We hear it said that whenever the President signs, and the Senate ratifies, a Treaty, it becomes part of “the supreme law of the land”. But is that True? Not necessarily! Walk with me, and I will show you how to think through this question, and how to analyze other constitutional questions which come your way.
You must always ask: Is this authorized in the Constitution?Where exactly in the Constitution? And precisely what is authorized by the Constitution? Let us start at the beginning:
1. Does the federal government have authority to make treaties? Can treaties be about any subject? Or, are the proper objects of treaties limited by The Constitution?
Art II, Sec. 2, cl. 2, U.S. Constitution, says, respecting the powers of the President:
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur…
Article VI, cl. 2 says:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding. [emphasis added]
Thus, we see that the federal government is authorized to make treaties. Now, we must find out whether there are limitations on this treaty making power.
2. It is a classic rule of construction (rules for understanding the objective meaning of writings) that one must give effect to every word & phrase. The clause does not say, ‚ÄúTreaties made by the United States are part of the supreme Law of the Land‚Äù. Instead, it says Treaties made under the Authority of the United States, are part of the supreme Law of the Land.
So we see right away that a Treaty is part of the supreme Law of the Land only if it is made “under the Authority of the United States”.
3. From where do the President and the Senate get Authority to act? From The Constitution. The objects of their lawful (as opposed to usurped) powers are enumerated in the Constitution. Thus, the President and Senate must be authorized in the Constitution to act on a subject before any Treaty made by them on that subject qualifies as part of “the supreme Law of the Land”. If the Constitution does not authorize the President or Congress to act on a subject, the Treaty is not “Law” - it is a mere usurpation, and deserves to be treated as such ( Federalist No. 33, 6th para). Because the Constitution is ‚Äúfundamental‚Äù law ( Federalist No. 78,10th -11th paras), it is The Standard by which the legitimacy of all presidential acts, all acts of Congress, all treaties, & all judicial decisions is measured. (e.g., Federalist No. 78, 9thpara).
4. The Federalist Papers were written during 1787-1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, in order to explain the proposed Constitution to The American People to induce them to ratify it. Because of this, The Federalist is the most authoritative commentary on the meaning of The Constitution. Thus, we must always consult The Federalist to learn what it says about any constitutional provision. InFederalist No. 44 (7th para from end), James Madison said that a treaty which violates a State constitution would have no effect in that State:
...as the constitutions of the States differ much from each other, it might happen that a treaty or national law of great and equal importance to the States would interfere with some and not with other constitutions and would consequently be valid in some of the States at the same time that it would have no effect in others. [emphasis added]
Madison thus illustrated the Principle that a treaty which interferes with the Constitution has no effect. I found no other discussion in The Federalist on this point. So, let us turn toThomas Jefferson:
In giving to the President