The What?

OK, quick now: Who is the Archivist of the United States? Now you know why this article is entitled “The What?”. Today’s article will not only answer that question but give you something to ponder. Let’s explore.

The United States has an Archivist and his name is David Ferriro. Mr. Ferriro is the tenth Archivist of the United States (there were four who held the position for less than a year in an acting capacity). The position was established in 1934. The Archivist is appointed by the President and subject to Senate confirmation. Ferriro took his post in 2009.

At this point you have to be scratching your head wondering why in the world I’m writing about this. Well, as of two weeks ago I was among the hundreds of millions who didn’t even know the position existed (I’ll get to its significance below) then a friend lent me a novel that was only a bit above penny dreadful status based upon the myth that the 16th Amendment –which allows for the federal income tax – was never properly ratified by the states. Without going down that rabbit hole; the bottom line is that in any event don’t hold your breath waiting for the income tax to disappear (unless you are Donald Trump or a senior member of his crew).

In order to amend the Constitution the text must be passed by two-thirds of each chamber of Congress and then ratified by three-quarters of the states. Most Americans were taught that and many (I’m certain the vast majority of my American readers) remember it. Various states have various methods for ratifying an amendment to the United States’ Constitution. The issue is who certifies that a sufficient number of states ratified the amendment? It turns out that under current law the lone and basically unchallengeable authority in the matter is the Archivist of the United States.

Now we get into what if territory. What if a president was in their second term and wanted to stay beyond the end of it? Currently the 22nd Amendment limits a president to two terms so that amendment would have to be nullified; perhaps even to the degree to allow a president for life.

Under the current laws that would require 327 votes in the House (assuming all 435 members were present and voting), 67 votes in the Senate (regardless of “attendance”) and ratification by 38 states. Admittedly as things stand at the moment I can’t see such an amendment making it out of either, let alone both, chambers of Congress. Nor do I see it happening in any predictable configuration of the next Congress. Considering all the things that are happening in DC which we never thought could happen in America; for the sake of this discussion let’s assume that the amendment made it out of DC and to the states.

Under our current system if the Archivist of the United States certified that 38 states ratified the amendment that is the end of the story regardless of reality. That is a dangerous situation!

This is not a reflection on Ferriro or his integrity. Since he took office in 2009 I see no reason to assume he is a Trump stooge or would take part in something like this. However, Trump has purged countless loyal civil servants and appointees when they did not serve his purposes. What is there to stop him from replacing Ferriro? He could then appoint another sycophant, as he has done so many times already, and if he retains just 50 seats in the Senate have them confirmed. Then if he could get the amendment through Congress the states really would not serve as a backstop.

I’ll admit today’s scenario is a bit wild and very unlikely. Perhaps I’ve been reading a bit too much post World War I 20th century European history lately. If nothing else we have all learned a history lesson and now know that the United States has an Archivist (who actually has many more duties).

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