As I documented over at That’s My Congress earlier this month, Ron Paul makes a big fuss in his speeches over the General Welfare Clause of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Article I, Section 8 reads:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.
Which, boy howdy, sure looks to me like it gives the Congress the power to collect taxes and provide for the general Welfare of the United States. The Hamiltonian strain of constitutional thinking, which includes consistent Supreme Court majorities going back into the middle of the 19th Century, agrees with me. But Ron Paul disagrees:
Madison said: “With respect to the words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of power connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs not contemplated by its creators.” Madison argued that there would be no purpose whatsoever for the enumeration of the particular powers if the general welfare clause was to be broadly interpreted. The Constitution granted authority to the federal government to do only 20 things, each to be carried out for the benefit of the general welfare of all the people. This understanding of the Constitution, as described by the Father of the Constitution, has been lost in this century.
Because of my continuing and uncompromising opposition to appropriations not authorized within the enumerated powers of the Constitution, I must remain consistent in my defense of a limited government whose powers are explicitly delimited under the enumerated powers of the Constitution…
We could have a General Welfare Clause debate until the cows came home, but that’s not really my point. Heck, let’s imagine for the moment that Ron Paul is right, that the Constitution should not be taken “literally,” and that “The Constitution granted authority to the federal government to do only 20 things,” things not just generally but specifically enumerated in the text of the Constitution.
Then why is Ron Paul a supporting cosponsor of H.R. 997? H.R. 997 is a bill before the 111th Congress, the title of which reads:
To declare English as the official language of the United States, to establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization, and to avoid misconstructions of the English language texts of the laws of the United States, pursuant to Congress’ powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States and to establish a uniform rule of naturalization under article I, section 8, of the Constitution.
I don’t remember where the Constitution enumerated the power of the Congress to declare English as the official language of the United States. It’s not specifically enumerated. The very title of this bill invokes the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution to justify itself.
What’s even odder is the twist in the text of H.R. 997, which contains the following language in the “findings” clause:
Among the powers reserved to the States respectively is the power to establish the English language as the official language of the respective States, and otherwise to promote the English language within the respective States, subject to the prohibitions enumerated in the Constitution of the United States and in laws of the respective States.
In the world of people who think the General Welfare clause doesn’t mean what it literally says, this is a typical statement: powers not specifically, precisely spelled out for the federal government in Article I of the Constitution must be reserved to the states. If such powers are reserved to the states, the federal government must therefore butt out and let the states do what they want. I imagine Ron Paul likes this paragraph in the “findings” section.
That paragraph in the “findings” section, however, doesn’t actually implement anything. It’s a rhetorical statement. The following paragraphs of H.R. 997 actually implement the changes… not by giving states the power to do what they want, but by passing a federal government mandate:
(a) In General- Title 4, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new chapter:
CHAPTER 6–OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
Sec. 161. Official language of the United States
The official language of the United States is English.
Sec. 162. Preserving and enhancing the role of the official language
Representatives of the Federal Government shall have an affirmative obligation to preserve and enhance the role of English as the official language of the Federal Government. Such obligation shall include encouraging greater opportunities for individuals to learn the English language.
Sec. 163. Official functions of Government to be conducted in English
(a) Official Functions- The official functions of the Government of the United States shall be conducted in English.
(b) Scope- For the purposes of this section, the term `United States’ means the several States and the District of Columbia, and the term `official’ refers to any function that (i) binds the Government, (ii) is required by law, or (iii) is otherwise subject to scrutiny by either the press or the public.
(c) Practical Effect- This section shall apply to all laws, public proceedings, regulations, publications, orders, actions, programs, and policies…
Hold the phone, Nellie! While the findings section tells you that it is the power of the states to make any language declaration, this bill does the exact opposite, mandating that English be the Official Language of the United States, and declaring in subsection (b) that yes, this applies to “the several States” too, and that (c) it shall apply to all laws, public proceedings, regulations, publications, orders, actions, programs and policies.
H.R. 997 would implement a huge, sweeping federal mandate by Congress to make an official language of the United States. There’s no power to name official languages in Article I of the Constitution (or anywhere else in the Constitution, for that matter). And the very title of the bill asserts that it is acting “pursuant to Congress’ powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States.” This is the sort of general welfare claim that Ron Paul has spent decades openly despising.
So what is Ron Paul doing supporting this bill?