"This land was made for you and me"

July 4th celebrates the birth of these United States. Notably the fourth is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. The end of the 1787 convention on September 17th passes by each year largely unacknowledged.

Today as the country slowly careens towards a constitutional crisis, I'd like to share a pair of historical news articles about the principle of subsidiarity underlying Jerry Brown's successful structural reform in California in the 2010's and his advocacy for constitutional change at the federal level in the 1970's.

Former Catholic seminarian Jerry Brown is prone to including obscure theological references in his political pronouncements, often embellishing them with Latin phrases.

So last week, when presenting a new state budget proposal, he used the word “subsidiarity” to describe his intention to continue shifting responsibilities for policymaking from Sacramento to locally elected officials.

One had to be steeped in Catholic doctrinal history to grasp that it evolves from the work of an influential 20th-century German theologian, Oswald von Nell-Breuning.

He postulated that the fundamental autonomy of the individual meant that governments should leave as much decision-making as possible in private hands. It was one of the underpinnings of the Catholic Church’s opposition to fascism, communism, and other statist forms.

Decades prior, Jerry Brown advocated for structural reform at the federal level during his first stint as governor in the seventies and campaign for president.

Article V of the Constitution includes a fail‐safe: If the states think Washington is ignoring the will of the majority, it allows them to call for a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. The fail‐safe has never been used, which is hardly surprising. As elected officials, Presidents and members of Congress can be depended on not to ignore the will of the majority. Nothing in American history has brought forth a constitutional convention — not the taming of the continent, not the Civil War, not two world wars, not the economic convulsing of the 1930's.

But now, amid the milder economic turns of the 70's, there is a groundswell for a convention, on behalf of a constitutional amendment to require a balanced Federal budget. The idea is endorsed by such Presidential aspirants as Jerry Brown and John Connally and some 25 states have petitioned Congress for a convention. Supporters say the number will reach 34 by June; Congress then would have to call a convention or initiate the amendment itself and send it on to the states.

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