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Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Mechanics of Constitutional Amendment - 1972 Version

Over at Balkinization, Mark Tushnet has a note about the movie Lincoln, a character's reference to President Lincoln signing the Thirteenth Amendment, and the fact that a President need not, as with a bill, sign a constitutional amendment for it to take effect.  Mark asks, "How many viewers, with at best an 'I'm just a bill' knowledge of our Constitution, are going to think that Presidents have to, or even generally do, sign constitutional amendments?"

IMG_0346I just spent the better part of the morning scavenging through old boxes in the basement to find the evidence that, just over forty years ago, as a beardless boy of eighteen, I confronted Richard Nixon on this very point.  I was a freshman at the University of Michigan in 1972.  During a visit to Michigan State, I found a brochure in one of the dorms (it would have been completely futile at Michigan) in which the Committee to Re-Elect the President was making the case that young people should vote for Nixon over McGovern.  One of the claims was to the effect that President Nixon had always supported the eighteen-year-old voting age, and on such-and-such a date "signed the 26th Amendment into law."

Upon my return to Ann Arbor, I wrote a letter to the President, objecting to this characterization of constitutional law, and asking him why he seemed deliberately to be taking credit for something that was beyond his powers.

The lame response - as Woodward and Bernstein would have observed, a "non-denial denial" - is at left.

Although I later regretted that the letter had come from Harry S. Dent, and not John Dean, I was somewhat mollified when Mr. Dent pled guilty to illegal fund-raising in the Nixon campaign as part of the Watergate investigations.  I also never believed that the President had asked Mr. Dent anything of the sort.  None of this was enough to get me on the "enemies list."

Now that I have fished it out, I'm trying to decide whether to put it up in my office next to the framed 1942 letter signed by John Edgar Hoover denying my wife's grandfather's application to join the F.B.I., expressly because he "failed the written exams," but implicitly, to my reading, on account of Nathan Milstein having been Jewish while applying.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on December 27, 2012 at 01:26 PM | Permalink


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Very cool, Jeff. Thanks for posting this.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 27, 2012 4:16:37 PM

Awesome. Good to know of this free service provided by our elected officials.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 27, 2012 4:46:51 PM

Yes, frame it and hang it.

Posted by: Debbie Borman | Dec 28, 2012 10:17:00 AM

That is neat though he's no Arthur Dent.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 28, 2012 1:17:00 PM

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