Reading the Constitution in Congress

My daughter’s 8th grade history class is studying the Constitution.  With the Republican House’s plan to inaugurate its majority by reading the Constitution aloud, I had a little talk with her about the Constitution.

Me:  Can you tell me what the Constitution is?

Daughter:  It’s a document that tells the government what to do.

Me:  That’s a good start in thinking about it.  Basically, it’s a contract between the government and the people that sets out the powers and limitations of the federal government.

Daughter:  That sounds like a good idea.

Me:  It is.  So tell me, what are you supposed to do if you don’t like a part of this contract?

Daughter:  I don’t understand.

Me:  If you don’t like part of the contract should you just ignore it?

Daughter:  No.  That’s wrong.

Me:  Should you pretend it means something different than it says?

Daughter:  You can’t do that!  (I refrained from saying here “you wanna bet?”)

Me:  Did you know that there’s a mechanism within the Constitution itself for making changes?

Daughter:  No.

Me: It’s called the Amendment process.

Daughter:  Oh, right!  I knew that.

Me:  Can you give me an example of an amendment?

Daughter:  The Bill of Rights?

Me:  That’s a very good example.  The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the Constitution.  How about an example of a part of the original constitution that was wrong and that got changed?

Daughter:  Slavery?

Me:  Yup.  The government used the Constitution’s own rules to change a part that wasn’t right.  Now, with all this in mind, I have a question for you.  Today marks the start of a new Congress.  The Senate is still going to have a majority of Democrats, but the House is going to have a large majority of Republicans.  Indeed, the last election saw the biggest turnover since 1938.  That means that, not only did the majority party switch as a result of the election, but it switched by huge numbers as the voters rejected the governing majority party.  The first thing the new Republican House is planning on doing is having someone read the entire Constitution.  Do you think that sounds like a silly political stunt, or a waste of time, or a good idea?

Daughter:  That sounds like a really good idea, since the Constitution tells them what they can and can’t do.

Me: I agree.  And how about this — The new Republican House has promised that every bill it writes (and a bill is what becomes a law if it gets the vote) will have at the top a statement about which Constitutional power the House believes authorizes it to pass that law.  Do you think that’s a good idea?

Daughter:  That’s a wonderful idea!

The liberal media may be outraged that the current House is going back to the seminal contract that defines its powers, duties and limitations, but at least one future voter likes the idea that her government is trying to follow the rules.

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  • Midwest Chick

    We had to get in front of class and recite the preamble to the Constitution as one of the prerequisites of passing 8th grade history (and passing 8th grade in general).  Thanks to SchoolHouse Rock, I pretty much sang it as said it.  I don’t think this would be a bad thing to institute or re-institute.

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  • Old Buckeye

    I’d be interested to hear a back-and-forth exchange  between the teacher of your daughter’s class and the students. Would she ask the same kinds of questions that you did and accept the same replies?

  • JKB

    To bad those of a mind didn’t stand during the reading, stand just as one does when the sovereign, or in this case, the manifestation of the body of the American people, enters the room.  That would have been quite a picture, those standing in reverence against those texting their BFFs.

  • suek

    This link may belong in the “How do we fix it” thread, but that one has sort of disappeared, so since it also seems to have a definite bearing on the intent of the Founding Fathers and the expansion of powers, here you go:

  • Mike Devx

    Apparently nearly all of the Democrats in the House of Representatives are absent during the reading of the Constitution.
    I want to know who was present, and who was not.  It tell you quite a bit about them, that they choose not to be present during the reading of the Supreme Law of the Land, the Constitution of the United States of America, that document that first outlines precisely what the nature of their powers, rights, and responsibilities to the American People are.
    Very interesting statement on their part, to be absent.  It tells you everything you need to know about where the Democrat Party currently IS.

  • jj

    Regrettably it’ll turn out to be smoke and mirrors.  Boehner’s already saying forget about cutting $100 billion from the budget, just can’t do it now, my ass hurts, I’m in tears again, my kid has a softball game, my wife needs a prescription filled, I have to walk the dog, blah, blah, blah.  Can’t do it now – won’t happen.  Cutting $100 billion was last week’s goal, now it ain’t.
    More BS.  Pretty BS, reading the Constitution certainly looks good on camera, but given the dubious (not to be positively unfriendly and just outright say ‘non-existent’) constitutionality of most of what’s been passed the last decade, if you can’t get it up to cut a tiny percentage of it, then what good are you, John?

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  • bizcor

    Sounds to me like the bookworm has done a good job in raising her daughter. I too would love to hear how the teacher presents the case.
    By the way welcome back. Don Q did a great job filling in.

  • suek

    >>Boehner’s already saying forget about cutting $100 billion from the budget, just can’t do it now>>
    I understand your skepticism, and while I don’t have complete faith myself, you _do_ have to consider the overlap problem.  As I understand it, Boehner said “…within the first year…”.  The problem is that the present fiscal year is already half done.  In other words, “in the first year” could very well mean 50million in this budget, and 50 million in the next budget – which _they_ will control.  Or it could mean 100 million in the first complete annual budget that the 112th Congress controls, which will actually be next year.
    So don’t give up just yet.  But keep a skeptical eye watching as well!

  • Ymarsakar

    Like with Obama, the proof’s in the pudding.
    The only real truth is what happens, not people’s speculations on the matter.
    And Democrats have a habit of using the Constitution to cover up their legislation to “help the children”.

  • Oldflyer

    Wow!  Day two of the 112th Congress and JJ has already passed judgment.  Frankly, your diatribe did not meet the standards that I expect of a Bookwormroom contributor.  I am sure that Boehner will not please everyone; he may please very few.  . But, I give him credit for sincerity of purpose.
    In the end he is a Legislator, and he knows that he will have to deal in some areas.  But, if his alleged supporters will not give him room to deal, it will surely turn into a shambles.  This mess was created over decades, starting with the New Deal, passing thought the Fair Deal, the Great Society/War on Poverty,  and for the past two years, the “Raw Deal”.  It will not be cleaned up immediately. Anyone who isn’t prepared for a long, dirty slog is in a dream world.
    Regarding the constitution, I believe that it is wise and good for the GOP to emphasize it.  I hope that they will make a concerted effort to educate people on the pivotal role that our constitution has played in the development of the country, and the preservation of our freedom.  I truly believe that the constitution is an inspired document.  I also realize that it is only effective as long as it is respected.  The Statists in the democrat party, and their merry band of syncophants in the press, are in full attack mode in an attempt to trivialize it.  The constitution is just too limiting to their efforts to consolidate ultimate power in the federal government.
    I will applaud the GOP every time they cite the constitution; and cheer every time they demonstrate devotion to it by their actions.

  • Charles

    According to the news reports, this is the first time that congress has read the constitution out loud while in session.  Does this accomplish anything?  Perhaps not. Is it little more than “political theater”?  Perhaps; But I like the idea anyway – and given how much “hot air” usually comes from Washington – this is the kind of “hot air” that doesn’t hurt.  Reading it out loud, hopefully, will remind folks just what the reason for the US constitution is.

    Mike D – I’m not sure where you heard that most Democrats were absent (I’m not a Democrat supporter BTW) as many of them did read part of it, including Nancy P.  My own district’s congressman, Frank Pallone (D), (darn, he won against a teaparty candidate this past November), was “heckled” by someone in the visitor’s gallery while reading about who can be president.  The heckler shouted out, in response to only native-born can be president, “except Obama” or something to that effect.  She was arrested.  Pallone looked like his usual self – like a dear in headlights.  the fool!

  • Wolf Howling

    Over at Powerline, they note that the reading did indeed serve a valid purpose – it flushed out of the woodwork many of those on the left who have disdain for the document. 

    As an aside, in 8th grade, we learned the Constitution – and seared into my memory is my teacher telling us that the Constitution is a living document that can be reinterpreted as society changes.  I accepted that as true for many a year thereafter.  I would still love to go back in time and smack him.  I wonder how many of my classmates still operate under that assumption, if they give it much thought at all.

  • Mike Devx

    Drudge had (and still has) a link with the headline: “Few Democrats attend reading…”
    And the link is:;_ylt=AsSvnPRncjIpp1hz.k_SwRus0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNsN3BjbDJpBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTEwMTA2L3VzX2hvdXNlX2NvbnN0aXR1dGlvbgRjY29kZQNtb3N0cG9wdWxhcgRjcG9zAzIEcG9zAzYEcHQDaG9tZV9jb2tlBHNlYwN5bl90b3Bfc3RvcnkEc2xrA3Nob3V0c2Fib3V0bw–
    Unfortunately the story at the link doesn’t say very much about who was in attendance:
    For the first hour of the recital the Republican side of the chamber was full, while far fewer Democrats occupied the other side. After an hour, the number of Republican listeners also declined.

    I’d still like to know who was there at the beginning (and at the end) of the reading.
    One can’t help but mistrust the media.
    Suppose the numbers at the start were:
    Republicans: 220
    Democrats: 40
    And the numbers at the end were:
    Republicans: 210
    Democrats: 35

    Would that justify the article adding the line:
    After an hour, the number of Republican listeners also declined.

    A true statement on the face of it, but the inference drawn would be WILDLY different from the reality.
    My numbers are probably wildly off, but until I get the actual numbers, I’ve no way of knowing.

  • Zachriel

    Unfortunately, they read an abridged version of the U.S. Constitution. Amendments to the U.S. Constitution do not replace the original text, but are appended. The original text remains (though the doctrine of implicit repeal may apply).

    U.S. Constitution at the National Archives

  • Oldflyer

    Zachriel, the fact that they read the amended text has been seized upon by Statists, and others, who want to denigrate the document; and more specifically its reading in Congress.  They so wanted them to hear the 3/5 rule, and so forth read aloud.  The gnashing of teeth was audible throughout the land.
    While it may be that the GOP motive was not entirely pure;  it is obviously the amended text that governs the Congress today. The stated purpose was to remind Congressman of their responsibilities and limitations.  So, how can anyone logically object to that reading?
    Nice try though.

  • Mike Devx

    I have a question about Constitutional Originalism that may be somewhat off topic for this post, but it’s the closest post I could find in which to ask my question.  The question was raised in a column by a liberal female columnist whose name escapes me right now.  Most of her article I dismissed, as I do nearly all of every liberal column I read, but this one is sticking with me…
    First, the text of the 14th, 15th, 19th Amendments:
    14th (partial) : nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws
    15th: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
    19th: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

    The passage of the 14th Amendment ensured that black men would retain the right to vote.  It did not mean white women nor black women could vote.  That right was gained via the 19th Amendment.

    The 14th Amendment also did not – at its time – prevent states from enacting laws preventing women from engaging in various activities, such as serving on juries.  A state such as Idaho was free to pass a law denying women the ability to serve on juries.

    Any originalist interpretation of the 14th Amendment *must* in fact allow only that its intent and language was intended to apply solely in questions of race, as it related to the ending of the Civil War, the freeing of slaves, and the outlawing of slavery, and the removal of race from considerations of law.

    The Burgher court in 1971 – a liberal court – struck down all State laws that made a distinction between the rights of women and men based solely on their sex.  That Idaho state law barring women from juries – null and void.  This decision was based on an interpretation of the 14th Amendment clauses concerning due process of law and equal protection under the law.

    If I understand Antonin Scalia correctly, he would maintain that Idaho *still* has the right under law to ban women from serving on juries.  The 14th Amendment does not apply, due to the originalist interpretation.  Nor does any other Amendment.

    If you are an originalist, I would think you would have to agree; and I consider myself to be an originalist.  Yet this troubles me.  Who is right?

    As a matter of expediency, if a Supreme Court were to reinterpret the 14th Amendment this way, and a State then went ahead and barred women from any variety of activities, there would be an uproar such as you’ve rarely heard the likes of.  And those legislators who passed such laws would quickly be drummed out of office.

    Yet that’s expediency.  Who do you think is right?  Is there anything in the current Constitution – if you are an originalist – that would prevent a State from passing a Law barring women from any activity other than the right to vote?

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