Another surprise winner in Alabama: The Constitution

The Senate election victory in Alabama of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore has led to much analysis of what it meant and who the real winners and losers were.

One winner that may not get much attention was the U.S. Constitution.  It needed a win.

Why?  Moore’s comments a few years ago to Maine conspiracy theorists had become part of the campaign.  He said that he favored eliminating all amendments after the first ten.  As a hard right Republican, he was ready to roll back history.

His principal target were the three amendments adopted after the Civil War.  He noted, correctly, that the 11 states of the Confederacy had been forced to choose between accepting them and regaining their seats in Congress or continuing to be territories under Federal military control.

The Confederacy has declared war on the Union in violation of the Constitution.  It lost and they ratified the amendments.  Today, Moore and others want to act as if the war went the other way.

Moore argued that amendments ratified at the point of a gun should be repealed.  He went further, saying America was at its best before the Civil War.  He painted a totally false picture of the happy family life of slaves.

He dislikes intensely the Fourteenth Amendment, one of the post-Civil War package, because it means the federal government can require the states to accept the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments he said should survive.  In short, those freedoms should apply to the federal government but also in the states.

What was most worrisome about Moore’s proposal, which he did not reject after it became public, was that it revealed that the so-called “alt-right,” which hopes to gain control of the Republican Party, wants to abandon much of the Constitution.

The hard right is not merely seeking to cut taxes for the wealthy or end net neutrality.  They want to rewrite history.  Moore would eliminate the end of slavery, votes for African Americans and women, and popular election of the Senate.

The Constitution survived his attack.  Even if the GOP regains the Alabama seat, it’s not likely to be with a candidate supporting Moore’s views.

But the Constitution is not safe.  Political partisanship has become so intense that it remains under attack.  While lawful constitutional change is necessary over time, trying to undermine it for short-term political gain is a serious threat.

The very Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who are the targets of Moore and President Trump, are responsible for much of the attack on the Constitution for partisan purposes.

In 2016, Democrat Barack Obama was president.  He sent a Supreme Court nomination to the Republican Senate for its review and possible approval.  McConnell blocked the nomination from even being considered.  This year, Republican senators whistled through Trump’s pick.

The Constitution says Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.  While the Senate can reject a nominee, the clear constitutional intent is that it must act on the nomination, not ignore it.  McConnell’s action intentionally ran against the intent of the Constitution.

Or how about McConnell keeping the Senate in phony session, just to prevent Obama from making any nominations when the senators were at home?

Or the Supreme Court deciding that spending campaign money is the same thing as free speech, protected from government action by the First Amendment, and that corporations can spend all they want?

Or, for that matter, the Supreme Court, with judges favorable to one party, picking the president, when the Constitution lays out a plan, followed earlier in American history?

Or, in Maine, Gov. LePage imposing his arbitrary conditions to block the application of the voters’ referendum decision on Medicaid, despite the state constitution?

Nothing is sacred.  The fabric of the American republic can be torn for immediate, partisan purposes.

For Moore, trampling on the Constitution was all right, because the U.S. should be subject to a higher law, divine law.  And if you want to know what that is, just ask Judge Moore.

The U.S. is not governed by divine law; it is governed by the Constitution.  To govern ourselves, we look to secular guidance from that document above all and from the votes of the people and their representatives.  Judge Moore, the Constitution makes clear you may follow any religion or no religion.

Moore and even McConnell feel free to undermine the Constitution, the only guaranteed link among the people, whatever their politics.  This week, the Constitution won.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.