by John House

For those of you who missed it, the hour-long webinar hosted yesterday morning, April 30, 2020, via Zoom focused upon constitutional issues related to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The featured speaker was Congressman Jaime Raskin (D-Md.) who has been called the House’s top constitutional scholar.

Cong. Raskin likened the initial scattershot response by the federal government and subsequent abandonment of responsibility to the states to the lack of organization that characterized the United States under the Articles of Confederation. According to Raskin, the current health crisis raises an intriguing identity question for this country: can we make Federalism work during such a crisis? How we respond will provide the answer.

He described the need for a new federal agency to be called the Health Equipment Development Board that would act to oversee the speedy and efficient production of necessary medical  equipment and supplies similar to the War Production Board that during World War II oversaw the conversion of industry to production of military equipment, supplies and munitions.  

Cong. Raskin also emphasized  that the President’s refusal to allow oversight by anyone else but him and his administration over the distribution of relief funds has created yet another constitutional crisis. Congress must be able to exercise its constitutional oversight responsibility to review and audit the dispersion of funds, Raskin said.

Responding to question, Raskin agreed with one participant that the abandonment of civics classes in schools has contributed to the present lack of understanding of how government should work and also cited the failure to teach critical thinking. Responding to another question, he emphasized the importance of insuring that the 2020 elections will be “free and fair”, in light of the interference in the 2016 elections and past voter suppression efforts.

John House is the President of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics.