Guy Ciarrocchi: Cheers to the Constitution

While we are all focused on Joe Biden’s confusion and Bryce Harper’s hamstring, the Supreme Court issued several earth-shaking decisions — no, not about January 6 or even Trump’s immunity. In fact, two of their decisions have the chance to have more impact in our day-to-day lives than most cases have in generations.

These were huge wins for citizens’ rights; taking power away from unelected bureaucrats and upholding the actual, plain meaning of the Constitution — the document that reminds us that we are a nation protected by laws, not politicians.

When I was a law student at Villanova, I had the privilege — yes, privilege — to attend a Federalist Society Dinner, where the keynote address was offered by Justice Antonin Scalia. I’ve attended hundreds of dinners like this since law school. Justice Scalia’s message has remained with me all these years later. I think he was smiling-down on his successors this week.

Justice Scalia began his remarks with a toast: “To the Constitution!” 

He explained that while many nations drink to their kings, queens or leaders, Americans ought to toast the Constitution. We are a nation guided and protected by that bedrock document, the cornerstone of our rights and the limits of government. Presidents come and go, as do members of Congress and even Supreme Court Justices, but our Constitution has been — and always should be — with us. America, after all, is a constitutional republic. Citizens elect our leaders, but those leaders are to be guided and limited by the Constitution, regardless of party or philosophy. 

While that struck me back then, I later grew to fully appreciate what he meant.

Since the 1960’s and especially over the last generation, Congress has been passing laws that set policies and have usually had language that says something like, and this legislation shall be enforced by the EPA (or, whatever cabinet office, agency or alphabet soup of national bureaucracy). In other words, Congress has been saying, essentially, “details to follow.” For decades, nameless, faceless bureaucrats have been allowed to craft regulations and rules, and even create penalties to enforce the thousands of laws passed by Congress and signed by the President, which result in millions of regulations.

Since 1984, in the Chevron case, if you, a small business, or even a Fortune 500 company didn’t like a regulation, rule or penalty handed down by an agency: tough luck. Courts told everyday citizens and businesses: sure, you could file a lawsuit and argue that the agency — the bureaucracy — was wrong. The only problem was that the Supreme Court had said in 1984 that courts and juries were to presume that the bureaucrats were correct. A plaintiff could only win if you could somehow prove that the experts were clearly wrong, or had obviously abused their power. In other words, “good luck.”

Until June 28, 2024.

The US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that agencies and bureaucrats are not to be presumed correct. It’s now a fair fight.

Just as important, this also should compel Congress to rethink how it writes laws. Perhaps, they shouldn’t write tax laws regarding small business and have legalese that more or less says … details to follow from the IRS. Congress (who we elected) ought to detail what the IRS is and isn’t allowed to do. 

Imagine that: laws written by the people we elect so they can be held accountable. We know their names and where their offices are, and we have the right to tell them our thoughts, good, bad or otherwise. Members won’t be able to easily hide behind the alphabet soup of agencies and bureaucrats.

Of course, this won’t bring about commonsense or responsive government overnight. But, it’s a game changer. We are a nation guided by the Constitution, not nameless, “expert” bureaucrats.

In a second case, the issue was federal agencies taking away your property or your money by their own decision, without you having a right to a jury trial to decide your innocence or whether you were liable — and, if so, how much your financial liability is.

Agencies were creating regulations based on acts of Congress, then after their own investigations they could determine that you violated the law. Then, the agency would impose a penalty and take your money or property. You never got to be heard by a judge and jury.

On June 27, the US Supreme Court issued a decision that was a refresher course in the Bill of Rights — namely, the 7th Amendment: the right to a jury trial. No matter how “important” the agency thinks the case is; no matter how “bad” the agency thinks the violation is, defendants are entitled to a jury of their peers.

Yet again, the majority reminded everyone that we have a Constitution. And our leaders and the agencies that we have created are all subject to them. The Constitution not only sets forth the powers and duties of the federal government, it sets the limits — and it outlines a series of checks and balances. The three branches have duties and oversight on each other, and the states have unique and special authority.

And the citizens are to be protected by the Constitution, and able to hold government accountable.

The majority reminded everyone what being a constitutional conservative is — after years of only talking about it in lengthy lectures in walnut paneled rooms and lecture halls on campuses. The Constitution matters. 

Citizens stand on equal footing when challenging government agencies. Defendants are entitled to a trial by a jury of their peers. It made sense in 1787; and is a large part of the reason we are all here in 2024.

The Supreme Court did an important “reset” this week. And, yes, it’s big news and impacts all of us.

“To the Constitution!”

Guy Ciarrocchi is a Senior Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation. A former Deputy Attorney General, Guy writes for Broad+Liberty and RealClear Pennsylvania. Follow Guy @PaSuburbsGuy.

4 thoughts on “Guy Ciarrocchi: Cheers to the Constitution”

  1. Another careful tiptoe around the real issues by Guy. Not surprising.

    If congress wasn’t in the back pocket of the lobbyists, I might could get on board with you. But we all know that is the case and you, as a lobbyist, of all people know that.

    And lets face it, the reality of making laws in this country is tough already, if you are actually suggesting that congress needs to get explicit on things that are “fill in the blank” we will never pass a law again. IT will be bogged down in debate forever, far worse than anything we see now. No one in congress is qualified to make those calls and whoever have the deepest pockets wins. That’s why the independent “bureaucrats” are there to make sure the real oligarchy doesn’t screw over the people. The people who appoint the “bureaucrats” are elected and a lot of them have to get approved by congress in some form or another. Or are you forgetting checks and balances?

    And the constitution isn’t perfect its actually been corrected 27 times but since you went to Villanova, I would assume you knew that or were you asleep during constitutional law?

    If you need a refresher I’m sure you can catch some school house rock videos on youtube.

    And just for S&G’s, I don’t see you touting the constitution to DJT and his complete disregard for the election process outlined therein. Where does your “to the constitution” fit in there? Truth is you only want application where if fits your opinion or that of the people cutting your paycheck.

  2. It really is as simple as this: the Trump Party (formerly known as Republicans) believe that ruling class political elites like Trump and Biden should be above the laws that the rest of us commoners have to follow even though there is absolutely zero mention of presidential immunity in the constitution. According to their sick and twisted logic, Biden could use his official powers to order seal team 6 to take out anyone in congress who might impeach him and there would be no legal consequences. Truly sick. The unitary executive theory is exactly how Augustus brought down the roman republic and replaced it with a dictatorship without ever technically destroying any government institutions. Happy 4th of July.

    1. Idiotic hyperbole. The president is not above the law and does not enjoy immunity for non- presidential official duty acts.
      I laugh at the leftist narrative of dictator and ‘end of democracy’ threat. You can smell the desperation. The current Biden administration is more a threat to our democracy as witnesses by numerous lost legal challenges to their agenda, and their weaponization of the immigration department, the energy department and the justice department. Who’s running the country, anyway? It certainly isn’t Biden.

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