On Monday afternoon, the University of Richmond School of Law hosted a guest talk by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia in the school's moot court room.
The theme of Kaine’s talk was 'Constitution at 230: Times of Stress and Resilience.' The free, sold-out event was open to law students, undergraduates, faculty and the public.
Kaine taught legal ethics at UR's law school from 1987-1993, was a leader in residence in 1988 and taught at the Jepson School of Leadership from 2010-2013.
In his talk, Kaine remained optimistic about the current state of the government, despite the disappointment of losing as the vice-presidential candidate in the 2016 national race. He also praised the Constitution, a document that many critics are declaring as outdated and potentially faulty.
“I think the Constitution is living, thriving and working,” Kaine said.
He explained how the fear Americans are living with today is similar to the fear experienced by the framers of the Constitution. Fear is what motivated the founding fathers to write the way they did, and fear is what insured checks that would be tested in times like today, Kaine said.
Although Kaine is supportive of the efficiency of the Constitution, he is also critical of those who implement it, specifically Congress.
“I was taught that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts,” Kaine said. “Currently, Congress is equal to less than the sum of its parts.”
He said that Congress had devolved into reacting to President Trump instead of being proactive, something that he believes the Constitution did not intend for Congress.
“Congress is no longer an Article 1 branch," Kaine said. "It is more like an Article 2 ½ branch.”
But, Kaine said he believed not all hope was lost for Congress to begin to be its own branch again. The senator proposed three tests to see if Article 1 of the Constitution, which describes the powers of Congress, still holds.
The first test was what Kaine called a “statutory test,” which concerned Congressional decision-making over health care.
“Health and health care is an everybody issue, but treated in a partisan manner,” Kaine said.
The test would be to see if Congress could overcome its partisanship to agree on a bipartisan health care bill.
Kaine mentioned how McCain’s dramatic ‘No’ vote on the recent push to repeal the Affordable Care Act allowed Kaine and other members of the health and education committee to draft a bipartisan health care bill, which he hopes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow a vote on in the near future.
The second test involves Congress’ authority to declare war.
Trump has been allowed too much control over the declaration of war, stemming from Congress’ grant of presidential authority after the 9/11 attacks, Kaine said.
“The United States is operating in too many countries without Congressional approval,” he said.
Kaine mentioned a document he plans on revealing that shows exactly how many countries the United States is currently in.
“How can you deploy people into harm’s way and not even vote on it," Kaine said.
His solution is to reign in presidential powers over declaring war and passing a reauthorization bill that would put the powers of declaring war back in Congress’ hands. Kaine has already introduced this bill along with Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona.
The third and final test on the strength of Article 1 is what Kaine called the “indictment test."
This regards special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. Kaine mentioned Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort's indictment that occurred Monday morning and that he was unsure of where the investigation was headed.
“I hope we don’t have to grapple with the third test,” Kaine said. “I don’t precisely know what will happen or where this investigation is going to go.”
The Constitution and Congress can pass these tests, Kaine said in his closing remarks. He also reemphasized his optimism for the current checks system the Constitution has in place.
Kaine then opened the floor to questions.
UR undergraduate student Sara Messervey, sophomore, asked Kaine about a post-truth society.
People self-segregate into groups that share their same opinions, but there is still a large group of persuadable people who can be moved from their voting base, Kaine said.
UR undergraduate student Matt Lidz, freshman, asked Kaine about technology as it relates to the rights of privacy.
“Congress cannot strike balance between security and privacy because they already gave their privacy up,” Kaine said.
Both Lidz and Messervey enjoyed Kaine's talk, they said.
“I wish he could’ve stayed longer to answer more questions,” Lidz said. “But I understand the senator has a busy schedule and places to be.”
Messervey also appreciated Kaine's optimism, she said.
“He’s right, we haven’t crossed the line yet into a failing democracy,” Messervey said. “We cannot lose hope. We can still have an impact because we still have a voice.”
Contact news writer Julia Raimondi at firstname.lastname@example.org.