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Our laws and our Constitutions

Updated on September 7, 2013

Many laws have been created over the years not only at the federal level but also at the state level. The authority to generate legislation which becomes law at the federal level is derived from our Constitution which defines the authority and responsibilities of the federal government. At the state level it is both our Constitution and the Constitution of individual states as amended by the voters. Constitutions are living documents and can be changed by voters at the state level for state constitutions and at the legislative level for any proposed amendments at the federal level. Understanding the process for each is not as difficult as understanding the relationship of the laws to the applicable constitutional responsibilities.

Connecting legislative actions to the applicable constitutional authority is not always an easy task. The reason for this involves to some extent the complexity of the legislation processed each year with all the references to other legislation which has found their way to become law. While many laws and regulations associated with them appear to have no direct connection to our Constitution this may not be the case. We as citizens of this great country see many laws passed each some of which include revisions or additional clarification of language in prior legislation.

Congress under the Constitution has specific authority and responsibilities but over the years laws have been passed which may or may not have their authority derived from the Constitution. In some cases it has been decided through our judicial system by the Supreme Court that legislation however vague does fall within congressional authority/responsibility. Specifically Congress has the authority to levy and collect taxes, coin money including regulating its value. It also has the authority to provide punishment for counterfeiting, establishing post offices and roads, declare war and create federal courts inferior to the Supreme Court. Additionally it has control over rules for regulating land and naval forces and provide for arming and disciplining the militia. Establishment of the Uniform Code of Military Justice created a process to improve the quality and fairness of courts martial and military justice

One of the heated battles now occurring in Congress involves immigration issues which involves the process of naturalization for those wanting to become citizens. This involves the security of our borders and protecting the safety of every citizen of this country. While the authority and responsibilities described above are within congressional actions taken in the past and those in the future other responsibilities may find their way at the federal level. The main item of distinction in the Constitution identifies in Article 10 that powers/authority not granted to the federal government are relinquished to the states.

It is important that any laws or legislation being proposed identify the constitutional authority from which the legislation is associated. If no such connection can be identified the legislation should not be enacted. If this is not part of the legislative process it should be. It is logical to have legislation identify such connection and in some cases this occurs while in others it is difficult to derive such connection though it may actually exist. Those who represent us in Congress and at the state level must or should identify the authority from which legislation is being proposed.

While Congress has much responsibility it also has some limits for which the legislative process needs to ensure the limits are not violated. Whether this is included in the process is unknown but it is the responsibility of all elected and appointed individuals to ensure the limits are not violated. Examples of some limitations include that no money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations by law. Another involves taxes of articles exported from one state to another.

Laws issued by states should also identify the constitutional authority for their enactment if not part of the process. Each state has specific legislative processes in conjunction with their responsibilities. Each state must also make sure that the authorities granted to the federal government are not included as responsibilities of the state legislation. The limitations of the each state can also be found in their Constitution and in some cases may be broad in scope but it is the authority on which voters have granted.

To summarize any legislative action needs to identify the source of the authority from which it is being created. In addition any review of said legislation should include some validation that the authority cited, if any has a relationship to the legislation being proposed. Reviewing legislation should be defined as to who has the authority/responsibility. The logical choice is the congressional body creating it but whether a reliable and accurate evaluation is actually performed may be questionable in some cases. This is not meant to be a slam on those who perform such tasks. Questions and concerns surface many times involving legislation which has negative impact and whether the authority to create it actually exists.


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    • Dennis AuBuchon profile image

      Dennis AuBuchon 4 years ago

      Thanks for your comment. I always appreciate comments and the sharing.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Nicely written and a nice outline of how the legislative process should work. The term "living document" though has come to mean for some that the constitution can be changed by simply reading into it things that were not put there by those who wrote it. It is important that the process of amendments be used if the constitution is to be changed, rather than having judges just change the meaning. up votes and sharing.