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Tilting at Windmills

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December 14, 2010

SCALIA ACCEPTS BACHMANN'S INVITATION?.... A few weeks ago, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) talked up her plans for the new Congress, including "weekly classes" on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights for like-minded lawmakers.

Asked who'll lead these "classes," Bachmann said she hoped to get conservative Supreme Court justices, but would probably settle for unhinged activists like David Barton, the pseudo-historian and Glenn Beck ally.

It never occurred to me Bachmann might actually get a sitting justice of the high court to participate in something like this, but the frightening Minnesotan appeared on Lou Dobbs' radio show late last week, and boasted about Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's decision to lead the first "class."

Dobbs: You've got a terrific idea that you're going to implement with the new Congress: a course on the Constitution for incoming Congressmen and women. Tell us about that.

Bachmann: We're going to do what the NFL does and what the baseball teams do: we're going to practice every week, if you will, our craft, which is studying and learning the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Justice Scalia has graciously agreed to kick off our class.

(Here's the video of the exchange.)

It's possible Bachmann is mistaken. I haven't seen confirmation of her claim elsewhere, and one never knows if the voices in her head lead her to say things that aren't true. Perhaps Scalia was invited, but has not yet said whether he'll attend.

But if Bachmann's right, this is truly bizarre, even for conservatives. A sitting Supreme Court justice is going to teach a class on constitutional interpretation to a separate branch of government? Seriously?

My friend Kyle at Right Wing Watch asked, "Am I the only one who senses a possible problem with having a sitting Supreme Court Justice essentially coaching members of Congress on how to vote in accordance with the Constitution?"

As a matter of fact, no, you're not the only one.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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Maybe this ain't a bad thing, since most of these teaparty activists will be writing the bills, and it will nice if they have an "expert" on the document to tell them that most of their ideas-hell, ALL of them- ain't constitutional.


Of course some say the Constitution is open to interpretation. Lucky for us she's got herself a "Strict Constitutionalist" to teach the class. . .

Posted by: DAY on December 14, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

The company I previously worked for had a practice I referred to as "indiscriminate training." Someone in another department would decide that everyone needed training in something -- probably to make himself look good to his managers -- and everyone had the training inflicted upon him- or herself, regardless of experience level. (This is one reason I don't work for this company any longer.) Separation-of-powers issues and Bachmann's looniness aside, if I were a Member of Congress, newly elected or not, I would be offended at the notion of these "classes."

Posted by: navamske on December 14, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

The company I previously worked for had a practice I referred to as "indiscriminate training." Someone in another department would decide that everyone needed training in something -- probably to make himself look good to his managers -- and everyone had the training inflicted upon him- or herself, regardless of experience level. (This is one reason I don't work for this company any longer.) Separation-of-powers issues and Bachmann's looniness aside, if I were a Member of Congress, newly elected or not, I would be offended at the notion of these "classes."

Posted by: navamske on December 14, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry for the double post. Stupid alternative iPad browser.

Posted by: navamske on December 14, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Bachmann is applying Bush's foreign policy -- act stupid and crazy and everyone will be too scared of you to even try to stop you -- domestically. It will probably work really well.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on December 14, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, given two caveats, I don't have a problem with this. However, the two caveats are huge. First, the information must be open in some manner to the public, whether by media prescence or public viewing, and transcripts provided. Second, the "training" must be appropriately tailored so that Justice Scalia will not have to recuse himself in a case later.

On both points, I have my doubts that this will be the case (i.e. See Scalia not recusing himself in a case involving hunting buddy Dick Cheney). But in general, if those are followed, I wouldn't be concerned.

Posted by: Chris on December 14, 2010 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

"My friend Kyle at Right Wing Watch asked, 'Am I the only one who senses a possible problem with having a sitting Supreme Court Justice essentially coaching members of Congress on how to vote in accordance with [his twisted version of] the Constitution?'"

There. Fixed that.

Posted by: digitusmedius on December 14, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

I'd love this if it meant we could force Scalia to recuse himself from any issues they legislated on. But we can't, and he won't.

Perhaps the best way to hightlight this issue to the GOP is to suggest they get some classes from that former Constitutional law professor who lives down Pennsylvania Avenue. I'm guessing even Bachmann would think there were problems with that.

Posted by: biggerbox on December 14, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

The constitution is a wonderfull document. When it was written I'm sure the people who did it had the best interests of the people at heart. Yet that doesn't mean that we throw our god given abilities to discern the need to make adjustments here and there. They certainly couldn't have pictured a United States that stretched from coast to coast or has 300 million people or all the other changes that have taken place since then. Adhereing to strict dogma would probably go against the grain of the very souls of the writers of the constitution.

Posted by: Gandalf on December 14, 2010 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

For some reason, this story reminded of fake demonstrations I've been given by Microsoft salespeople, when it was suddenly clear that they were not ad libbing, but actually sticking closely to a script to shill their product.

For instance, Bachman or other students could simply ask Justice Scalia if the commerce clause be used to require individual activity, like purchasing health insurance. He now has a new forum to shape the opinions of lawmakers on current bills with his specific views on constitutionality, which are absolutely not universally shared.

This is a bizarre and scary development. Bachman is free to gibber about whatever nonsense she likes, but this is a bridge too far.

Posted by: Rathskeller on December 14, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

The thing is, Scalia, for all his numerous faults, isn't nearly as crazy as Bachmann and her teaparty allies. He might be a restraining force.

Posted by: rea on December 14, 2010 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Will the attendees get a diploma afterward from Constitutional University? Or perhaps just a nicely tailored brown jacket.

Posted by: Alrighty Then on December 14, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter GOP: It would be inappropriate for Supreme Court nominees to tell Congress their views on the Constitution during their confirmation hearings, but it is entirely appropriate to have sitting Justices lecture Congresspersons once on the bench.

Posted by: square1 on December 14, 2010 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

The irony is that I am not 100% averse to the Supreme Court interacting with Congress.

Scalia, for all his faults, could give Congress a ton of advice on how to actually draft statutes so that Courts will interpret them properly.

"Scalia on the Bill of Rights" I am not interested in.

"Scalia on statutory construction" could be useful.

Posted by: square1 on December 14, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

re square1...

Correction to comment:

Shorter GOP: It would be inappropriate for Supreme Court nominees of republican presidents to tell Congress their views on the Constitution during their confirmation hearings, but it is entirely appropriate to have sitting radical activist Justices lecture Congresspersons.

Posted by: SadOldVet on December 14, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I foresee a good outcome: when Scalia tells them the Bill of Rights doesn't mention Jesus, they'll burn him as a witch.

Posted by: calling all toasters on December 14, 2010 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure Congress could get a bunch of highly qualified constitutional law specialist profs from Georgetown and AU to lead some seminars. That Ms Bachmann's first choice she mentioned is a completely unqualified far far right ideologue is really laughable and should have been a major news item.

But then of course Ms B being Ms B is not news. Dog bites man: not news. Man bites dog: news.

Posted by: emjayay on December 14, 2010 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

A conservative judicial activist, teaching his version of the constitution, is really not something to look forward to.

Posted by: Michael on December 14, 2010 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

"we're going to practice every week, if you will, our craft, which is studying and learning the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights."

Ummm...I'm not trying to split hairs, but shouldn't this stuff be kind of a prerequisite for the job??? ("Okay, Mr. Smith, we had to schedule your bypass surgery for Tuesday because I have what the course catalogue promises will be a "thought provoking and dynamic introduction to heart surgery" on Wednesday.")

Posted by: Chesire11 on December 14, 2010 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

@Gandalf

Adhering to strict dogma would probably go against the grain of the very souls of the writers of the constitution.

Exactly. Here's something I'd like to see the "strict constructionists," or whatever they call themselves, respond to. When I was in grade school, I learned that the legislative branch passes the laws, the executive branch executes the laws, and the judicial branch interprets the laws. If the Constitution means precisely and only what it meant in the 1780s, why do we even need a Supreme Court to interpret it?

Posted by: navamske on December 14, 2010 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

I really don't see the problem with this. It's pretty unlikely that Scalia's views will be improperly influenced by giving incoming Congresspeople a short course in the Constitution. Obviously, it's better than having David Barton do this.

I wonder, however, if Bachmann has any plans to acknowledge that there are actually at least 2 sides to a lot of these issues and to have one of the "liberal" members of the Court also speak to her group? From an educational perspective, it's always good to hear both sides. Somehow, though, I doubt that Bachmann is prepared to acknowledge the intellectual integry of the opposing point of view.

Posted by: DRF on December 14, 2010 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

What's the big deal. We're just now marking the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court picking the next president. Why shouldn't the Court tutor Congress as well?

Posted by: Ted Frier on December 14, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

"we're going to practice every week, if you will, our craft, which is studying and learning the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights."

Of course, she means the Right's "ideologically correct" interpretation of these documents. It is hard to imagine this level of indoctrination not being roundly condemned by the Right-Wing Scream Machine.

Ah, I can see it now. "Quotations from Justice Scalia" printed in small (red) books, carried by every GOP member of Congress and read from at every committee meeting. Perhaps those members caught without their copy will be beaten by the Tea Party guard?

"Justice Scalia loves the people.
He is our guide to build a new America.
Hurrah, he leads us forward!
(Repeat last two lines)

The Republican Party is like the sun.
Wherever it shines, it is bright.
Wherever there is a Republican Party,
Hurrah, there the people are liberated!(Repeat last two lines)"

Let's hope her little experiment in "thought reform" will flop.

Posted by: bobreply on December 14, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Assuming SOME competence in Scalia regarding the basics of constitutional law (that all too few of the tea partiers, Bachmann and even other Republicans seem to exhibit), this might be of some help.

But why is he really going to do this?

It cannot actually be to straighten out their crooked beliefs, but surely it will be to bolster them with some arcane claims on 'originalism' and 'federalism' that are the Justice's pet ideas, but not mainstream legal theory.

It smells bad to me.

P.S. Is it just me, or is there some kind of logical lapse in the conservative mind? Is there something about their belief system (religious or legal) that prevents them from reasoning soundly? Apparently that Judge Hudson who ruled against the health care mandate is now being shown a deep logical flaw in his reasoning... And Romney's weirdness grows daily.

Posted by: jjm on December 14, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

I've never seen mention of whether these classes will be open to Democratic congresscritters as well as the batshit crazy Republican ones. It's problematic enough to me to have one branch of government tutoring another, but if it's limited to only one party, it's truly OTT!

Posted by: Elvis on December 14, 2010 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote ANOTHER article that breathlessly exclaims, "seriously?"

"Seriously," Steve, you've been doing this for awhile. You can't express shock--SHOCK!!--at some outrageous thing Republicans are doing every. single. day.

It's really annoying. Sure, modern Republicans are tossing out the rulebook and playing shameless, ridiculous political games. There's a whole other party in Washington that's supposed to call them out on that, and it's hard to criticize the media for failing to do so when Democrats don't either.

I'm frustrated by their BS too. But it's terrible writing. Just terrible.

Posted by: Annoyed Reader on December 14, 2010 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Adhering to strict dogma would probably go against the grain of the very souls of the writers of the constitution." Gandalf @ 11:11 AM.
Why do I think that most of those attending these "classes" would stop listening right after hearing the words "strict dogma"? After all, could YOU concentrate when you're all "tingly"?
I couldn't resist...

Posted by: Doug on December 14, 2010 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

Don't worry. I'm sure if they pay him enough Scalia will do it. He's already shown himself to be malleable in that regard.

Posted by: josef on December 14, 2010 at 8:34 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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