FAIRBANKS — Joe Miller’s opinion that Social Security and various other federal programs are unconstitutional because they are not spelled out in the U.S. Constitution is one of the more controversial aspects of his campaign for the U.S. Senate.
He contends that “activist judges” have allowed the federal government, over the course of many decades, to continue all sorts of programs that should be optional for each state.
He said he believes the federal government has a “contract” with people who are currently receiving Social Security benefits and those who will soon receive benefits. Those payments must continue and the contract must be adhered to because people don’t have time to adjust, he said.
But eventually, according to Miller, things have to change, in part because he thinks the federal government is nearing bankruptcy.
Plus, he believes that to comply with the Constitution, the federal government should transfer authority to each state, allowing local officials to decide whether Social Security and other programs are right for them.
When he met with the News-Miner editorial board nearly two weeks ago, we spent some time talking about his long-range goal of ending the federal defined benefit program for retirees, which is what Social Security is.
This took place on the same day as a story appeared quoting him as saying that the federal minimum wage law is wrong. It should be up to each state to decide if a minimum wage is needed, he said.
I asked him about whether he also believed that federal child labor laws should be done away with.
He said he is not against Social Security, unemployment benefits, the minimum wage or child labor laws.
But he doesn’t want the federal government mandating any of them.
For all of these areas, the 50 states should decide what the rules are and what the standards should be within their borders, Miller believes.
The states could decide, without a federal mandate, to adopt the same standards on Social Security, unemployment compensation, child labor, etc. if that’s what they believe is best.
I said this seems like an inefficient approach. We didn’t get into the legal tangles that would be created over state lines by such a system, how this might hinder people from moving between states or how society and technology have changed since the 18th Century.
Regarding Social Security, I said: “I guess I still don’t understand what is your problem with having that as a federal program?”
“Let me make this clear so that we don’t end up with a sound bite that I think is unfair. I guess I would turn this back to you Dermot. Where do we see in the Constitution authorization for the federal government to be engaged in that program? Because we know what the federal government does is supposed to be specified.”
“Where in the federal Constitution is that authorized and why isn’t that reserved to the states under the 10th Amendment. That’s the real point. I think that’s one of the reasons why the federal government has gotten to the point where it’s at today.”
He said the states are “closer to the people” than the federal government and are in a better position to decide what services should be offered. The Constitution should be interpreted as it was intended more than 200 years ago, he argues.
When I asked if he thinks the Supreme Court has been wrong since the New Deal in approving federal Social Security and a federal minimum wage, he said “absolutely.”
“I think a huge part of where we’re at today is the consequence of activist judges,” he said.
He argued that those who think the Constitution is an “evolving document” act as if the Constitution means nothing except what the highest court in the land says it does.
“So do you think Social Security is unconstitutional?” I said.
“I believe that the federal government does not have authorization under the Constitution to administer the program.”
“But the Supreme Court says it does,” I said.
“I understand that,” he said.
“Is the Supreme Court in charge of interpreting the Constitution?” I asked.
“You’re getting back to the question as to whether or not those on the bench are complying with their oath of office,” he said.
I said that he doesn’t seem to give much weight to the concept of judicial precedent.
“With respect to the expansion of the federal government, it is very clear that the Constitution has set forth a standard that’s been violated,” he said. “I believe that it’s been interpreted improperly and I think it is a violation of their oath.”
Dermot Cole can be reached at email@example.com or