Monday, August 22, 2016

On this day in 1787

August 22, 1787:

Mr. GERRY & Mr. McHENRY moved to insert after the second section, article 7, the clause following, to wit: -- "The Legislature shall pass no bill of attainder nor any ex post facto law."

Mr. GERRY urged the necessity of this prohibition, which he said was greater in the national than the state legislature, because the number of members in the former being fewer were on that account the more to be feared.

Mr. Govr. MORRIS thought the precaution as to ex post facto laws unnecessary; but essential as to bills of attainder.

Mr. ELLSWORTH contended that there was no lawyer, no civilian who would not say that ex post facto laws were void of themselves. It can not then be necessary to prohibit them.

Mr. WILSON was against inserting any thing in the Constitution as to ex post facto laws. It will bring reflexions on the Constitution and proclaim that we are ignorant of the first principles of legislation, or are constituting a Government which will be so.

The question being divided, the first part of the motion relating to bills of attainder was agreed to nem. contradicente.

On the second part, relating to ex post facto laws, --

Mr. CARROLL remarked that experience overruled all other calculations. It had proved that in whatever light they might be viewed by civilians or others, the state legislatures had passed them, and they had taken effect.

Mr. WILSON. If these prohibitions in the state Constitutions have no effect, it will be useless to insert them in this Constitution. Besides, both sides will agree to the principle, & will differ as to its application.

Mr. WILLIAMSON. Such a prohibitory clause is in the Constitution of N. Carolina, and tho it has been violated, it has done good there & may do good here, because the judges can take hold of it.

Docr. JOHNSON thought the clause unnecessary, and implying an improper suspicion of the national legislature.

Mr. RUTLEDGE was in favor of the clause.

On the question for inserting the prohibition of ex post facto laws.

N.H. ay. Mas. ay. Cont. no. N.J. no. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Virga. ay N.C. divd. S.C. ay. Geo. ay.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Plan B

I'd may as well point out that a state's presidential electors do not necessarily have to be elected by the voters of the state through a general election. Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution provides, "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector." A state's legislature can choose to have that state's electors selected in a different way (though the selection still must take place on the day after the first Monday of November).

However, because the legislatures of many states would no doubt be reluctant to take advantage of this option, I should also point out that it is not necessary for states controlling a majority of the total number of electors to choose a different method in order to affect who is ultimately elected President. If enough states choose a different method that they succeed in preventing any candidate from winning a majority of electoral votes, the choice of a new President will be given to the U.S. House of Representatives, where each state's delegation would be able to cast a single vote, choosing between the top three recipients of electoral votes. 

"Aut" and "Vel"

When I was looking at the famous chapters 39 and 40 of Magna Charta, last year, once I had resolved my confusion of the Latin word "ut" with the early 13th century Norman-English court hand abbreviation of the Latin word "vel" (vl, which looked like "ul"), I noticed a discrepancy that I do not think I pointed out at the time.

Again, it seems unlikely to me that I would be the first person to notice a difference between the known, surviving copies of Magna Charta, so I assume that someone has noticed and pointed it out before.  Also, I can't entirely rule out the possibility that I am somehow mistaken, even once I believe I have considered every possible explanation for what I believe I have found.  However, for any readers who might find it interesting, I have decided nevertheless to post something about it.

The discrepancy is in what has come to be known as chapter 40 of the original, 1215 edition of Magna Charta: "Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus aut differemus rectum aut iustitiam," meaning approximately "We will never sell, never deny or delay right or justice."  That is how the still legible one of the two Cotton copies and the Lincoln copy read, anyway.  However, I noticed that the Salisbury copy uses "vel" in place of the second "aut".  Subsequent editions of Magna Charta also use "vel" (though I found "aut" in a 1216 edition).  This difference does not affect the meaning of the sentence, and I do not know enough about the subject to draw any other conclusions from it ... so I won't.

Update (July 14, 2017):  I wrote above that I did not believe I had mentioned the discrepancy in 2015, when I first noticed it.  As it turns out, I did point out in 2015 that the Salisbury copy of Magna Charta uses slightly different wording in chapter 40 than the other extant original copies do.