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53 thoughts on “The United States Constitution

  1. Patrick said:

    Art. 2, Sect. 1:
    “The Congress may determine the Ttime of choosing the Electors …”
    “Ttime” appears to be a typo. Not sure if “choosing” is a typo or a spelling modernization. The original spelling is
    “The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors …”

  2. Antsan said:

    All those negative formulations (“No person shall be a Senator who shall not have…”) make this really hard to read. I know this is not logically necessary – there never needs to be more than one level of negation, so is there a special reason they did it like this?

    I mean, the sentence whose beginning I quotes even seems ambiguous, the part after the “and who shall not” could be taken to be inside the first negation or outside of it.

  3. Kereth Midknight said:

    Is there a way to bookmark a link to the current page now? The old url just goes to the contents page now.

    • I’m in the process of making the site more easy to navigate, now that there are so many hundreds of pages and dozens of topics. This is an interim step, testing out an idea. So feedback and suggestions are really really appreciated!

      • Kereth Midknight said:

        My use of the site has been pretty simple. I follow a bookmark to get to the latest comic page, click the back button until it looks familiar, then read forward until I get to the end. Somebody else might have more detailed requirements than I do. I’d prefer to use a permanent “current comic” link, if it exists, but not all sites have them, so I adapt. If it stays in this present form, I’ll probably develop a habit of looking at the contents page for links that haven’t been clicked recently in the current story in order to find my spot, or just clicking on whichever looks latest and following the old routine with the one extra page load to slow me down.

      • Back when I used to post this comic in response to relevant discussions on reddit/hackernews/facebook, I would have loved a page-by-page index and started writing some python to build one. Do you want any web programming help?

      • I like the new contents page, but there really needs to be a simple “Latest Comic” button. It makes no sense that to check for an update, I need to scroll down to “Constitutional Law,” and then think “Okay, the last one I read was page 2. Or was it 3…?”

        Put the latest comic on the front page, and then the table of contents in the contents page, like every other webcomic in existence.

        • That’s how I always had it, and it worked when I only posted one page at a time. But now I’m posting entire sections at the same time, and it’s confusing for readers to come to the last page of a new section first.

          I don’t like the contents as the home page, either. I’ll figure something out, and in the meantime I’m open to suggestions!

          • Mike Cody said:

            First, it is your comic and I am happy for whatever you give me (and it is well worth what I pay for it, too). However, speaking for myself only, I would rather you spent your precious and limited time putting up new comics, even if they may be more or less dificult to figure out the sequence; and less time on the site layout. I would much rather have difficulty navigating to new content than be able to review old content easily. (You did ask for suggestions, so it’s your fault your getting them.)

          • beleester said:

            How about spacing out a section when you post it, posting a page a week or something? It solves this problem, and it gives obsessive checkers like me a better chance of seeing something new when we check for an update.

            • I’m thinking of doing that. Just upload the chapter, but have each page post one day at a time. That’d give me a buffer to work through as well, so there’s not an insane delay when I get busy with other things — like I am right now.

  4. Alectric said:

    Amendment 7’s use of “twenty dollars” seems shortsighted, not accounting for inflation. Does that lead to more and more frivolous trials as time goes on?

    • UsaSatsui said:

      Doesn’t change whether or not you can file suit, just changes whether or not you can demand a jury for your civil suit. I think if you do so, you need to cover the cost of it. But I’m just going off of “I heard that somewhere”.

      Anyways, most civil cases for damages aren’t federal anyway, so it doesn’t really apply.

    • Greg said:

      According to an online inflation calculator I consulted, $20 in 1791 would be worth about $513 today. That’s still really low—low enough to be handled by a small claims court if the lawsuit were filed at the state level. (Low enough, in fact, to be handled by Judge Judy!) So, adjusting the amount for inflation wouldn’t really get rid of that many frivolous jury trials. (Besides, I suspect that the costs of actually filing a federal lawsuit would deter anyone from suing for such a trivial amount.)

    • Jay said:

      Inflation wasn’t really a thing at this time, at least not how we think about it now. Prices could change, but there wasn’t a steady upward moving that we have seen since around the early 20th century.

      This part of the seventh amendment has not been incorporated to the states, so it’s only for federal civil suits that it applies (personally, I think selective incorporation is awfully problematic philosophically, but you can see why the court has done it that way when you look at stuff like this).

    • Castamir said:

      There was no inflation until 1934 when the US first defaulted on gold, but it was still pretty stable until 1971 when Nixon dropped gold convertibility. Since then, inflation has gone wild and any fixed prices become meaningless on the order of half a decade.

      • UsaSatsui said:

        This is not true. Inflation was slower before 1934, but still existed. Not really sure what the gold standard has to do with court cases or the Constitution, either…

      • Stuart Armstrong said:

        The picture Harry paints the full picture: from http://imgur.com/cvGQfjk

        Basically, before Bretton Woods (end of WW2), there was inflation, often much higher than what we experience today – but it alternated with periods of sharp deflation, so there was no overall drift. When the currency floated entirely, there was an initial period of high inflation, but that settled down to the current low and steady inflation.

        • Stuart Armstrong said:

          “The picture Harry paints the full picture:” -> “The image Harry posted paints the full picture:”

    • Kereth Midknight said:

      You’re all silly. This was written even before the coinage act of 1792. Those aren’t even American dollars being referred to. There was no such thing. We’re probably talking something along the line of spanish gold dollars, which were supposedly a fixed amount of gold.

      • Kereth Midknight said:

        Sorry, looking it up, we’re probably talking about the dutch “Lion Dollar” which was in wide circulation throughout the region at the time. So “fixed amount of silver.”

      • UsaSatsui said:

        You know, I never actually thought about that before, but you’re right. Spanish Dollars were pretty much de facto currency in the pre-United States, and that’s probably what they were referring to. When they did establish the US Dollar, though, they made it worth one Spanish Dollar. So it does kinda-sorta translate over.

    • The “twenty dollars” clause has been ignored since day one. In fact, nobody knows why it’s even in there. It wasn’t in the version passed by the House. It got added just before the Senate passed it. But there’s no documentation of why it got added.

      A major purpose of the 5th, 6th, and 7th amendments was to ensure the rights of Englishmen they’d fought to have. (Independence turned out to be the only way to get the rights of Englishmen. Does that count as irony?) Anyway, one of these rights was the right to a civil jury. (One which has mostly died out in the UK and some of the Commonwealth. Irony again?)

      As we’ll see, the federalists were afraid of popular will causing injustice. And one of the things they were afraid of was juries nullifying legal protections (such as contracts, debts, etc.). They had a point. Rule of Law is critical if you want a functioning and flourishing society. And so they very consciously left this out of the original draft of the Constitution.

      I’m only guessing here, but my surmise is the “twenty dollar” clause got added to mollify a federalist senator, with the expectation that it wouldn’t ever really mean anything. Wouldn’t be the first time something like that happened, or the last.

  5. Abram said:

    “‘Regulate Commerce?’ …THAT doesn’t sound like much…”

    Bless your heart, female stick figure.

  6. Gurst said:

    14th Amendment: “the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.”

    Was this portion unaffected by later amendments? So a state that disenfranchises all its voters would have a negative basis of representation?

    • Obviously the amendments dealing with who gets to vote affect this. Nowadays you’d read “male citizens twenty-one years of age” as “citizens eighteen years of age.”

      The interesting bit is we count both citizens and noncitizens for apportionment. We count “whole persons.” So districts with lots of illegal immigrants have fewer actual voters — magnifying the voting power of each. In a district that was 50% illegal immigrant, it would be as if each citizen voter had two votes. Meanwhile, not only do districts with few or no illegal immigrants not get that extra voting power, states with few illegal immigrants actually lose congressional seats and electoral votes during reapportionment to the states with many. For whatever reason, this has historically tended to give a significant advantage to the Democrats, who control most of the districts and states with the most illegal immigrants. I haven’t done the math, but others who have claim that if apportionment was based strictly on citizens rather than whole persons, we could well have had a President McCain in 2008 and a President Romney in 2012. I’m skeptical about the 2008 one, just because Obama’s lead was something like 7%, but like I said, I haven’t done the math.

      • UsaSatsui said:

        So the 14th Amendment also changed the “we don’t count Indians” part of it too?

        • Even though the 14th grants citizenship to anyone born here, for some reason it was interpreted for a long time as not applying to Native Americans.

          Congress changed that in 1924, making it law that any native american born in the U.S. is a U.S. citizen. Even so, some states wouldn’t let them vote until 1957.

          A pattern that will be discussed later in the comic is that expanding citizenship and voting rights has always happened after a war (or during one, in the case of giving 18-year-olds the vote), in recognition that people put their lives at risk (or in the case of women’s suffrage, contributed mightily to the war effort) and thus have sufficient skin in the game to have a say in it. Native Americans had fought in WWI, and it was largely in recognition of this that they got birthright citizenship (and in most states, voting rights) in ’24. Their fighting in WWII led to the last holdout states giving them the vote afterwards.

          The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was supposed to put an end to opposition, but there’ve still been (unsuccessful) attempts to disenfranchise several times since then.

          • SeanR said:

            I think I’d like to see felons, those whom the state has permanently disenfranchised, counted as 3/5ths of a person.

            I’d like to see the states race to re-enfranchise, with full rights, most of those persons before the next census.

            • UsaSatsui said:

              Enfranchisement is not the same thing as enumeration. All people, whether they have the right to vote or not, whether they’re citizens or not, count as part of the census for purposes of representation. That’s because they’re…well, people.

              Yes, the “3/5 compromise” was all about whether or not slaves counted as people. It literally made them less than human.

              • SeanR said:

                Yes. But what I’m saying is, if we managed to reactivate the 3/5ths compromise for the disenfranchised, maybe we could goad the states into not permanently disenfranchising so many of its citizens, and maybe even reinviting them to rejoin society as fully equal members, rather than the twilight level they’ve been relegated to in the last few decades.
                As it is, we’ve created a permanent artificial underclass.
                I don’t think it’s coincidental that most of that artificial underclass are black or hispanic, either.

                • UsaSatsui said:

                  I think parents might be pissed off that the government no longer counts their children as full people, for one thing.

                  If we really wanted to do this, wouldn’t a law saying “You can’t take away any 18 year old’s vote, for any reason” be far more effective than threatening to treat people as just over half a person because they’re criminals?

                  • SeanR said:

                    Perhaps I was insufficiently clear.
                    I’m saying I think I’d like to penalize the individual states for having high numbers of permanently disenfranchised, not merely incarcerated, people. People who can never again vote.
                    I’m not saying anything about children, or even resident non-citizens (both the green card holding, the work-visa holding, and the under the radar types.)

                    I’m saying encourage the states to fully restore full rights to the majority of the people that the justice system has effectively legally and socially maimed, so they can do all the things other citizens are allowed to do. Including, but not limited to voting.

                    Basically, once they’ve served their time, make them full citizens again, or suffer a reduction in power at the federal level.

                  • SeanR said:

                    And no. It would be better to leave the states with the ability to permanently disenfranchise someone, at a cost. If the cost to the state is high enough, I’m presuming they’d do so sparingly, rather than casually.

                    Maybe I’m wrong, but my understanding is, today, if someone is found guilty of a felony, they are deprived of several rights for the rest of their life.

                    • UsaSatsui said:

                      I get what you want to do, but telling a bunch of convicted criminals, many of them minorities, that they’re now 3/5 of a person, is not the way to go about it. You’re saying that they’re no longer equal, using a number that’s historically associated with slavery. And by the way, what if the states are perfectly fine with that? They get their 2 senators, what if they don’t care their criminals are underrepresented in the House?

                      You really want to fix it? Take the 14th Amendment up there, cross out “or other crime” (and “male”, while we’re at it), and boom. You even get your reduction of representation punishment.

              • Bill said:

                “Yes, the “3/5 compromise” was all about whether or not slaves counted as people. It literally made them less than human.”

                Not even close. The slaveholders wanted to count them fully so that the slaveholding states would have more voting power. Likewise, the people opposed to slavery wanted to not count them at all. If the slaveholding states emancipated their slaves, they would have gained voting power.

                As for felons voting, they have already demonstrated that they act in a way that is destructive to society. I, for one, do not trust them to vote for the betterment of society.

                • UsaSatsui said:

                  What do you mean, “Not even close”? It was people arguing whether or not human beings counted as people or not. Just because the side you didn’t expect to be arguing the “Not people” side isn’t the one you would expect doesn’t change the fact that we were dehumanizing people.

                  • Bill said:

                    It was the institution of slavery that dehumanised people, not the method of apportionment that was intended to reduce the influence of slavery. The 3/5 compromise no more dehumanized people than the fact that Washington D.C. does not have any representatives at all.

                    • UsaSatsui said:

                      Fair point. And there’s absolutely no reason for DC to not have someone in the House of Representatives (I’d stop short of giving them Senators, though).

                    • SeanR said:

                      I’d rather the residents count as citizens of Maryland, and historically, Virginia, for purposes of voting.

                      The point was to not have a state that was over the others. Otherwise, I suspect our founding fathers would have just left it in Philadelphia.

                    • UsaSatsui said:

                      I believe all the land that D.C. currently occupies was ceded from Maryland, so that would make more sense.

            • Gregory T. Bogosian said:

              I see the logic in that: Deny full representation to the states that permanently disenfranchise part of their population. However, my preference would be to apportion representation in the house of representatives and electoral college on the basis of number of citizens, people with the legal right to vote, instead of just the number of residents. So that voters in states that have a relative abundance of persons under 18 or living in the country under a visa or green card don’t get to have their vote count for more than those of voters in states without an abundance of such persons. Also, that would mean that each felon any state disenfranchises is one whole less person counted for apportionment instead of just 2/5 less of a person. So it would actually be more of a punishment for disenfranchisement. I realize that it is hard to keep track of the number of people with the legal right to vote. However, that can be solved with automatic voter registration. Have the state register every citizen as soon as they turn 18 in the case of natives, or as soon as they pass a citizenship test in the case of immigrants. That way the number of voters in every state will be a matter of public record completely independent of the census.

              • SeanR said:

                I think that may be a bit short-sighted.
                I once heard it said, tax what you wish to discourage, subsidize what you wish to encourage.
                By not including children in the representation, and making it clear on that fact, you discourage states from having, and significantly supporting, children. Short term gains would then be had by encouraging people to enter the state, but only if they were already of voting age, or at least would by by the census date.
                Either that, or states will seek to enfranchise 12 year olds.
                Better, in my view, to separate out your population into those who either can vote, or will soon be able to vote, (where 18 years from now is “soon”,) and those who can never vote.

                Generally speaking, children are an investment. You don’t want to discourage investing.

                People treating young families as drains on society, again for reasons they don’t really understand, but which are none the less effecting their judgement, is probably counterproductive in the medium and long term.

                Incidentally, if you look at the population’s tendencies, you can see that savings accounts have been subtly, but effectively, discouraged. Interest is so low that you might as well buy that new thing before the price goes up rather than put your money in the bank. A quick google search shows that inflation is about three times the interest you’d get from a savings account. No wonder no one saves any longer.
                It’s enough to turn someone into a goldbug.

                Now, it might be appropriate to apportion representatives according to the ratio of adult citizens that vote over total adult citizens, (MAYbe total adult residents), and that multiplied by the total population count, including foreign nationals, citizens, and the disenfranchised. This would reduce the effective numbers by not only those who couldn’t vote, but also those who simply didn’t vote.
                This would be easy to do, too. Just apply the average voter turnout to the number of adults according to the most recent census.

                  • Gregory T. Bogosian said:

                    Children are not an investment. Children are a consumption good. People don’t have children because they expect financial gain from them. In most cases, children are a net financial loss to their parents, not a net gain. They have children because natural selection has programmed us to want children and want to pass our genes onto the next generation of humans. If any state did try to discourage its residents from having children, then the citizenry of that state would be more likely to vote that state’s officers out because we all evolved to like children. Also, today’s children are tomorrow’s voters. So state politicians would still have some incentive to keep them around so that they can educate them to support the current government when they get their franchise. Most importantly, state governments do not base their social policies on what will give them the largest relative representation in the house or the electoral college. Most state politicians just want to get re-elected and most voters don’t know or care about electoral apportionment.

                    • SeanR said:

                      Please note my reference to savings accounts. It is my assertion that people don’t need to understand the subtle pressure for or against something to be effected by it. People just quit saving in banks, and for many commentators, it was remarked as a failing of the (then) current generation, rather than a recognition that the financial world had changed, and putting money in savings accounts no longer represented the best personal choice.

                      Children may not be an investment for the parents, but they are still an investment for the community. Therefore, discouraging children is still a bad idea for the state. If you discouraged children in this way, it’s my assertion that it would result in social pressure, not state pressure, to not produce more resource consuming kids.
                      Frankly, if you ever hope to collect on your Social Security, you should want there to be at least one kid to take your place as a productive citizen, if not two.

                      State governments may not make their decisions based on what gives them the most representation, (however, they are very influenced to protect their own seats,) but the population would be influenced, and that would trickle up to what the state was expected, by its electorate, to do.

  7. Gregory T. Bogosian said:

    @SeanR: Ok you are right. The laws and institutions that we live under do affect our decisions even when we don’t consciously realize it. Since we have social security one cohort being smaller than the previous cohort would be detrimental. However, the benefits to individual voters of having more representation in the house or electoral college are so little and so nebulous that I really don’t think that not counting children for purposes of electoral apportionment would have any material affect on the birth-rate. To me, its much more important that the weight that we assign each citizen’s vote doesn’t vary with things that they cannot control like the proportion of non-voters in their respective state.

  8. Garrett said:

    You scribbled out the whole 3/5 section as having been modified. But does the limitation on direct taxes still apply? My reading of the 14th only covers voting aspects.

    • Gregory T. Bogosian said:

      The part about direct taxes was abolished by the 16th amendment.

      • Patrick said:

        Not so. The 16th amendment only removes apportionment requirements for income taxes, which were previously held to partially overlap with direct taxes. Other direct taxes, such as property taxes, are still subject to apportionment requirements. The same holds true for capitation taxes.

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