The Supreme Law of Laws

Daniel Henry Gottlieb --- October 11, 1995

In the affairs of men there are some Laws which are forced on the legal system by its underlying logic. These are not laws legislated by men, they are legislated by Mathematics. I call these "Laws of Laws". The strongest of these I call the "Supreme Law of Laws": If Law A and Law B contradict one another and Law B was passed after Law A, then Law B holds and Law A does not. (Of course assuming that A and B have the same standing.)

Today in America, eighteen year olds have the vote because the Supreme Court of the United States failed to observe the Supreme Law of Laws.

It happened like this. Congress passed the Voting Right Act Amendments of 1970, which lowered the minimum age of voters in both state and federal elections from 21 to 18. Many states challenged the law in Oregon vs. Mitchell, which was argued before the Supreme Court on October 19, 1970 . The Supreme Court held: The 18-year-old minimum-age requirement is valid for federal elections, but is not valid for state and local elections. This ruling threatened such confusion at polling booths across the Nation that the Twenty Sixth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in near record time, even though two thirds of the country was opposed to eighteen year olds voting.

In making this finding, the Supreme Court had ignored the Supreme Law of Laws. To see this we must first examine the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution. It requires that the same people vote for the United States Senate as vote for the largest branch of the State Legislature in the states where they reside. But the Supreme Court ruled that 18 year olds could not vote for the California General Assembly, yet would be able to vote for the Senate of the United States in contradiction to the Seventeenth Amendment.

The Seventeenth Amendment reads as follows:

"The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures."

The only Laws which could contradict the Seventeenth amendment were the 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and 25th Amendments. These involve Prohibition and its repeal, woman's voting, presidential term limits, Congressional sessions, voting for the District of Columbia, the end of the Poll Tax, and the rules of presidential succession. These do not seem to have anything to do with the requirement that the same people vote for the United States Senate as vote for the largest branch of the State Legislature in the states where they reside.

Justice Hugo Black announced the judgement of the court on December 21, 1970. "For the reasons set out in Part I of this opinion, I believe Congress can fix the age of voters in national elections, such as congressional, senatorial, vice-presidential and presidential elections, but cannot set the voting age in state or local elections." To see if the Supreme Law of Laws was ignored, it is only necessare to read Part I of Justice Black's Opinion and note where the 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, and 25th Amendments are mentioned. A perusal of the opinion written by Justice Black, which is the relevant one for this case, reveals that the relevant amendments are not even mentioned except in only two paragraphs on page 125 and 126 of his opinion. Only Amendments 19 and 24 were mentioned, in three separate sentances. Their texts were not discussed. And in each of these three sentances, earlier amendments were mentioned with equal status, by which I mean that there is no distinction between those amendments which are earlier and those which are later than the 17th Amendment. So whatever reasoning follows from these sentences cannot involve the Supreme law of Laws.

One is left to conclude that either the Supreme Court did not know the Constitution, or did not know the Supreme Law of Laws. It is hard to imagine a Supreme Court of amateurs making a more egregious mistake. In view of this, I think that there is little risk in appointing non-lawyers to the Court. Especially a mathematician.

I would like to thank Professor Herman Rubin of Purdue University Mathematics Department for pointing out this mathematical error of the highest court in the land. At the time I did not want to believe it, impressed as I was about how our legal system was the envy of the world. But curiosity drove me to look up the opinions in the United States Reports.

I thought at the time this was an isolated error. But seeing the Law operate over the years has led me to believe that Lawyers are trained not to think carefully. They also dominate our Judiciary. So we are now reaping the whirlwind.


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