References to the Langkawi Declaration on the Environment and the Lake Victoria Commonwealth Climate Change Action Plan are examples of one of the most recent values adopted by the Commonwealth: Sustainability. This goal has recently been brought to bear on the Commonwealth Games – a competition that brings together sports teams from the Commonwealth members and other territories every four years. Pressure has been mounting to make the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, at least as committed to the goal of sustainability as the London Olympics of 2012.
Current events annotations explore the contemporary relevance of founding documents, relating constitutional principles to emerging political issues.
The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of independent countries. There are currently 54 member countries in the Commonwealth.
Of those questions that did require deliberation about the judiciary, the prevailing concern that informed the Framers’ choices was the need to preserve the independence of the judges. Wherever possible, they wished to elevate the judges above the noisy partisanship of the political process. Whereas a legislature should possess a comprehensive understanding of and sympathy with local interests, the judiciary should act with total objectivity toward those interests. The Constitution therefore prescribes that judges should be appointed by the two most stable elective offices, the President and the Senate; they should hold their office during good behavior (which is effectively a lifetime appointment); and their compensation should not be diminished during their tenure. If the Framers could succeed in creating a branch of government beholden to no authority but the law, then the judiciary could be trusted to uphold the rightful claims of a weak party when the legislative process might fail to do so. As Gouverneur Morris later argued in the Senate, without the federal court system, “the citizen is deprived of those rights for which he stipulated, or rather those rights verbally granted would be actually withheld; and that great security of our Union, that necessary guard of our tranquillity, be completely paralyzed, if not destroyed” (January 14, 1802). The judge’s ability to defy the other branches of government and even an oppressive majority would therefore depend upon their independence.
The formation of the judicial branch occasioned less debate in the Constitutional Convention than any other branch of government. Indeed, the only real controversy was deciding whether federal courts – and especially “inferior” tribunals spread throughout the union – were really necessary to a government of such limited scope. Those delegates who wanted to keep the central government weak had accordingly argued that legal controversies should almost always be tried in state courts. The vast majority at the Convention, however, believed that the absence of a proper Executive and Judiciary in the Articles of Confederation was its primary defect. “An effective judiciary establishment,” insisted James Madison, “was essential. A government without a proper executive and judiciary would be the mere trunk of a body, without arms or legs to act or move” (June 5). Article III, which establishes the federal judicial power, is far more concise than those articles which establish the other two branches. The reasons for this brevity, both in the debates at the Convention and in the text of the Constitution, are twofold. First, judicial power was already generally understood and uncontroversial during this period. The colonists had largely adopted the legal traditions and precedents from Great Britain and their own colonial experience. Second, the judicial power was generally considered the weakest; it therefore, was the least feared branch of government.
Though the President may only be removed from office for high crimes and misdemeanors, the meaning of what constitutes such offenses is dependent on the House when impeaching and the Senate when convicting. Consequently, it is technically possible for both houses to impeach and convict the President for something other than high crimes and misdemeanors. However, the institutional prestige of both bodies would almost certainly be greatly diminished in the process.
Though Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only two Presidents to be impeached, the rationales for those respective proceedings had very different bases. President Johnson’s impeachment involved a political matter that came to a head when Johnson removed Secretary of War Stanton in 1868, in an apparent violation of the Tenure in Office Act. This Act limited the circumstances under which the President could remove officials whose jobs were subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. It can be said that President Johnson’s ultimate vindication proved that impeachment would not succeed when used on a political basis. President Clinton’s impeachment involved a personal matter that became a judicial matter when he gave false testimony under oath in a case prosecuted when he was in office. Though Johnson’s and Clinton’s cases were very different, they both had to be addressed under the general language of the impeachment clause.
In Athens, though it was considered to be one of the most liberal democracies of the ancient world, a citizen had to be the offspring of two Athenian parents in order to participate in the political councils. A man might be considered a resident alien, politically, even though his lineage could be traced in Athens for generations. Common law in Europe often expanded political rights beyond what they had been in the ancient world; though traditionally, European countries placed great emphasis on the necessity of being native-born. People who had immigrated from another country would generally not qualify for full citizenship rights, because they would not be deemed sufficiently loyal to their adopted fatherland.
During the Constitutional Convention, it was generally agreed that American policies would be more liberal than their European forebears. Gouverneur Morris emphasized “the privileges which emigrants would enjoy among us, . . . observing that they exceeded the privileges allowed to foreigners in any part of the world.” Nonetheless, some preference for natural born citizens and lengthy residencies in one’s homeland survived. Morris expressed some suspicion for “those citizens of the world . . . he did not wish to see any of them in our public councils. He would not trust them. The men who can shake off their attachments to their own country can never love any other.” James Wilson, who was himself an immigrant from Scotland, expressed some chagrin at “his being incapacitated from holding a place under the very Constitution which he had shared in the trust of making. . . . To be appointed to a place may be matter of indifference. To be incapable of being appointed is a circumstance grating and mortifying.” However, the greater number of delegates wanted to restrict the most powerful office in the United States, the presidency, to “a natural born Citizen” (Art. II, Sec. 1). George Mason pointed out that were it not for the circumstance that many foreigners “had acquired great credit during the revolution,” he would be in favor of restricting even “the Senate to natives” (Aug. 9). It remained the case that the United States Constitution would give more liberal privileges to recent immigrants than anywhere in the Old World.