Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 23, 2010

THE REVERENCE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL STONE FADES AWAY.... It wasn't too long ago that Glenn Beck was sick of hearing about proposed changes to the U.S. Constitution: "We're running it through the shredder every time somebody wants to do [with it] what they want to do.... It took these guys a long time. They read a lot of books and a lot of history to put the principles together in this thing."

The right's line on the Constitution has changed a bit since. While some still talk about the need for "constitutional conservatives" -- a phrase that seems to be a euphemism for Tenthers -- the AP notes today that Republicans are now "hot and cold on the Constitution."

Republican Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia won his seat in Congress campaigning as a strict defender of the Constitution. He carries a copy in his pocket and is particularly fond of invoking the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

But it turns out there are parts of the document he doesn't care for -- lots of them. He wants to get rid of the language about birthright citizenship, federal income taxes and direct election of senators, among others. He would add plenty of stuff, including explicitly authorizing castration as punishment for child rapists.

This hot-and-cold take on the Constitution is surprisingly common within the GOP, particularly among those like Broun who portray themselves as strict Constitutionalists and who frequently accuse Democrats of twisting the document to serve political aims.
Republicans have proposed at least 42 Constitutional amendments in the current Congress, including one that has gained favor recently to eliminate the automatic grant of citizenship to anyone born in the United States.

I knew they'd recommended more than a few, but 42? In fairness, many of these are probably just symbolic gestures that proponents aren't seriously pushing. Indeed, even if there were a Republican Congress, most of these 42 likely wouldn't even get so much as a hearing, better yet a vote.

But when a small congressional minority, allegedly known for their constitutional fealty, proposed 42 amendments in one Congress, it starts to look like a party treating the document as a first draft. (In contrast, Dems have proposed 27 amendments, most of which come from one member: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois.)

And then, of course, there are also the existing amendments Republicans would like to see at least partially, if not fully, repealed. As we've talked about before, the new conservative agenda is focused on scrapping the 17th Amendment, repealing the 16th Amendment, getting rid of at least one part of the 14th Amendment, and "restoring" the "original" 13th Amendment.

Holding up the 2nd Amendment as sacrosanct, for example, while dismissing other parts of the Constitution is "cherry picking," said [constitutional law scholar Mark] Kende, director of Drake University's Constitutional Law Center.

Virginia Sloan, an attorney who directs the nonpartisan Constitution Project, agreed.

"There are a lot of people who obviously don't like income taxes. That's a political position," she said of criticism of the 16th Amendment, which authorized the modern federal income tax more than a century ago. "But it's in the Constitution ... and I don't think you can go around saying something is unconstitutional just because you don't like it."

Oh, just watch them.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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Comments

In any discussion of the Constitution, SOMEBODY really oughta mention that the Second Amendment is without doubt the worst drafted important sentence in the history of the United States.

Posted by: theAmericanist on August 23, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

I would assume that the repeals are counted in the 42 amendments. You can't repeal part of the Constitution without a Constitutional amendment.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on August 23, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Those so intent on abolishing the 16th Amendment and doing away with income taz are also the same ones that want to go to war with all the world especially the Muslim world. Wonder how they would pay for our military?? Than again with the demise of the middle class I quess the Repukes would not have to pay much for indentured servents to do their fighting.

Posted by: nodak on August 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

What kind of name is "Broun" anyway?

Guy must've been a German anchor baby.

Posted by: cr on August 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

"What kind of name is "Broun" anyway?
Guy must've been a German anchor baby."

Nope. That would be "Braun".

Posted by: Vokoban on August 23, 2010 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Just like "fundamentalists" who have never encountered the Sermon on the Mount, the fealty of these "strict constructionists" isn't even to the text, but to an authoritarian worldview not at all supported by the Constitution.

Posted by: kth on August 23, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

As the not-quite "Ground Zero", not quite a mosque controversy shows, conservatives are quite selective about their Constitutional likes and dislikes. You can infer that their principles here are ad hoc, less concerned with originalism than white skin, Christianity, and fetishizing private property.

Posted by: walt on August 23, 2010 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

I know it's fun to point out when "strict constructionists" advocate changing their beloved document, but there's really nothing inconsistent about a method of interpreting the Constitution a certain way and advocating changes to it. Feel free to insult people who took umbrage at the suggestion that the Constitution was, as originally drafted, somehow flawed, as many did during the 2008 campaign, though.

Posted by: Evan on August 23, 2010 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Nope. That would be "Braun".

Fine then, a Scottish anchor baby.

Posted by: cr on August 23, 2010 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

The right advocates using a method that the constitution itself provides for change including super majority support of the citizenry. The left? They want to change its meaning through judicial activism, against the will of the people.

Posted by: dualdiagnosis on August 23, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

They, of course, want the "Founders Constitution" which gets the original (including the 3/5's language) and the top ten amendments.

Those into deep reading may want to keep the 11th (or not as they may want to be able to sue other states) and there could be a fun debate about the 12th (rules for the Electrol College).

But after that it is post-Founders (except for the crazies who consider the founders everyone from Columbus to Lincoln). Can't wait to see them arguing to repeal the 13th Amendment.

Posted by: martin on August 23, 2010 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Virginia Sloan, an attorney who directs the nonpartisan Constitution Project, agreed.

"There are a lot of people who obviously don't like income taxes. That's a political position," she said of criticism of the 16th Amendment, which authorized the modern federal income tax more than a century ago. "But it's in the Constitution ... and I don't think you can go around saying something is unconstitutional just because you don't like it."

Oh, how wrong you are Ms. Sloan. There are in fact "constitutional originalists" who claim that the Constitution defines what you may tax and that an amendment that changes that definition is in fact unconstitutional.

Posted by: Lance on August 23, 2010 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

"The right advocates using a method that the constitution itself provides for change including super majority support of the citizenry. The left? They want to change its meaning through judicial activism, against the will of the people."

Posted by: dualdiagnosis

Except of course the Right is perfectly willing for John Roberts and his majority to practice judicial activism to get what they want.

Posted by: Lance on August 23, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, how wrong you are Ms. Sloan. There are in fact "constitutional originalists" who claim that the Constitution defines what you may tax and that an amendment that changes that definition is in fact unconstitutional.

Article 1, section 8, clause 1 of the US Constitution: The Congress shall have power To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.

That is to say, so long as the same federal taxes are applied in Alaska as in Vermont, the federal government can tax any damn thing it pleases. But even if these "constitutional originalists" were correct that the Constitution had forbidden an income tax, that's the point of an amendment. It amends the existing Constitution.

It's like claiming that the 21st Amendment was unconstitutional because it contradicted the 18th Amendment.

Posted by: wintermute on August 23, 2010 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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