July 20, 2004
Suicide And The Constitution
The son of Senator Gordon Smith committed suicide last September and it may end up costing taxpayers $82 million.
On the Senate floor earlier this month, Senator Smith, a Republican from Oregon, tearfully urged his colleagues to support the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act. If enacted, the AP reports, Senator Smith's proposed bill "would authorize $82 million over three years as grants to states, American Indian tribes, colleges and universities to develop youth suicide prevention and intervention programs."
After Smith's emotional plea, two other senators--Republican Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada--explained how their fathers committed suicide and why it was important for the Senate to pass Smith's bill.
The Senate passed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act overwhelmingly on July 8. The bill now goes onto the House for consideration.
It should go without saying that suicide, particularly among the young, is an awful thing and a devastating blow to surviving family and friends. And preventing suicide is a good idea and a noble goal. However just because something is a good idea doesn't automatically give Congress the legal authority to fund it. Nowhere in the Constitution is Congress granted jurisdiction to fund such things.
Had Garrett Smith not committed suicide last year, there'd probably be no anti-suicide legislation making its way through Congress right now. That means that just because a senator from Oregon experienced a terrible family tragedy, the Senate believes it's justified in using other people's money to buy him an $82 million sympathy card.
The Constitution was written to prevent such whimsical and subjective exercises of governmental power.
Even the process by which Senator Smith's bill is being considered is unconstitutional. Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution declares, "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills." The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, however, originated in the Senate.
Though Senator Smith's intentions are laudable, his methods are unconstitutional. Taxpayers can't be legally required to provide grief therapy for members of Congress. If Senator Smith wants to effectively fight suicide among young people, he should persuade people--not force them--to donate money to the cause.
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