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Wrong On Rights

The situation with the Wisconsin public unions (which is spreading to other states) has brought a lot of heat to the whole issue of "rights" -- but very little light. Union members are demanding their "rights," rallying and committing mayhem to protect their "rights," and even trying to win nominally non-partisan elections in order to get the law on the side of their "rights."

Time to go back to the fundamentals.

There is a hierarchy of rights in the United States. At the top of the hierarchy are the rights granted by the Constitution. Yes, I know that it is traditional to refer to those rights as "recognized" by the Constitution as opposed to "granted," and that is how they are written, but in fact they are granted. The difference is that they can be taken away. It would take a Constitutional amendment to do so, but it is still technically possible that it could happen.

Anyway, the rights enshrined in the United States Constitution are the highest, the most fundamental, and the most potent.

Next up are the rights granted by the constitutions of the several states. Those often echo the federal rights, but in some cases go beyond. My personal favorite is my own New Hampshire's Article 10:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

That's right. In the Granite State, we don't have a right to revolution, we have a duty. Take that, you other, lesser 49 states.

Anyway, back to being serious. Next up are the rights granted by federal and state laws. These aren't quite so easy to rule as being "greater" or "lesser" in the hierarchy; they take precedence over each other depending on the particulars -- some matters are federal issues, others are state issues. Generally, when there is a conflict, the federal laws prevail -- but not always. If you have any questions, consult with a Constitutional scholar -- preferably, one other than President Obama.

But here is the key point to remember: a right granted by a law can be taken away by another law. Legislatures can repeal any law that has been passed, even by prior legislatures. The "rights" of these unions -- state recognition, collective bargaining, and the like -- were all granted by the legislature, and can be withdrawn.

Yes, they have the right of association. They have the right to organize. But they do not have the right to demand to be recognized and accepted as the collective representative of the employees. The states did so -- but that did not get graven in stone.

Things got even more interesting when one of the Supreme Court justices in Wisconsin came up for re-election. The liberals found a champion who  they thought would rule in their favor on the issue of collective bargaining rights.

Think about that for a moment. Once they lost the fight over whether or not the state legislature would repeal the laws granting them that right, they moved on to arguing that the legislature had no right to repeal that law. And they actually believed that by simply changing a single judge, they could change the question. A fundamental legal question would not be decided based on precedent or existing law or any other objective principle, but purely on the basis of the political leanings of one person who would take an oath to set aside their political leanings and rule strictly on the law and the Constitutions of Wisconsin and the United States.

They actually believe that.
And what's more frightening, they almost won.

Just imagine, for a moment, if their candidate had prevailed. And then actually lived up to her oath and ruled against them.

We are a democratic republic, with majority rule and protections for the minorities. But those protections can be stripped away with a large-enough majority -- just like any other rights. Fortunately, our system requires an escalating supermajority as we ascend up the hierarchy of rights, to the point where it would require a Constitutional amendment to dispense with any of the rights in the Constitution.

Here's an example:

Proposed Amendment XXVIII

Section 1. The words " respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or" are hereby stricken from the First Amendment to this Constitution.

Section 2. The United States is hereby proclaimed to be a Christian nation, built upon the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Section 3. No citizen shall qualify to hold any public office or trust without first taking an oath affirming their devotion to Jesus Christ and His teachings.

Section 4. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Naturally, as a born-again agnostic, I would oppose such an amendment. Indeed, I vowed eternal hostility to Pat Robertson when, in his 1988 presidential bid, vowed that he would only appoint Christians to government office, and still despise the man to this day.

But if such an Amendment were to be put through the amendment process as outlined in Article V of the Constitution, it would become the law of the land -- and our freedom of religion would be no more.

It could happen. It hasn't, largely because we, the American people, have not chosen to do so. It hasn't, because enough of us recognize, accept, embrace, and devoutly believe in the Constitutional principles that we will not countenance such a perversion of them -- even though, at times, it would have been incredibly convenient and personally advantageous to do so.

We Americans are an exceptional people. We were founded by exceptional people, and we have built upon that exceptional foundation to build the greatest nation on earth. We are such an exceptional nation that more people want to come here and be a part of us, and we are the most welcoming nation for that on earth. And those self-selecting new Americans provide us with a constant flow of fresh blood, fresh genes, fresh ideas, fresh perspectives, fresh experiences.

But we're hardly perfect. We still take way too much for granted.

And the public-sector unions are giving us a perfect reminder of just what happens when one takes too much for granted.


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Comments (16)

Jay, I'm a devout Christian... (Below threshold)

Jay, I'm a devout Christian and would oppose your hypothetical amendment as strongly as you.

Sadly, we have a government now that simply ignores the Constitution and/or finds a friendly judge to "interpret" it.

The Democrats have learned that they can get people addicted to free "stuff"...and then, once the addiction is well rooted, they declare it a "RIGHT!" No need to bother with all that icky "amendment" business.

The religious clause has be... (Below threshold)

The religious clause has been turned upside down by judges and the left. They have used the clause to do exactly what the clause is supposed to avoid. There is no wall of separation in the clause that keeps religion out of government and never has been. Instead of as written, we now have a federal government religion of atheism being forced on the country with God driven from wherever they choose to attack next. They found a phrase in jefferson letter to a babtist church and somehow were able to turn this into constitutional language. What a farce. We need to have strict constitutional judges in our courts and if someone wants new rights, go to the amendment process as outlined in our founding documents.

Rights, huh? Like the "righ... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

Rights, huh? Like the "right" to free internet and a laptop? Or the "right" to freely enter the United States at any point, by anyone? Those "rights?"

Who do I write to? The deep thinkers need to know that my pursuit of happiness requires a (free to me) 250 GTO.

RE: "There is a hierarchy o... (Below threshold)

RE: "There is a hierarchy of rights in the United States."

To some people the hierarchy of rights resembles Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Jay, you're confusing right... (Below threshold)

Jay, you're confusing rights and privileges. The "rights" granted by the legislature are generally just privileges. For instance, there is no natural right to collective bargaining. It's just something that state and federal governments have chosen to allow.

There are 'No' right... (Below threshold)

There are 'No' rights unless Barry gives them to You according to the leftard constitution of international governing.

Discussions about rights, f... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Discussions about rights, for me at least, start to get interesting when we consider the balance of rights.

Suppose one night I find a man breaking into my house. It's dark, I worry about the safety of my family and myself. Do I have the right to kill the intruder? Absolutely yes. But let's say I hit the lights, the guy falls to the ground, is clearly unarmed and surrenders. Do I still have the right to kill him? No, because he is no longer a threat and as a human he has certain rights, even as a criminal. What if I encounter a tough-looking stranger in the street and I don't like his looks. Can I kill him? If I do, I'm going to get arrested for murder. Now, let's say I'm a soldier in Afghanistan and I come across an intruder. I'm not even going to talk to him, because is he's there he is not just trying to steal the TV. In Afghanistan, a guy breaking into a military base forfeits his life, no matter what he does when discovered. Where and how things happen has a lot to do with what someone's rights are, and while my examples are simplistic, you can't argue about a more basic right than a right to life.

What I notice, over and over, is that very few people who go around demanding rights, do so on the behalf of others. It usually comes down to trying to justify a power grab for themselves and their group.

Rights, accorded man by his... (Below threshold)
Don L:

Rights, accorded man by his God, cannot be taken away - just as a lie doesn't "take away" the truth, and a prison doesn't take away one's freedom to think freely and the noose doesn't away one's choice of telling the truth. The government can deny them free use of those rights, the way they deny the reality that it is 100% of a human person that the abortionist kills, but is doesn't make what they slaughter a rabbit. It,. even in death, innocent human made in God's image.

The government has freed the slaves since the civil war, but the reality is that they have freely chosen (their rights) to become slaves to their leftist masters.

I can destroy the Mona Lisa, but she lives on in a million minds and hearts.

Death itself, as we near Holy Week, has been conquered.

"And those self-selecting n... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

"And those self-selecting new Americans provide us with a constant flow of fresh blood, fresh genes, fresh ideas, fresh perspectives, fresh experiences."

Sometimes they also bring us old ideas, old prejudices, old grudges, too; and no desire to take on our culture but to try to impose their old culture on us.

But overall, yeah.

Naturally, as a born-aga... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

Naturally, as a born-again agnostic, I would oppose such an amendment.

Me too.

In the same spirit, I would oppose any attempt by the government to muzzle, say, MSNBC. I detest MSNBC, and think that they spew leftist drivel, but I totally support their right to do so.

Boycotting their advertisers, protesting against them, writing them nasty letters - all OK. Passing legislation designed to silence them - not OK. Not at all.

Liberals please note this when commenting on Fox News or conservative radio.

Right are universal and cit... (Below threshold)

Right are universal and citizens have them by birth.

In order to have collective bargaining you have to belong to a Union to get this privilege. The fact that other workers in the country do not have the collective bargaining shows that it really not a right. Federal workers do not have collective bargaining, US military members do not have it and most Americans do not.

The thing about rights is t... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

The thing about rights is that one has to diferentiate between legal rights and natural rights. I often hear people arguing over what is and isn't a right. In mose cases the confusion results from not undertanding there are different types of rights.

Natural and legal rights are two types of rights theoretically distinct according to philosophers and political scientists. Natural rights, also called inalienable rights, are considered to be self-evident and universal. They are not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government. Legal rights, also called statutory rights, are bestowed by a particular government to the governed people and are relative to specific cultures and governments. They are enumerated or codified into legal statutes by a legislative body.


Boycotting their adverti... (Below threshold)

Boycotting their advertisers, protesting against them, writing them nasty letters - all OK

Except when unions do it.

Passing legislation designed to silence them - not OK. Not at all. Liberals please note this when commenting on Fox News or conservative radio.

Can we also note this when commenting on NPR or liberal radio?

they moved on to arguing... (Below threshold)

they moved on to arguing that the legislature had no right to repeal that law

Aside from the insistence that the legislature follow the laws governing the actions of the legislature (such as the open meetings law), just who exactly is supposedly arguing that the legislature has no right to repeal a law?

Throughout history there ha... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

Throughout history there have always been people that want to limit the rights of others. One of the things that has made America great is the tendency of Americans to fight those who want to take a way or limit our rights.

Jay, I think you do not rem... (Below threshold)
JP Author Profile Page:

Jay, I think you do not remember at least one other option.
"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Given the above statement, it is clear that there is at least that option.






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