"You will see the Constitution of the United States almost destroyed. It will hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber.... I love the Constitution; it was made by the inspiration of God; and it will be preserved and saved…” – Attributed to Joseph Smith, May 1843
Across congregations of the Mormon Church the above quote has become a rallying cry among the conservative members. I have been approached by several wanting to discuss the destructive nature of the Constitution by our current administration. “Today the constitution hangs by a thread,” always concludes each episode as the definitive reason for their political posturing. Stepping aside from the fact that the bloody Civil War was on the horizon in 1843, which truly challenged the foundation of the Constitution, there is merit to this quote today.
The Framers designed the Constitution to equalize representative power across the states, strengthen the voice of the minority, and drive equality. The Senate functions as a contained democracy using majority rule, with equal representation across the states regardless of population. The House is designed to represent the people, equalizing votes across the collective population of our country. The House Representatives are “of the people” with short two year terms to align with the changing demands of the constituents they represent. The Framers designed our government with an inspired balance of power, representing the minority to a point, and using the legislative branch as a check for executive power.
Two changes in rules and actions threaten the balance of the Legislative Branch and the Constitution today. The filibuster changes the entire intent of the Senate and gerrymandering has removed the representative equality of the House. Our government has moved to an extreme representation of the minority which suffocates the will of the majority. In the Senate, Senators representing a mere 20 percent of the population can stop legislation and bring the chamber to a crawl. In the House, a populous minority retains control and abuses their influence to table popular legislation and misdirect funding.
The Senate filibuster is not found in the Constitution and was first used in 1837 exploiting a change in debating rules made in 1806. The filibuster was used just a handful of times until 1970, and as a last resort. Today it is part of the process on almost every bill or appointment. What the Framers intended to be a simple majority in the Senate has now become a 60 vote super-majority. Couple this with the already imperfect representative balance of the Senate, and it is easy to understand why gridlock has ensued.
Today Republicans use the filibuster to oppose legislation and bring the legislative process to a crawl. There have been several bills these past four years, that after receiving the 60 votes needed to end the filibuster, passed 99-0. One of the most egregious examples came last December when Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell filibustered his own bill wasting time and tax payer resources. The real problem with this obtuse Senate rule is 40 minority Senators can represent less than 20 percent of the US population. Eliminating the use of the filibuster still meets the intent of minority representation as 45 Republican Senators represent 30 percent of the population.
On the other side of the Legislative Branch the House has deviated from Constitutional intent due to progressive gerrymandering by Republican governors. As the majority of the states were controlled by Republicans after the 2010 census, a $30 million dollar redistricting action plan was executed further skewing the House’s representative characteristics. In 2012 there were 1.5 million more votes for Democrats yet there are 33 more Republican Representatives in the House. The US is 64 percent white but 4 percent of Republican Congressman are minorities. 51 percent of the population are women but only 8 percent of Republican Representatives. The abuse of redistricting is so widespread I see little chance of overturning House control even with a healthy voting majority in the near future.
Between the House and Senate actions by the minority party it’s easy to understand why the Constitution is being tread on. The American government has been hijacked by a party that relies on abusing rules and redistricting to push an unpopular agenda. Legislation like firearm background checks and immigration reform should be a slam dunk given the overwhelming support by the majority of the people, but the government has failed to perform even the most mundane functions. The Constitution is crippled and the balance of power upset because the minority party does not respect the Framer’s intent.
In Mormon congregations across the country my Republican friends are correct; Joseph Smith’s quote is just as applicable today as it was at the time of the Civil War. The Constitution hangs by a thread and they are the ones holding the scissors.