Talking Tough

County attorney questions role of judges, election of senators

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Gila County Attorney Bradley Beauchamp questioned the right of judges to review the constitutionality of legislation and lamented the passage of the 17th Amendment allowing the direct election of U.S. senators at a Tea Party meeting last week, often sounding like he was back in front of the high school government class he once taught.

Beauchamp took aim at things like whether the U.S. Supreme Court had a right to overturn legislation, whether state Legisla­tures rather than voters should pick U.S. senators and whether the income tax is legal.

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Bradley Beauchamp

The former Globe-Miami civics teacher said letting voters rather than legislatures pick senators ranks as the biggest mistake the U.S. ever made.

“April 8, 1913: that is when we took a big step backwards,” he said. “That is where we made, in my opinion, the biggest mistake with messing around with what is the greatest document that’s ever been drafted by man.”

Under the original provisions of the Constitution, state legislatures elected senators. The 17th Amendment allowed citizens to directly elect their state’s two senators. This eroded state rights.

Repealing the 17th Amendment has become a popular notion with conservative groups who say the federal government has gained too much power at the expense of the states.

Beauchamp also criticized the 16th Amendment, which in 1913 established the federal income tax.

Beauchamp also raised sweeping questions about what role judges should play, especially the concept of judicial review, which gives the Supreme Court power to determine the constitutionality of a law. This has given the Supreme Court the power to stop anything the other branches of government adopt, he said. He said this subverts the Constitution by giving the judicial branch too much power.

Take health care, he said. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. That makes it very difficult to overturn that decision because the judges on the Supreme Court have a lifetime appointment.

Before judicial review in 1803, however, if an unconstitutional or unpopular law passed, the people were voted out of office and new representatives repealed it. Now, we are stuck with Obamacare, he said. Beauchamp said giving nine people beholden to no one so much power is dangerous and that is why it was left out of the Constitution. He said the drafters never intended to give one branch of government so much power with no recourse.

He said term limits for Supreme Court judges would have provided some limit on their power. Beauchamp said he gets nervous when he hears people say they want to adjust the Constitution because of the outcome of judicial review.

“When we sit around and talk about let’s just amend the Constitution, let’s pass this amendment we’ll just fix it, take caution because you could do something so innocuous as judicial review and now what have you created?” he said. “A body of people who are beholden to no one that you cannot fire that can determine any time they want by a margin of five to four whether some law is constitutional or not. And that is dangerous because that affects the very fabric of the nation.”

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