Could Trump Re-Write Our Constitution?

By Susan Kuebler

As the spoiled rich kid he has always been, Donald Trump does not like it when he can’t get his own way.  We don’t know if he threw temper tantrums as a child when he couldn’t get what he wanted.

But we do know that he throws Trumper tantrums as a 70-year-old when he still can’t get what he wants.

These temper tantrums manifest themselves on Twitter, in speeches during his on-going campaign rallies, and in interviews with the press.  Did you see how he recently abruptly ended an interview with a television reporter who DARED to ask him a question he didn’t like?

Throughout his business career he manipulated the legal system to intimidate anyone who questioned him or tried to get the money he owed them.  This was a ploy particularly effective against the “little guys” he now professes to represent – the ones who lacked the financial resources for protracted legal battles.

During the campaign, Trump first suggested that the libel laws should be “opened up” to enable him to sue any news media that printed stories about him he didn’t like.  The media have the funds and determination to stand up to him in the courts, so Trump knew his only solution would be to change the laws.

This Sunday, his Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on national television that they had been “considering” a change to the First Amendment.

In his first major action as POTUS, the executive order to restrict immigration from seven pre-dominantly Muslim countries, Trump ran into another part of the Constitution he didn’t like.  The judiciary.  After ranting against a “so-called judge” who was one of several federal judges who issued stays against his EO, Trump backed down from his threat to “SEE YOU IN COURT!”  One can only assume he meant the Supreme Court.

When his attempt to block all federal funding to “sanctuary cities” was also stayed by a federal judge in California, Trump retaliated by threatening to “break-up” the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Despite having majorities in both the House and Senate, the Republicans have been unable to pass any healthcare reform legislation.  The recent funding bill agreed upon by leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress was a major setback for the Trump agenda.  He placed the blame on the “arcane” rules in Congress. Trump’s solution?  CHANGE THE RULES!

The only problem with this “solution” is that, according to correspondent Jamie Dupree,

In fact, the opposite has occurred

So it would behoove the Republicans to continue to work closely with the Democrats in the Senate to achieve consensus on bi-partisan legislation.  In fact, the Republican leadership, including Senate Leader Mitch McConnell recognizes the danger of eliminating the 60 vote threshold.

Never before has a sitting President, whose party controls both houses of Congress, threatened to “shut down the government” much less consider it to be a “good” thing.

In fairness, Congress has abdicated much of its power to the Executive branch over the years.  In particular, their Constitutional authority to “declare war.”  Our involvement in Korea was not a “war,” it was a “police action” under the authority of the United Nations.   In fact, the last time Congress voted a declaration of war against any nation was on December 8, 1941.

Beginning in 1973 with the passage of the War Powers Act in the wake of Vietnam, Congress has attempted to rein in the ability of the President to commit U.S. troops to military action without congressional oversight.  An article in The Atlantic, written in 2014 outlines the scenarios in which the POTUS, acting as Commander-in-Chief, can commit U.S. military into hostile situations.

  1. A declaration of war
  2. Specific statutory authorization, or
  3. A national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces

Still, Trump seems to vastly overestimate his power as POTUS.

First, the Executive branch is not involved in the process of Constitutional amendments.  That power is vested solely in Congress and state legislatures.  Trump can “ask” a member of Congress to introduce a constitutional amendment, but he certainly cannot require it.  They can “consider” amending the First Amendment until the cows come home, but legally cannot do anything about it.  And any legislation to “open up” the libel laws would no doubt die on the steps of the Supreme Court.

Second, the Executive branch has no authority over the organization of the federal court system. That power is specifically assigned to Congress in the Constitution.  So Trump’s threat to “break up” the 9 Circuit was a hollow one.  He might find some supporters in Congress, like his lap dog Ted Cruz for example, but if he can’t get his signature healthcare reform bill passed, it is highly doubtful he could find the backing to reorganize the federal court system.

It is entirely possible that Trump thought he could do whatever he wanted as President.  This was the same man who thought the Constitution has 12 Articles in it.  As he finds himself thwarted by the constraints of the balance of power enshrined in our system or government, by the “arcane” rules of the legislative process that has served us well for over 200 years, it is frightening to think of what he might do.

Could he interpret a lone wolf suicide bomber as “A national emergency created by an attack upon the United States” and declare martial law?  Is his open admiration for brutal dictators like Duterte of the Philippines and Edrogan of Turkey a sign of how he would prefer to govern?  Is he secretly cheering on Maduro in Venezuela who has called an assembly, without public vote, to re-write their constitution?

Trump should be reminded that every federal public official, from the lowliest officer in the military, from every member of Congress, to the President himself swears an oath to protect and defend the Constitution , not the President, from all enemies both foreign and domestic.

Trump has neither the authority or the power to re-write our Constitution.  But that does not mean he cannot do great damage to the body politic.  It remains to be seen if he falls into the category of “all enemies both foreign and domestic.”

Let us hope and pray that our institutions, legislative, judicial, and military remain firm in their commitment to “preserve and defend” our Constitution.




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