Vail Daily column: What the Constitution says
Editor’s note: This is the sixth part of a series.
Having ploughed through the Preamble and Articles I through III of the U.S. Constitution, we are on to the last four Articles, after which we will tick off through the various Amendments. Three quick points to make before we launch again: First, this series is meant to focus on what the Constitution says rather than how it has been tortured to be given one interpretation or other consistent with various agendas; second, to emphasize that, even among “strict constructionists” (that is, those who would interpret the Constitution in the light of the times when it was adopted rather than through modern lenses), must concede that, by virtue of the amendment process alone, the Constitution is intended to be a growing, “organic” thing; and, lastly, that the Constitution is intended by its very construction to be challenged by the people and ultimately interpreted by the courts.
Article IV is comprised of four Sections, the first of which provides that “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State. …” In essence, what this means is that each of the various states must respect the laws, records and court rulings of the other states. Section 2 is constituted of three clauses, the first of which provides that the states may not discriminate against the citizens of other states. The second clause establishes the principal of extradition, that is, that states must cooperate with one another to capture fugitives of one state and return them for trial to the state in which the alleged offense occurred. Clause 3 is known — infamously — as the “fugitive slave clause” and holds that slaves who escaped to freedom in the North must be returned to servitude and to their owners. Thankfully, this odious vestige of another time was nullified by the 13th Amendment to which we will, later, devote substantial time. It is worth an editorial note that the word “slave” is never used in the “fugitive slave clause,” its absence underscoring the deep divisions among the framers over the institution of slavery even as the Constitution was given birth. Although repugnant, the clause reflects the tortured compromises the framers reached in laboring to deliver their magnum opus to the world.
The third of the four sections comprising Article 4 contains two clauses and provides that new states may be admitted to the Union but the western territories not yet admitted to the Union would fall under the direct control of Congress.
Lastly, Section 4, Article 4 — dare I say — “dictates” that each of the several states shall have a “republican” form of government rather than — say — a dictatorship. Too, the section provides for the mutual defense of all the states from foreign military adventure and that the feds shall come to the aid of any of the several states in the event of internal uprisings or insurrection.
Article V is a model of brevity, but what is contained therein is pithy. First, Article V provides that the Constitution may be amended and defines the process for amendments (a proposed amendment must be adopted on two-thirds of both the House and Senate — or by two-thirds of all of the state legislatures — and then be approved or “ratified” by three quarters of the states). As we will soon see, this has happened only infrequently in the 200-plus year plus history of the nation. In its original conception, Article V also provided — as yet another of the difficult compromises hammered out over slavery — two restrictions, one of which is no longer operative. That restriction barred any amendments that would have outlawed the slave trade before 1808. The second restriction ensures that no amendment can end the system of equal representation of the states, however large or small, in the Senate; each of the several states are, and shall be, represented equally.
Article VI bends toward the homestretch of the Articles. It consists of three sections, the first of which consists of a scant 28 words but which delivers a fierce financial punch. What it holds is that the new government established by the Constitution would assume all prior debts racked up by the older, weaker confederation established under the Articles of Confederation. What this signaled to the states and to the world was that the new nation would not shirk its debts which was essential in order to establish a viable and respected new player on the stage of world affairs.
Section 2 establishes that the Constitution shall be the “supreme Law of the Land” and where other laws and the Constitution butt heads, the Constitution shall prevail. Too, this section allows that treaties ratified by the Senate shall similarly be considered “supreme law,” and if there is a conflict with state law, then the treaty will come out the winner.
Section 3 of Article VI states that all government officials, whether elected or appointed, must swear an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. However, that oath need not be religious in nature and the government may not require its officials to pass any test of religious affiliation in order to take office. Notwithstanding what some would later claim, this specific ban on a religious litmus test was specifically included to ensure that the U.S. government was intended to be secular.
Lastly, we come to the final Article, number VII. So taciturn is it, it makes the others blush. Running only 24 words, it establishes that ratification by nine of the 13 states would be sufficient to adopt this new Constitution.
In the next installment in this series, we will dip our toes into the Amendments, starting — with a bang! — with what is gloriously celebrated as the American Bill of Rights.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.