Article Four, Section 4 of the Constitution reads in part as follows “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,…”. Just a little known and rarely discussed provision in the document. I have searched and can’t find any extensive exposition of that section in the Federalist Papers and only a brief passing reference once by Lincoln. In those very brief comments the thrust is such provision would relate to domestic insurrection or disturbance.
I have not done any new legal research, after all I am a man of leisure these days and above such mundane requirements. But I do recall from my Con Law class there was only one case I remember that concerned this provision. Maybe there were fifty but I don’t think so. In fact would bet real money on that. There was a case that arose from some challenge to the Nebraska legislative scheme. It has a unicameral legislative system. Someone was unhappy about that and took it to court. I do not recall if the case made it to the Supremes. But that doesn’t really matter in the grand view of things. The Federal judiciary essentially punted on the case. It did uphold the Nebraska form of government but did not chart out the requirements for republican governmental form as they so often do. They made clear that the State legislatures would have great latitude in the establishment of their ruling legislative bodies. The case assumed there was a functioning State government.
But with recent events in Seattle and Portland one should have pause about the invocation of this provision by the Federal government. It would not be hard to imagine officials or ordinary joes calling on the Feds to “restore” order. They could quite reasonably allege that the rule of law had collapsed and that the mob was ruling the day and that the citizens no longer had a Republican form of government. It is not a stretch to imagine legislators or Governors being physically intimated or threatened by the mob and thereby thwarting the normal functioning of Government. You might have a Governor who decides for personal safety or political calculation that it is best to join the mob and rule by executive order (decree) and dismiss the legislators. History is replete with such occurrences so don’t just dismiss that notion. Many happened within the last century. When the mob takes over is there a Republican form of government any more?
Frankly I am not sure the Judiciary would have a proper rule if the citizens of a State asked for Federal help to restore order and provide for a Republican form of government. Even if you argue that it would have a role, would circumstances and the violence supersede any deliberation of the Court? Exigencies might well cause any ruling of the Court to be ignored. Just as Lincoln did when he ignored the Court’s ruling on Habeas Corpus for the Maryland legislators at the beginning of the War Between the States.
It has never been invoked that I know of for domestic disturbance but there is always the first time. I do worry about it down the road. When you have one party in control of the executive and legislative branches and the majority of the States and some minority party is protesting and demonstrating in a State they still control politically will that majority manufacture a “crisis” and answer the call for a republican form of government there with military force?
I don’t know the future but I can read and know a little history. If you think no politician would ever take advantage of such a call to “help” people have a republican form of government when it would benefit his prospects and his party, then you know a completely different brand of politicians than I do.
That provision means something. It can’t just be brushed off. I don’t like the idea of that provision being invoked by anyone. But it probably will some day. If we can think it we will do it at some point. Ponder this.
Ok,,,,cynical lesson of the day done.