Governing within constitutional power

Published 9:12 pm Saturday, September 14, 2013

By Rep. Randy Forbes

We often envision the nation’s Founding Fathers as brilliant and inspired minds gathered together in a room, signing the Constitution with quill and ink, and celebrating the pivotal moment for our nation.

Yet, I often find myself thinking of the weeks and months leading up to the signing. Our Constitution was birthed in chaos and uncertainty. Our developing nation was, in many ways, divided. The Constitutional Convention wasn’t a friendly gathering over tea and inspirational talks. In the late, hot summer months in Philadelphia, delegates quarreled. They pounded fists on desks. Tempers flared, and men stormed out. Negotiation was tough.


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Toil and sweat went into these words. Our Founding Fathers put great care and thought into the original articles, and they established the Constitution in such a way that required just as much care and collaboration to amend it. In the midst of reflection, choice, and debate, they struck a balance between practical and principled.

They built the Constitution of the United States.

I use this document daily to guide my decisions in Congress. This Tuesday, we will recognize Constitution Day to commemorate the signing of the United States Constitution by 39 brave men. As we look to this important day in the story of our nation, I offer some reflections on some of America’s current challenges, viewed through the lens of the U.S. Constitution:


“The Congress shall have Power …To declare War…”


When America goes to war, the American people go to war. I think it was this understanding that guided the Founders in requiring that the power to declare war lies with Congress. I’ve stood against military intervention in Libya and Syria, and I’m proud to be the voice of the people in these weighty decisions.


“The Congress shall have Power…To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization…”

Article i, Section 8

Few powers are more fundamental to sovereignty than the control over immigration. I have steadfastly maintained that those that break our laws and illegally enter the United States must not be rewarded with blanket amnesty.


“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”


Americans deserve privacy as much as they deserve protection. Our Constitution demands that these rights cannot and must not be mutually exclusive. I am working to stop NSA overreach, as well as to protect Americans from those who seek to do our nation harm.


“[T]he right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”




“[The President] shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed…”


The executive branch exists to enforce the law, not to determine what laws they believe are worthy of defense. I will continue to hold the president’s feet to the fire when it comes to adhering to existing laws, including immigration policy and national defense.


“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…”

Article 4, Section 4

The state derives its power from the people. My office works hard to promote the exchanging of ideas, sharing weekly email updates and daily information through our website and Facebook, and asking for input via email, blogs and our instaPolls.


“The Congress shall have Power…To raise and support Armies…To provide and maintain a Navy…”


Our national defense and our national security is a constitutionally mandated priority. I do not take for granted the constitutional gravity of my work as chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee or my previous work as the former chairman of the Readiness Subcommittee. It is a priority every day to protect and defend the United States of America.


“The Congress…shall propose Amendments to this Constitution…”


The Founding Fathers made the amendment process lengthy and cumbersome. They wanted to ensure that only grave situations could provide impetus to alter the guiding document of our nation. Today, I believe our fiscal situation to be one of them, which is why I have continued to support and advocate for a Balanced Budget Amendment.


“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”


The First Amendment is a promise that we are free to live according to the dictates of our conscience. It provides us the freedom to live every aspect of our lives according to our faith. As the founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, I am committed to protecting religious freedom in this country. On Monday, I led members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus in a special prayer hour for Constitution Day honoring our First Freedom, religious freedom.


“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.”


It’s as simple as that.


This list highlights only a few provisions that guide and inform how our nation should meet the challenges before us. But make no mistake — our Constitution in its entirety is important.

I believe every American should read the Constitution and become familiar with the powerful principles within this foundational document. Whether you once read it in seventh grade, specialize in constitutional law as an attorney, or have never read the document at all, I hope that in observation of Constitution Day, you will take time to read through the United States Constitution or to memorize the Preamble.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at