Buy Photo

John Pryor

We increasingly hear pleas to impose constitutional constraints on Congress. Also, we increasingly see state laws that should be the province of local government.

The usual source for limited federal government is our U.S. Constitution and its 10th Amendment. To fully understand its importance -- and its validity -- we need to "drill down" to discover its underlying rationale. We need to understand what compelled our Founding Fathers to include the 10th Amendment in our Bill of Rights.

This rationale is called "dual legitimacy" -- a principle respected by our founders with origins dating back to Old Testament times. It means: The consent of the people must be ratified by an independent standard of what is right.

"Consent of the people" is what we call direct democracy. California's initiative process permits citizens to create laws directly. This "consent" also includes the more prevalent process of representative democracy, in which we elect people to adopt laws on our behalf.

It's the other side of the equation that many of us don't understand. It's something still others don't respect and clearly flaunt and disobey. This is how nations get into trouble. Today, our standard of "what is right" is our U.S. Constitution and its state counterparts. Our judicial system is designed to assure this standard is followed by our elected officials.

An example of a federal law not "ratified" by our Constitution was one that proposed a line-item veto by the president. It was deemed unconstitutional. State supreme courts can make similar rulings on state laws, of course.

In biblical terms, this is God's will -- an independent standard of what is right and what is not right. It's a process in which the desires of the people are considered in drafting political solutions to political problems. However, solutions ultimately must be "ratified" to assure that none has stepped over the line of what Samuel characterized in the Old Testament as "the way that is good and right." (See: 1 Samuel 12:23)

This notion has prevailed over the centuries.

In his excellent paper "The Biblical Case for Limited Government," author Yoram Hazony says: "We all know that the consent of the governed, crucial though it is, cannot stand as the sole basis for the legitimacy of the state. It was not so long ago, after all, that Weimar Germany consented to the rule of Adolf Hitler."

We all know what followed in history when laws proposed by Hitler were passed in Germany that should have been declared unconstitutional, but were not.

Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of this principle of "dual legitimacy" by limiting the power of the federal government through a succinct Constitution and Bill of Rights. This constraint was (and is) reinforced by our nation's judicial system. It works -- unless we ignore constitutional constraints -- as did the Weimar government in Germany and many other countries in earlier centuries.

Our new 113th Congress needs to take a fresh look at the role of our federal government and its current overreaching laws, inappropriate departments and other elements within our federal government that should be delegated or reserved to the states as prescribed in the 10th Amendment.

This notion of dual legitimacy also is relevant to many other issues we face today, not solely the size and role of government, e.g., gun control, Obamacare (or ultimately a single-payer health care system), federal debt, immigration policy and "just wars" to mention but a few.

It's important that we understand the concept of dual legitimacy before we even address budget issues. If concepts of dual legitimacy were properly followed, our federal budget would be dramatically lower and sequestration would be a nonissue.

States should work through the same process to discover roles, functions and systems more appropriately delegated to counties and cities. As many have said, the government is best that governs least.

Only then shall we be in conformance with the wisdom gained over the centuries based on the principle of dual legitimacy. To do otherwise is a prescription for political chaos and loss of personal freedom. Tragically, we're seeing this principle ignored with disastrous outcomes occurring today before our very eyes.

John Pryor of Bakersfield is a risk management consultant. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian may edit submissions for length and clarity.