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
— 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
— James Madison (unverified)
Potestas stricte interpretatur. A
power is strictly interpreted.
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
Court Decisions — Local archive, with commentaries
on the rulings and the opinions.
of jurisdiction, Jon Roland, December 11, 2010.
Rights, Powers and Duties, Jon Roland
List of Constitutional Rights, Jon Roland
of Constitutional Principles, Jon Roland
of Constitutional Construction, Jon Roland
Theory of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Jon Roland
Veto Message to Congress, James Madison, March
3, 1817, of public works bill.
the Power to Make Charitable Donations
Veto Message to Congress, Franklin Pierce, May
3, 1854, of welfare bill.
Limits on Powers of
Congress, Larry Becraft
Commerce, Larry Becraft
Demise of the Right-Privilege Distinction in Constitutional Law,
William W. Van Alstyne, Harvard Law Review, Vol.
Original Meaning of the Commerce Clause, Randy E. Barnett, 68
U. Chicago Law Review 101.
of 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.
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.
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?, by
C. 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
— Ayn Rand
Constitutional Interpretative Commentaries by Jon Roland
Understanding of the Commerce Clause, Jon Roland: July 29,
of the Fourteenth Amendment was to Protect All
Rights, Jon Roland
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
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
Veto 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.
of 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
— 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)
and the Administrative State — Questions of the
legitimacy of delegations of legislative powers to executive branch
|The people are masters of both Congress and courts, not
to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it!
— Abraham Lincoln
and Privacy Rights — We have a separate subsite
for this large topic.
| [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 forbid.
— 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
of the Supreme Court. To this conclusion I cannot assent. Mere
precedent is a
dangerous source of authority...[and] the opinion of the Supreme
not to control the coordinate authorities of this Government. The
Executive, and the Court must each for itself be guided by its own
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
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
may be brought before them for judicial decision.
— President Andrew Jackson observed, in his 1832 veto message rejecting
extending the charter of the Bank of the United States