09/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You Couldn't Vote, Laura -- But Barack Could Still Be President

The ineffable Laura Skaer, who runs the Northwest Mining Association, is upset that Interior Secretary Salazar thinks it's past time to reform the The General Mining Act of 1872. She doesn't want to pay royalties on gold, silver, and other valuable minerals taken by mining conglomerates from the public lands because, she now claims, it would create a dependence on foreign sources of minerals like copper, zinc, and titanium. (Note to Ms. Skaer: The foreign countries from which we might get these minerals (unless they are kleptocracies like the Congo) do extract mineral royalties, and even in the Congo the warlords get their share of the take. Royalties do not equate to no mining. Oil, gas, and coal all pay royalties on the public lands. We certainly produce a lot of those commodities.)

But it's Ms. Skaer's logic that takes my breath away. We shouldn't hurry to amend the 1872 Act, she says, because, "The U.S. Constitution is about 100 years older than the mining law. And I don't hear anyone calling it out of date."

Actually, since we passed the mining law, the U.S. Constitution has been amended not once but 12 times.

If we hadn't updated the Constitution, Laura Skaer wouldn't be eligible to vote or serve in public office. Barack Obama could, though, since the 15th Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for all races was ratified in 1870, just two years before the General Mining Act. Members of the Senate would still be elected by state legislatures, 18-year-olds would not be able to vote, poll taxes would be permissible, there would be no federal income tax, and President Obama could serve as many terms as he and the American people chose.

Since the General Mining Act was passed, we have tried -- and abandoned -- Prohibition, moved the President's swearing in date from March to January, created a succession path if the Vice-President dies or is removed from office, established Social Security and the Federal Reserve Bank, and invented the automobile, airplane, telephone, and Internet.

In various forms, this absurd argument that the General Mining Act is inviolable simply because it's old pops up all over the Internet. It appears to be a serious part of the mining industry's efforts to stop reform.