Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. He disagreed with Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) when they asked for an investigation to ensure that certified slates of presidential electors were, in fact, those chosen by the people. So Thompson wants the government to punish them.
He suggests Cruz and Hawley be placed on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “no fly” list. Ground them!
Thompson's suggestion is akin to that of an intolerant bully. But it also showed that he's ignorant of the fundamentals of his job. His remark, like many others issued by federal officials, should tell us this: Stop relying so much on the federal government and start telling state lawmakers to resume their constitutional duties.
This is the second essay in a five-part series explaining a simple agenda for ensuring election integrity and for taking our country back from arrogant and ignorant federal officials.
Its principal purpose is to shield members of Congress from executive branch retaliation—such as being slapped on a no-fly list.
The Speech and Debate Clause was the product of sad historical experience. Prior to our Founding, the English Crown repeatedly tried to crush opposition in Parliament by punishing its members. For example, in 1576, Queen Elizabeth I confined Peter Wentworth to the Tower of London because he argued on the floor of the House of Commons that the Queen was a trustee for her people. In 1642, Charles I helped bring on the English Civil War by storming into the House, seeking to seize members who had displeased him.
The Speech and Debate Clause prevents that sort of thing from happening to Congress. It obviously is crucial to the preservation of Congress as an independent entity.
Now, if these characters don’t understand even the fundamentals of their jobs, how can we expect them to know enough to govern health care? Or education? Or the environment? Or defense, commerce, or any of the other activities they purport to regulate?
To be sure, the Founders did not expect Members of Congress to possess that much knowledge. So the Constitution left governance of most aspects of life to the state legislatures. The Constitution also assigned the state legislatures tasks necessary to keep our political system well calibrated.
- Govern the internal policies of their respective states (including areas into which the feds have since intruded, such as health care and education).
- Approve or veto changes in state borders.
- Approve or veto new national enclaves within state boundaries, such as military bases, federal office complexes, and some national parks.
- Regulate congressional elections, subject to limited congressional override.
- Approve or veto proposed constitutional amendments.
- Propose amendments through a meeting of state delegations called a “convention for proposing amendments.”
- Decide how presidential electors are chosen. Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled (pdf) that state legislatures may even tell electors how to vote.
Over the years, I’ve found that most state lawmakers generally understand their responsibilities under the state constitutions. But I’ve found that many are unaware of the scope of their duties under the U.S. Constitution. We saw this after the 2020 presidential election: When evidence of vote-counting hijinks surfaced in several states, many lawmakers were caught flatfooted.
In some ways, it’s hard to blame them. Special interests have flooded state lawmakers with disinformation for years—disinformation designed to prevent them from doing their jobs. This is particularly true with respect to legislatures’ constitutional amendment powers. And one reason lawmakers were slow to resolve the 2020 election mess was that people who should know better were telling lawmakers that they couldn’t act without the governor.
If we are to assure electoral integrity and other progress, we must educate state lawmakers about their responsibilities under the U.S. Constitution.
Remember: A first step to election integrity and taking back our country is making sure state lawmakers know what their constitutional responsibilities are.