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08/08/2011

Kurt Lash: The Virginia Plan and Authority to Resolve 'Collective Action Problems' Under Article I, Section 8
Michael Ramsey

Kurt T. Lash (University of Illinois College of Law) has posted ‘Resolution VI’: The Virginia Plan and Authority to Resolve 'Collective Action Problems' Under Article I, Section 8 (Illinois Public Law Research Paper No. 10-40) on SSRN.  This is an important piece by a leading originalist scholar on a core issue of federalism.  Here is the abstract:     

In the past few years, a number of influential constitutional scholars such as Jack Balkin, Robert Cooter, Andrew Koppelman, Neil Siegel and others have called for doing away with the traditional principle of judicially limited enumerated power and replacing it with the principle declared in Resolution VI of the Virginia Plan originally introduced in the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. According to Resolution VI, federal power should be construed to reach all matters involving the “general interests of the Union,” those “to which the “states separately are incompetent” and those affecting national “harmony.” Resolution VI advocates maintain that, under this principle, Congress has power to regulate all collective action problems of national importance. In support of their claim, Resolution VI advocates argue that the members of the Philadelphia Convention adopted Resolution VI and sent the same to the Committee of Detail with the expectation that the resulting text would be based on this overriding principle of national power, and that they accepted the text of Article I, Section 8 as the enactment of Resolution VI. These scholars also claim (or rely on the claim) that Philadelphia Convention member James Wilson publicly declared during the ratification debates that the framers based Article I, Section 8 on the principle of Resolution VI.

A close reading of the historical sources, however, shows that the framers did not view Article I, Section 8 as having operationalized the general principle of Resolution VI and allowing federal action in all cases in which the “states separately are incompetent.” In fact, they expressly stated otherwise. Even more importantly, it turns out that there is no historical evidence that Resolution VI played any role whatsoever during the ratification debates. Claims to the contrary are based on an error of historical fact.