Shouldn’t Congress Know the Constitution?

Posted on January 23, 2013. Filed under: Politics |


The United States Constitution, the document that establishes the government, its powers, and enumerates some of the rights of the people, gets waved around about as much as the flag does. I realize that there are some who would like to see the Constitution burned. During the Revolution, there were those who wanted to stay loyal to the crown.

Washington, Adams, Adams, Hancock, Paine, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, and Madison.

These founders are oft quoted, and raised almost to the point of deification.

Can you name any of the other Founders?

Just one. There are over 100 other Founders, some who signed the Constitution, some who did not.

As much as we like to throw out quotes from our Founders (many of them misattributed or misquoted), little do we actually know of them.

As much as we like to flaunt the Constitution, and our Bill of Rights, very few of us know what it says, and fewer have a decent understanding of it. I’m not trying to say that I know more about it than most folks, because I don’t. Reading the Constitution is one thing. Understanding it is another. One cannot read the Constitution, without reading up on Supreme Court case law, to understand how it has been interpreted.

I damn sure know more about it that our so-called “Representatives” do. Sure, they like to pretend that they do, but they don’t.

People like to complain that Congress is gridlocked, not realizing that the Founders did this intentionally, so that any laws that were passed would likely be a compromise, not benefiting a few, but benefiting the whole.

Speaker of the House, John Boehner has had the rules of the House changed so that anytime a resolution comes to the floor, he wants the bills sponsors to cite the specific parts of the Constitution that they think give Congress the authority to take the action they are proposing. Boehner also kicked off the last session of Congress by having a reading of the Constitution on the House floor, but it was an abridged version of that document.

The House read it as amended, which means that all references to 3/5 of a person or slavery were omitted. This angered many in the Black Caucus, as they felt like it was a whitewashing of history (pardon the pun).

So, how did the experiment work? Judge for yourself:


The column on the left shows how many bills were introduced, as a percentage, pertaining to a specific power in the Constitution. The column on the right shows how many times, as a percentage, there was a citation of the Constitution. In essence, the House made up a set of rules, and many representatives decided they weren’t going to play by them, one going so far as saying that it is not up to Congress to determine Constitutionality, but the job of the Supreme Court.

To show the limits of Congress’ understanding of the founding document, 56 times in the 112th Congress the Tenth Amendment was cited as supporting the bill at hand.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Tenth Amendment really adds nothing to the Constitution. It is considered a truism that the Federal government’s power is limited to those powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution.

I’ll tell you why it’s there. It is to prevent someone from coming along and saying “Well, it doesn’t specifically say that we can’t.” You know those types: “It’s only illegal if you get caught.”

“The thing that jumped out is how many parts of the Constitution members of Congress seem to think grant them legislative authority,” said Doug Kendall, founder of the Constitutional Accountability Center. “I wouldn’t have thought the 10th Amendment, which is about not legislating, or the First Amendment, which says ‘Congress shall make no law,’ would be fertile ground for legislative authority.”

That may be a large part of the problem we currently have. We have elected representatives who are twisting the Constitution to suit their purposes, either willfully or ignorantly.

“It should go without saying that members of Congress and the executive branch must know and understand their constitutional limits and requirements established by our Founding Fathers, but unfortunately, that has not always been the case,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the RSC.

There were twelve citations of the Second Amendment. One bill was signed into law citing only the Constitution’s Preamble, which doesn’t grant any authority at all. Five others cited the wrong clauses.

Rep. Scott R. Tipton, Colorado Republican, sponsored a bill to promote hydropower on federal lands, citing the Constitution’s clause granting Congress the power “to make rules for the government and regulation of the land.” But the full clause gives Congress power “to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces” — clearly a reference to the military, not to federal property.

Representative Rick Larsen (D- Washington):

“Members of Congress, having been elected and taken the oath of office, are given the authority to introduce legislation, and only the Supreme Court, as established by the Constitution and precedent, can determine the constitutionality of this authority,” he said in his authority statements.

He cited as his authority, Article II , the article that establishes the Executive Branch. Article III establishes the Supreme Court.

These few citations show how little our elected officials care about what is good or right for the nation, and how little they truly know about the document that binds them.

Should there be a test for anyone who wants to run for public office? You shouldn’t have to memorize the whole of the Constitution, but you should have a pretty good  idea as to what it says.

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