Friday, February 17, 2006

More Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution

In "Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution," quoting myself, I say that the UN Charter
delimits Congress's authority to declare war, even though that authority isn't delimited in the Constitution. (There's no mention there of "self defense," for example.) The . . . UN Charter, therefore, amounts to constitutional amendment by treaty. That's not how the Constitution is supposed to be amended. . . .

I have no problem with treaties that implement powers granted to Congress and the president (e.g., the negotiation and ratification of trade treaties). I have a fundamental problem with a treaty (the UN Charter) that circumscribes the power of Congress to declare war. That isn't an implementation of a constitutional power, it's a denial of a constitutional power. . . .

In ratifying the Charter, the Senate essentially surrendered a good chunk of (if not all of) Congress's constitutional authority to declare war. . . . In other words, if the U.S. were to abide by the letter of the UN Charter (as interpreted by the Security Council, not Congress), the president and Congress would be prevented from taking actions that they judge to be in the best interest of Americans. That, it seems to me, vitiates the Framers' intent, which was to place the decision about going to war in the hands of the elected representatives of the people of the United States -- and certainly not in the hands of foreign powers.
Here is Mr. Justice Black, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in Reid v. Covert (1957):

Article VI, the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, declares:

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land;... ."

There is nothing in this language which intimates that treaties and laws enacted pursuant to them do not have to comply with the provisions of the Constitution. Nor is there anything in the debates which accompanied the drafting and ratification of the Constitution which even suggests such a result. . . .

There is nothing new or unique about what we say here. This Court has regularly and uniformly recognized the supremacy of the Constitution over a treaty. 33 For example, in Geofroy v. Riggs, 133 U.S. 258, 267 , it declared:

"The treaty power, as expressed in the Constitution, is in terms unlimited except by those restraints which are found in that instrument against the action of the government or of its departments, and those arising from the nature of the government itself and of that of the States. It would not be contended that it extends so far as to authorize what the Constitution forbids, or a change in the character of the [354 U.S. 1, 18] government or in that of one of the States, or a cession of any portion of the territory of the latter, without its consent."
In sum, a treaty (such as the UN Charter) may neither violate nor change the meaning of the Constitution. The UN, in other words, may not in any way usurp the authority of Congress (or the president) to decide when and in what circumstances the U.S. goes to war.

Other relevant cases:
1. . . . a treaty may not enlarge or amend the Constitution of the United States. In the case of New Orleans v. U.S. (10 Pet. 662, 1836), the Court said that Congress cannot by legislation enlarge the Federal jurisdiction nor can it be enlarged under the treaty-making power.

2. Again in Doe v. Braden (16 How. 635, 1853), the Court indicated it thought that the Constitution was superior to a treaty when it stated: The treaty is therefore a law made by the proper authority, and the courts of justice have no right to annul or disregard any of its provisions, unless they violate the Constitution of the United States.

3. Later, in The Cherokee Tobacco Case (11 Wall.616, 620-621, 1870), the Supreme Court stated: It need hardly be said that a treaty cannot change the Constitution or be held valid if it be in violation of that instrument. This results from the nature and fundamental principles of our Government.
Case closed.