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Howell says General Assembly will consider federal 'repeal amendment'

Rosalind Helderman

Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford) has co-written a column for the Wall Street Journal's online editorial page calling for a "repeal amendment" to the U.S. Constitution, which would allow for the overturn of any federal law adopted by Congress if 2/3 of state legislatures agreed.

In the column, which Howell penned jointly with Georgetown University Law Center professor Randy E. Barnett, the House Speaker writes that the Virginia General Assembly will consider legislation proposing such a constitutional amendment during its annual session, which begins in January 2011.

Howell and Barnett write the such an amendment would provide a new check on federal power, allowing laws adopted by the U.S. Congress to face direct scrutiny from the diverse, directly elected representatives of the nation's 50 state legislatures. They write that the recourse now available to those who believe a federal law is unwise is challenge the law in court or overturn it with a constitutional amendment.

"This amendment reflects confidence in the collective wisdom of the men and women from diverse backgrounds, and elected by diverse constituencies, who comprise the modern legislatures of two-thirds of the states. Put another way, it allows thousands of democratically elected representatives outside the Beltway to check the will of 535 elected representatives in Washington, D.C.," they write.

One part of the column that's likely to draw some attention is a section where the two discuss the historical causes of the growth of federal power. They say it can be attributed to politicians, trying to do too much. But, they say, it also traces back to the 16th and 17th amendments to the constitution, both adopted in 1913.

Both dramatically increased the power of the federal government at the expense of the states, creating a constitutional imbalance that needs to be corrected.

The 16th Amendment gave Congress the power to impose an income tax, allowing it to tax and spend to a degree previously unimaginable. This amendment enabled Congress to evade the constitutional limits placed on its own power by effectively bribing states. Once states are "hooked" on receiving federal funds, they can be coerced to obey federal dictates or lose the revenue.

The 17th Amendment provided for the direct election of U.S. senators by the voters of each state. Under the original Constitution they were selected by state legislatures and could be expected to restrain federal power. Whatever that amendment's democratic benefits, the loss of this check on the federal government has been costly.

Read the column here.

By Rosalind Helderman  | September 16, 2010; 4:10 PM ET
Categories:  Rosalind Helderman, William Howell  
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Haven't they heard of the supremacy clause?

Posted by: pctindall | September 16, 2010 11:16 PM | Report abuse


They have, and congress still has authority to override the 2/3's state veto by a second simple majority....

but at the implied risk that if 2/3's of the states can agree to veto a law they could also probably have the votes necessary to call for a constitutional amendment if the states think the simple override of their concerns were bogus.

Posted by: Dug0915 | September 17, 2010 7:26 AM | Report abuse

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