — March 3, 1817. Provides
important guide to the interpretation of the "general welfare"
and "necessary and proper" clauses of the Constitution.
Marque and Reprisal — Collection of historical
examples with analysis.
| So long as the people do not care to exercise their
freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for
tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves
in the name of any number of gods, religious and
otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.
— Voltairine de Cleyre (1886-1912)
|I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
— Ellen Sturgis Hooper (1816-1841)
the Administrative State — Questions of the
legitimacy of delegations of legislative powers to executive
|The people are masters of both Congress and courts, not to
overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who
— Abraham Lincoln
Property and Privacy
Rights — We have a separate subsite for this large
| [E]very act of a delegated authority, contrary to the
tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is
void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the
Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to
affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal;
that the servant is above his master; that the
representatives of the people are superior to the people
themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do
not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they
— Alexander Hamilton, Federalist
— Sometimes equated with the "Rule of Law", holds that government
can and should be legally limited in its powers, and that its
authority depends on enforcing those limitations.
Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge
among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their
nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does
nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire
to know; but besides this, they have a right, an
indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to
that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of
the characters and conduct of their rulers.
— John Adams, Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law,
1765, From: Our Sacred Honor, Bennett, 253.
It is maintained by the advocates of the bank that its
constitutionality in all its features ought to be
considered as settled by precedent and by the decision of
the Supreme Court. To this conclusion I cannot assent.
Mere precedent is a dangerous source of authority...[and]
the opinion of the Supreme Court...ought not to control
the coordinate authorities of this Government. The
Congress, the Executive, and the Court must each for
itself be guided by its own opinion of the Constitution.
Each public officer who takes an oath to support the
Constitution swears that he will support it as he
understands it, and not as it is understood by others. It
is as much the duty of the House of Representatives, of
the Senate, and of the President to decide upon the
constitutionality of any bill...presented to them for
passage...as it is of the supreme judges when it may be
brought before them for judicial decision.
— President Andrew Jackson observed, in his 1832 veto
message rejecting a bill extending the charter of the Bank
of the United States