Obama’s State of the Union and the Constitution

February 13th, 2013

Following my usual tradition, I did not watch the address, but I did read the transcript.

The President only mentioned the Constitution once in his opening sentence, quoting President Kennedy, on his constitutional duty to delivery the state of the union:

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress…It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Union – to improve it is the task of us all.”

He mentioned the Affordable Care Act (not ObamaCare, which he has said is a term he prefers):

Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.

I’ll let the fact checkers deal with that one.

Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago.

And SCOTUS found part of it unconstitutional 13 years ago in United States v. Morrison.

As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

But Due Process for drone strikes does not include judicial process, of course.

Next, POTUS turned to the right to vote.

But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.


The Constitution grants no right to vote, or to anything else. The Constitution places limits on what government can do. Various amendments (15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th) prevent the government from limiting the franchise in certain manners–race, gender, poll taxes, age. Indeed, because the Constitution does not grant a right to vote, I would say it is pre-existing, or as Obama phrased it, “God-given.” Yes, Obama recognized that the right to vote is a natural right from God. The next time I tell someone there is no right to vote in the Constitution, and they scoff at me, I will turn to this.

Next, POTUS turned to the Second Amendment.

Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children.

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals.

A brief search could not show up any other State of the Union where the Second Amendment was mentioned by name. Boy have we come a long way since Chief Justice Warren Burger called the Second Amendment a “Fraud.”

Though, the proof will be in the pudding, as Obama’s proposals will not be limited to strengthening background checks.

Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

With the militarization of police forces, and SWAT teams executing no-knock warrants by knocking down doors with flash grenades, this is not a problem.

Obama referenced, indirectly, a quasi-constitutional issue: the Filibuster. It seems he already presaged that the Senate will hold up any vote on gun control laws. So he stressed over and over again that there should be a vote, citing by name victims of gun violence.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.

He closed by noting that his laws would not be perfect,but it would do something.

Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

Not much deep constitutionalism, but a bit.