Monday, August 29, 2011

Breaking: Supreme Court Rules Social Security Is Constitutional

Ok, as everyone who was paying attention in High School knows, this news actually broke in 1936. But Rick Perry was not paying attention so this is for him. You might enjoy it also.

Rick Perry, world renowned Constitutional scholar and bloviator of inanities par excellence, has issued his legal opinion that Social Security is unconstitutional. Perry originally issued this opinion in his book, and he restated his opinion in a political event.

And beyond expressing the results of his extensive legal research Perry has said Social Security is a lie and a ponzi scheme.

This is, of course, utter horse pucky as explained in a really great article from the hard working civil servants at the Social Security Administration designed for third grade readers that even Perry might comprehend.

The case that decided the Constitutionality of Social Security was Helvering v Davis. It was decided simultaneously with cases challenging the unemployment insurance provisions of the Social Security Act.

Now before getting to Mr Perry's position there is an important point to remember. Rick is entitled to the view that the Social Security is bad policy and he may disagree with the Helvering decision, but he is not entitled to the view that the law is Unconstitutional. As a guy who allegedly graduated from high school and went to Texas A&M he should know that since the decision in Marbury v Madison in 1803, it is settled law that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter on the question of whether a law is Constitutional. He can agree with or disagree with Supreme Court decision, but if the Court decides that a law is Constitutional that is the final word until such time as the Court reverses itself, which happens but rarely. (A&M is a school with a proud tradition and all A&M alumni should petition the school to investigate whether he truly did graduate.)

Moving on, the principle issue in the case was whether Social Security violated the Tenth Amendment. That is the provision which most Constitutional scholars say is a restatement of a truism,

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Or, stated another way, "the Federal Government, which did not exist before this document was ratified, and which exists only by reason of the provisions of this document, only has the powers granted to it by this document. Therefore, accordingly and obviously, all the other rights and powers that existed in the world before this document that were not given to the Federal government by this document continue to reside wherever they reside."

The Court explained that since there were provisions in the Constitution that gave the Federal Government the powers it was exercising through Social Security, there was no Tenth Amendment problem. First, the Court said,

Congress may spend money in aid of the "general welfare." . . . There have been great statesmen in our history who have stood for other views. We will not resurrect the contest. It is now settled by decision. . . . The conception of the spending power advocated by Hamilton and strongly reinforced by Story has prevailed over that of Madison, which has not been lacking in adherents. Yet difficulties are left when the power is conceded. The line must still be drawn between one welfare and another, between particular and general. Where this shall be placed cannot be known through a formula in advance of the event. There is a middle ground, or certainly a penumbra, in which discretion is at large. The discretion, however, is not confided to the courts. The discretion belongs to Congress, unless the choice is clearly wrong, a display of arbitrary power, not an exercise of judgment. This is now familiar law.

Now it would seem that is something that Perry and would warm right up to. The Court is saying that Congress has broad discretion and the Court shouldn't second guess their judgement.

But the Court didn't stop there. It went on to talk about how the needs of the Nation can change and that Congress can respond to those changes.

Nor is the concept of the general welfare static. Needs that were narrow or parochial a century ago may be interwoven in our day with the wellbeing of the Nation. What is critical or urgent changes with the times.

The purge of nationwide calamity that began in 1929 has taught us many lessons. Not the least is the solidarity of interests that may once have seemed to be divided. Unemployment spreads from State to State, the hinterland now settled that, in pioneer days gave an avenue of escape. . . . Spreading from State to State, unemployment is an ill not particular, but general, which may be checked, if Congress so determines, by the resources of the Nation. If this can have been doubtful until now, our ruling today in the case of the Steward Machine Co., supra, has set the doubt at rest. But the ill is all one, or at least not greatly different, whether men are thrown out of work because there is no longer work to do or because the disabilities of age make them incapable of doing it. Rescue becomes necessary irrespective of the cause. The hope behind this statute is to save men and women from the rigors of the poor house, as well as from the haunting fear that such a lot awaits them when journey's end is near.

Wow, that's some heady stuff. It's reasonable for Congress to recognize the calamities befalling the Nation and its people and try to address them.

But then the Court suggested that Congress should just not have a free hand to act willy nilly, unless it had some facts to back its actions. The Court looked at the record and found that Congress had indeed done its homework. This paragraph is a jem for the ages.

Congress did not improvise a judgment when it found that the award of old age benefits would be conducive to the general welfare. The President's Committee on Economic Security made an investigation and report, aided by a research staff of Government officers and employees, and by an Advisory Council and seven other advisory groups. Extensive hearings followed before the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the Senate Committee on Finance. A great mass of evidence was brought together supporting the policy which finds expression in the act. Among the relevant facts are these: the number of persons in the United States 65 years of age or over is increasing proportionately as well as absolutely. What is even more important, the number of such persons unable to take care of themselves is growing at a threatening pace. More and more, our population is becoming urban and industrial, instead of rural and agricultural. The evidence is impressive that, among industrial workers, the younger men and women are preferred over the older. In times of retrenchment, the older are commonly the first to go, and even if retained, their wages are likely to be lowered. The plight of men and women at so low an age as 40 is hard, almost hopeless, when they are driven to seek for reemployment. Statistics are in the brief. A few illustrations will be chosen from many there collected. In 1930, out of 224 American factories investigated, 71, or almost one third, had fixed maximum hiring age limits; in 4 plants, the limit was under 40; in 41, it was under 46. In the other 153 plants, there were no fixed limits, but in practice few were hired if they were over 50 years of age. [n6] With the loss of savings inevitable in periods of idleness, [p*643] the fate of workers over 65, when thrown out of work, is little less than desperate. A recent study of the Social Security Board informs us that one-fifth of the aged in the United States were receiving old-age assistance, emergency relief, institutional care, employment under the works program, or some other form of aid from public or private funds; two-fifths to one-half were dependent on friends and relatives, one-eighth had some income from earnings, and possibly one-sixth had some savings or property. Approximately three out of four persons 65 or over were probably dependent wholly or partially on others for support. [n7]
Bolding Added.

This was written in 1936. 1936. It could have been written today.

And here is where the Court puts the stake in the heart of the tenthers and their fellow travelers. This is a national problem that cannot be dealt with by the States separately.

The problem is plainly national in area and dimensions. Moreover, laws of the separate states cannot deal with it effectively. Congress, at least, had a basis for that belief. States and local governments are often lacking in the resources that are necessary to finance an adequate program of security for the aged. This is brought out with a wealth of illustration in recent studies of the problem. [n9] Apart from the failure of resources, states and local governments are at times reluctant to increase so heavily the burden of taxation to be borne by their residents for fear of placing themselves in a position of economic disadvantage as compared with neighbors or competitors. We have seen this in our study of the problem of unemployment compensation. Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, supra. A system of old age pensions has special dangers of its own if put in force in one state and rejected in another. The existence of such a system is a bait to the needy and dependent elsewhere, encouraging them to migrate and seek a haven of repose. Only a power that is national can serve the interests of all.

This last paragraph is a verbal back of the hand to all the bozos that existed then and their offspring who are with us today who argued that Social Security would breed dependancy.

Counsel for respondent has recalled to us the virtues of self-reliance and frugality. There is a possibility, he says, that aid from a paternal government may sap those sturdy virtues and breed a race of weaklings. If Massachusetts so believes and shapes her laws in that conviction, must her breed of sons be changed, he asks, because some other philosophy of government finds favor in the halls of Congress? But the answer is not doubtful. One might ask with equal reason whether the system of protective tariffs is to be set aside at will in one state or another whenever local policy prefers the rule of laissez faire. The issue is a closed one. It was fought out long ago. When money is spent to promote the general welfare, the concept of welfare or the opposite is shaped by Congress, not the states. So the concept be not arbitrary, the locality must yield.

Look Rick, the law is Constitutional. You may not like it. Fine. But that doesn't affect its legality. And on a political note. you should tread lightly. Americans know where they've been, know where they are, and know where you want to take them. The hole you are falling in to is really deep.


  1. Anonymous8:15 AM

    You are making a presumption of constitutionality based on a percieved need. Because the Supreme Court was reviewing an issue that was researched by Congress, it invented an interpretation of "general welfare" and acted on it without any consideration as to what the "general welfare" actually was. It further then made a blanket assumption as to the states ability to handle the problem (albeit, seen through the lense of a great depression), arbitrarily deemed the states incapable and buldozed over the 10th ammendment. That's constitutional? You need to think this through. It is admirable that the Congress and the Court wanted to provide for the elderly in this country. But they do not have the constitutional right to make the rest of the country pay for it.

  2. The point of the Article is that the Social Security Act has been ruled Constitutional. Under out system of government, everyone can have an opinion as to whether a law is Constitutional but to have a functioning government, one body must have the authority to decide. That body is the Supreme Court.

    Perry can say he disagrees with the decision but he cannot say the law is Unconstitutional. The Constitutionality of the law is settled and his opinion on the matter carries as much weight as does yours or mine.

    On the substance of the court's analysis the process it used in this case is the same as it uses in all Constitutional challenges. Congress din't "invent" an interpretation, it interpreted. And it did not make "blanket assumptions," it made extremely well documented findings based on extensive research and hearings. That is how our laws are made.

    One final note since you refer to the "elderly." You might want to become more acquainted with the Social security program. While the majority of benefits are paid to the elderly, about forty percent are paid to widows, orphans and the disabled.