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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Chapter 9 -- The Supreme Court Library


Chapter Nine

Saturday, April 15, 2017
10 a.m.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are
useless, but planning is indispensable. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Supreme Court library is on the third floor of the Supreme Court building. With the advent of online legal research, no one goes there anymore for the world’s legal reports are all available from any computer. Built in the style of an 18th Century London Gentlemen’s club, the Library features a massive fireplace, sumptuous leather armchairs and private, wood paneled study rooms.

It was in one of the rooms with a view of the Capitol, that Blair and Rachel sat down to plan that which had never happened before -- a ConProAm.

“Blair”, Rachel said, “before we begin, what did you mean yesterday when you said that this ConProAm may mark the end of the Age of Pisces and the start of the Age of Aquarius?”

“Rachel, I guess you should know that among other things, I am an unrepentant Hippy from the 1960s and fully ascribe to the idea that we are leaving the Age of Pisces – early Christians used the symbol of Pisces, a fish, as a secret symbol of their faith – and entering the Age of Aquarius. Curiously, the symbol for Aquarius resembles the sine wave that describes a smooth repetitive electrical oscillation which is the backbone of the Internet. The Age of Aquarius is an astrological age, which occurs because of the motion of Earth known as the Precession of the Equinoxes. The cycle of Precession lasts 25,800 years. There are 12 constellations of the Zodiac. So, roughly every 2,150 years, the Sun’s position at the time of the March, or vernal, equinox moves in front of a new Zodiac constellation. The ancient astrologers thought of Aquarius as the sign of all things that are newly invented. This is why the Age of Aquarius is linked so strongly to technology. Aquarius is also an Air sign and therefore highly communicative, bent on gathering information, which echoes what is coming toward us in this new Age, too. Aquarius has a strong need for independence and individualism, and is very original and inventive. Aquarius is visionary and creative, but rebellious, too. Aquarius’ job is to challenge authority, tear down existing structures, and replace the outdated with something better.”

“I don’t think Judge Garland realized he put a space cadet in charge of the ConProAm”, Rachel said, smiling.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. But, let’s get back to business. Your list or mine first?”

“You go ahead, Mr. Chairperson”, Rachel said smiling.

“O.K. I propose we identify the areas to be addressed and then divide up those areas between us. As the Chairs of the ConProAm, we have a lot of discretion in launching this convention and I am keen that we do a professional job so that the end results are seen as legitimate. So I started backwards from when the ConProAm will adjourn with its proposed amendments sent off to the states for consideration. What I want the public to believe, regardless of what amendments come out, is that the process was fair and transparent.”

“I agree completely. Didn’t I read that at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the state delegates worked in secret?”

“Indeed, Madison wrote to Jefferson approving the secrecy of the proceedings. I have a copy of the Madison letter so let me quote it: ‘It was thought expedient in order to secure unbiased discussion within doors, and to prevent misconceptions & misconstructions without, to establish some rules of caution which will for no short time restrain even a confidential communication of our proceedings.’ I don’t think those reasons would hold today if the results are to be considered legitimate. So the first item on my agenda is to establish a mode for broadcasting the entire proceedings for all to see.”

Rachel said, “I have some good contacts at C-SPAN so I am sure they would love the opportunity to play that role. Let me take that task.”

“Great. I should have mentioned that what I am working towards is our first Press Conference next week so it would be great to be able to announce that the proceedings of the Convention will be aired by C-SPAN, so put that on the top of your list. Next, I have the issue of how the Convention will work. What do you think of using the same framework used by the 1787 Convention? It is a workable framework even though we now have 50 states, rather than just 13.”

“Blair, I haven’t done the deep dive into that Convention’s rules, what are they?”

“There were 16 rules in all; some of them not applicable to the 21st Century -- standing when the George Washington, as Chairman, left the room, for example -- but many make sense today. They are: (i) each state has one vote, (ii) a majority of states is needed to pass a motion, (iii) my favorite, ‘Every member, rising to speak, shall address the Chair, and, whilst he shall be speaking, none shall pass between them, or hold discourse with another, or read a book, pamphlet, or paper, printed or manuscript’, (iv) and that Committees shall be appointed to consider and report on a proposed amendment.”

“Should make for good theatre, for sure” Rachel said. “That may have worked when there were only 55 delegates for 12 states, Rhode Island not showing up, but how can that work with 50 states sending who-knows-how many delegates?”

“I have been wrestling with that problem for some time and this is what I have come up with. Imagine a pyramid. At the top will be the ConProAm floor where each State will have its designated speaking/voting delegate; the Committee of the Whole. Thus I envision a room with 50 seats, one for each state, with a desk behind which will sit seven state delegates as observers and/or secretaries. The only proceedings that will occur at the top of the pyramid will be the procedural votes on the operation of the Convention, creation of Committees and the actual votes on the proposed amendments.” Blair stopped to take a sip of water.

“Let’s not forget the U.S. Territories. Though they will have no vote at the Convention, I think they should be seated.” Rachel said.

“That’s a good idea: Then seats for the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. While it is not for me to interject, I do hope the ConProAm takes up the status of those territories.” Blair said.

“Agreed. Particularly on Congressional representation. I always thought that living in D.C. was like being on a slave plantation where masters, Congress, decided everything about our laws but we had no vote on who was in Congress.”

“The next level of the pyramid”, Blair continued, “will be the Committees. Each Committee will work on a particular proposed amendment and try to reach consensus. Either way, after a given time frame, the Committee will report out on its results. I am keen to move this process along and wind up the Convention within six months, so I would propose putting time limit on each Committee to fish or cut bait.”

Rachel responded, “Yes, but sugar coat that and let the Committee of the Whole set that time, we should just suggest it. But how are the issues to be considered by each Committee to be decided?”

“Are you sitting down?” Blair said in jest. “Google.”

“What? Are you kidding?” Rachel said eyes widening.

“Look. It pains me to say this but corporations are people too in one sense, even though they have no direct vote. Given the power, money and complete lack of a soul accountable to God, corporations will want to be in on this process to try to advance their own agendas without concern for civic duty. My thought is to dilute that power by proactively pushing them out of the picture except as sponsors of the process.”

“And how are you going to do that?”

“Artificial intelligence combined with the wisdom of the crowd.”

“O.K. I am listening” Rachel said, sitting back in her chair.

“Let’s start with the Wisdom of the Crowd. In the book of that name, James Surowiecki advanced the premise that big crowds reach smarter decisions than individuals. As an example, he related the story of when Francis Galton visited a livestock fair in 1906 in England. Over 800 contestants entered a contest where they had to guess the weight of an ox. Looking at the data, Galton found that no one guessed the true weight of the ox -- 1,198 pounds -- correctly. Indeed, the closest guess was 9 pounds off. However, when he calculated the average weight guess of all participants, he was shocked: 1,197 pounds. The crowd as a whole was just 1 pound off.”

“That’s amazing.” Rachel said. “How does that work at the ConProAm?”

“My thought is this. Let’s open the amendment proposing process to the crowd. The results will have no de jure effect on the actual ConProAm process, yet it will inform the state legislatures, who are ultimately elected by the People, as to the concerns they have about the relationship between federal and state power.”

“Blair, we are both trained in the law and well aware of the nuances and history of the federal/state power dynamic as memorizilied in the Constitution and articulated by Supreme Court decisions. I know we both have strong feelings about how that dynamic needs to change. Why do you think that a farmer in Iowa or a car assembler in Detroit will gasp those issues rationally?”

“Rachel, I fear far less the common sense of the masses than I do that of the over-educated elites which now run this Country from their entrenched power-base in Washington, D.C. Is it any surprise that the five most affluent counties in the Country encircle the District of Columbia? Moreover, what I have in mind is educating the public before the questions are posed.”

“Explain.”

“At the Press Conference, I want to announce a challenge to our corporations. Organize an on-line forum to propose and discuss amendments. Only identified individuals who are registered voters would be allowed to participate. Each person would have to be confirmed by their local elections department as a valid, register voter. They then could propose amendments, engage in discussion and otherwise begin to ‘guess the weight of the ox’, so to speak. My sense, and hope, is that from that will emerge an educated consensus on the proper role of the federal government and that of the states in the affairs of the Citizens of the United States.”

“And how does that put Corporations on the sidelines. Not to mention the political parties? Won’t they just overwhelm the discussions?”

“Always possible, but the reason we have so much false news and viruses on the internet is the scourge of anonymity. Look at any comment section and you will see that no one uses their own name so they are free to say any damn thing they want. Before the howls of the cosmopolitan elite are screeched claiming that anonymous postings on the internet highway are a God-given right, consider this analogy: On the actual highways of the world, do we allow the drivers of vehicles to operate anonymously? The answer, of course is ‘no’. The reason is plain: In so much as vehicle operators can cause significant property damage and injuries and/or death to persons, their identities must be known. Accordingly, in order to hold the operators of vehicles accountable for their actions, we require driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, license plates and, significantly, vehicle identification numbers unique to each vehicle on the road worldwide. In that way, if a breach of the law occurs, the perpetrator can be identified and called to account for any damage done. For the same reason, the identification of each Internet user contributing to the ConProAm must be required.”

“That would give legitimacy to the discussion, for sure.” Rachel said. “I like it. It would involve everyone. I am sure the tech wizards at Google and other tech companies could put that together with the challenge to make it transparent and a real use of the Internet for the 21st century. But you also mentioned education. What are your thoughts in that regard?”

“Well, that is where the corporations can come in again. At the press conference, I am going to challenge them to do their civic duty for the ConProAm to serve as educational sponsors. For example, TeachingAmericanHistory.org has a great outline of the 1787 Convention entitled ‘The Constitutional Convention as a Four Act Drama.’ I am going to propose corporations sponsor that as a live event across the country. Or take other significant issues, say the Eleventh Amendment which established the popular election of United States Senators by the people of the states which replaced Article I, §3 of the Constitution, which mandated Senators were to be elected by state legislatures. That caused a radical shift in the power of the Federal Government as States no longer had a direct voice and Senators became the patsies of special interests. The ignorance of the Citizens of the United States of its history is appalling and I see this moment as a time to address that.”

“I like it. You really are the right person to lead the ConProAm forward. But what about the artificial intelligence you mentioned?” Rachel said, looking a bit longer into Blair’s eyes than necessary.

Blair paused and returned her gaze and then continued, “Imagine then we have this massive database of proposed amendments coupled with online debates on the various proposed amendments. Now you release an artificial intelligence on that database to arrive at proposals that would likely produce the amendments that could secure ratification. The combination of these amendment communities’ expressions and artificial intelligence analysis creates a Collective Intelligence which, through methods such as topic modeling, link and synthesize across these human contributions producing a structure for our federal/state/individual rights. Scary as it may sound, this sort of AI could serve an important role as a scholar, a synthesizer, and an evidence-based decision maker for amending the Constitution. The end result can benefit the social construction of our federal system.”

“I get that”, Rachel said. “The Wisdom of the Crowds would engage a large numbers of diverse individuals thereby producing a better solution than any single point of view could provide. The different perspectives avoid the solutions that a group of like-minded individuals -- I am referring to the age, ethnicity, wealth and social standing of the all-white, mostly male, homogeneous Congress and state legislatures -- would provide. Moreover, diverse groups will be involved in the process and thus invested in the process.”

“My thoughts exactly. Those are the three items I want to raise at the Press Conference next week. Now it’s your turn. What have you come up with?”

“I guess I am thinking more logistically. First, we need an office, a staff and budget. I am happy to take those tasks on and let you focus on the bigger issues”, Rachel said.

“That would be great as that is not my strong suit. I would recommend we keep the employees all Washington, D.C. residents to avoid any state being favored”, Blair said.

“I agree. Second, we need to find a dignified place to hold the ConProAm. It deserves certain majesty. Judge Garland set the place as Washington, D.C. I was thinking the National Building museum; lots of space to set up a Convention with three stories of galleries for the press and public to watch.”

“I have been there several times. That would be perfect. Jump on that first thing. It would be a great place to have our offices too. I am sure they would clear any conflicts to let us have the facility.” Blair said.

“Third, we need a Website, pronto. I expect we are going to be deluged with inquiries. Do you want me to take on that as well?”

“Rachel, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Blair said.

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