In 1954, Sen. John Bricker, R-Ohio, hoped to ensure the U.S. Constitution took precedence over any treaty this nation signed with an international body or another country or countries.
You'd think such a no-brainer would have received overwhelming approval. Well, the Bricker amendment garnered a favorable 60-31 Senate vote Ä yet fell one vote shy of the two-thirds needed. (Then-President Dwight Eisenhower, like President Clinton today, said such a measure would hamper a president's conduct of foreign policy.)
This issue has been dormant Ä until now.
With the United States climbing aboard everything from the World Trade Organization to an expanding NATO, Rep. Helen Chenowith, R-Idaho, feels Bricker's stipulation should finally become law. She re-introduced it as H.J. Resolution 83.
Chenowith says "in the past we've rarely worried about our executive binding us in international treaties to laws that are unconstitutional. With the recent broad expansion of powers under the Clinton administration, however, and with the president's increased activities in creating international law, the threat of an international court controlling American domestic policy has become very real.
"The implications reach into our natural resources, defense, civil rights and all the other rights that Americans are guaranteed by the Constitution and our Bill of Rights. All stand in jeopardy to international treaties or (presidential) `executive agreements."'
Yet it's sad to note that passing H.J. Resolution 83 will be even tougher than in 1954.
Look at the popular Balanced Budg et Amendment. It has been introduced regularly since 1980, and has come close to passage a couple of times. But its powerful enemies have so far always prevailed.
But just debating Bricker's stipulation again would be constructive. It will make Congress and the American people more conscious of the importance of sovereignty.
For example, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff oppose an international arms treaty to ban land mines. They say they can't protect the lives of American soldiers if a president ever signed on. And the South Koreans say that if they are forced to give up land mines, the Communist North will surely invade them.
If H.J. 83 is vigorously debated, it would help underscore the insanity of subordinating our military's ability to protect its personnel to some wishy-washy international agreement which leaves us disarmed while giving outlaw nations an advantage.
In John Bricker's day, this debate was largely theoretical. Today, the issue is real Ä and is looking America square in the face.