Since its ratification, art. 6, sec. 2 of the Constitution has allowed for international treaties and executive agreements to be established and binding on the American people—becoming “the supreme law of the land.” In effect, there is the possibility that these treaties will override our Constitution and regulate domestic policy, infringe on the rights of citizens, and diminish the authority of states to govern themselves.
Back in 1953, Senator John Bricker recognized this potential danger and introduced a constitutional amendment to limit the binding powers of treaties, offering protection to the American people and fortifying our national sovereignty. Opposed by John Foster Dulles and others in the Eisenhower administration, the amendment was defeated.
Due to today’s ever-expanding globalization of economic, political, and juridical structures, the United States now faces the threats that Senator Bricker foresaw. Indeed, some recent international treaties and agreements have as their intention, and their effect, to override the Constitution, regulate domestic rights, and compromise U.S. sovereignty. For instance, the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child undermines the authority of parents to educate and rear their children; the U.S. Man and Biosphere Project interferes with current land-use policies; and most recently, the Chemical Weapons Ban Treaty could lead to international inspections of U.S. military bases and of private companies that develop military weapons.
At least one Congressman has realized these potentially disastrous effects and is responding. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) has dusted off the Bricker amendment, updated it, and introduced it in the House as the Amendment for American Sovereignty. The amendment has four basic goals: 1) deny subrogation of constitutional rights to treaties; 2) deny any provision of a treaty that infringes on state legislative authority unless ratified by a plurality of state legislatures; 3) disallow international courts jurisdiction in American domestic activities; 4) and allow international treaty law to become effective in the United States only through enactment of appropriate legislation by Congress.
Whereas some treaties are self-executing and the presidential agreements are binding without ratification by two-thirds of the Senate, this also would change. The authority of the Congress to govern, as representatives of the people, would be restored. No longer would an international body so easily be vested with the authority to govern the American people.
It is important to note that this bill is not rooted in an “isolationist” mentality; neither does it do away with any treaties or agreements. Indeed, the U.S. should not shrink from developing strong international ties: As the leader of the free world, it should take the initiative. However, our negotiations and eventual agreements should spring from a sense of solidarity among persons and nations. That is, we must recognize our responsibility to each other as persons and freely work together as nations to provide for the common good at an international level. This presupposes a clear sense of justice and a proper understanding of the natural hierarchical order of institutions and governments that help to provide for the common good. It is precisely because these treaties begin to contradict this order and create unjust circumstances that something like the Chenoweth amendment must be enacted to protect the people and the institutions of the U.S.