Center for American Progress Action

AVAILABLE FOR COMMENT: Ian Millhiser on the House’s Reading of the U.S. Constitution
Press Release

AVAILABLE FOR COMMENT: Ian Millhiser on the House’s Reading of the U.S. Constitution

Ian Millhiser, Policy Analyst and Blogger for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, is available today to comment on the House’s reading of the Constitution.

As part of the GOP’s broader messaging strategy to falsely paint themselves as the party of the Constitution, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) will lead the new GOP-led House in a reading of the U.S. Constitution. While Republicans have gotten away with vague statements about their love of the Constitution, most refuse to reveal what their interpretation of the Constitution actually means. For example, when Goodlatte was asked this week if he shares the widespread conservative view that the minimum wage is unconstitutional, he claimed that he did not know the answer to the question.

As the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Ian Millhiser wrote, "the GOP’s agenda is nothing less than a direct assault on America’s founding document." Here are resources on how the Constitution is at the center of progressive judicial thought and conservatives’ version of the Constitution.

  • “We the people.” For generations, Americans have worked tirelessly to form a more perfect union. Our Constitution and its amendments allowed our country to drive American values and tell a story of progress. The 27 amendments ratified by “we the people” ended slavery; guaranteed equality and citizenship; expanded the right to vote; and ensured that the national government has the power and resources necessary to protect the nation, address national challenges, and protect civil and human rights.

1. Repealing citizenship: At least 130 GOP members of the 111th Congress—including their Senate leader, former presidential candidate, and numerous House leaders—want to "review" or dismantle the 14th Amendment and the right to birthright citizenship it guarantees. The conservative plot to end birthright citizenship eerily reflects the vision of citizenship articulated by the Supreme Court’s infamous pro-slavery decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford.

2. Repeal Congress’s power to spend money: The Constitution gives Congress power to “provide for the common defense and general welfare,” a broad grant of authority to create federal spending programs. Yet a number of right-wing "tenthers" want to squelch this and other authorities to render the federal government almost powerless. Should this vision of the Constitution ever be adopted, it could eliminate Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal education spending, and countless other cherished programs.

3. Repeal Congress’s power to raise money: Many conservatives are calling for a full repeal of the 16th Amendment, the amendment which enables the income tax. Paying taxes is never popular, but it would be impossible to function as a nation if America lacked the power to raise the money it needs to pay our armed forces, among other things.

4. Repeal election of senators: A number of prominent Tea Party politicians, including Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), have called for repealing the 17th Amendment, which allows citizens to directly elect their senators. How could anyone look at the U.S. Senate and decide that what it really needs is even less democracy?

  • Conservatives pick and choose who the Constitution protects and when. Our Constitution is under attack by conservatives who promote a narrow vision of the Constitution—picking and choosing which parts to recognize. Conservatives choose to ignore parts of the document they dislike, such as the document’s sweeping preamble, and seek to repeal some of the most important—amendments ratified by “we the people.” As amended, our Constitution is a progressive document that commands landmark rulings such as the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, striking down racial segregation.

A look at some of the dangerous and radical conservative views of the Constitution:

1. Child labor: In three separate opinions, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas called for a return to a discredited theory of the Constitution that early 20th century justices used to declare federal child labor laws unconstitutional. Many GOP elected officials have embraced rhetoric suggesting that they agree with Justice Thomas that child labor laws are unconstitutional. They should answer directly whether they agree with him or not.

2. Minimum wage: Although Goodlatte claimed not to know whether the minimum wage is constitutional, Thomas and many other prominent Republicans believe that it is not.

3. Education: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) believes that all federal education programs—including Pell Grants and student loan assistance—are unconstitutional. And he is far from alone among GOP members of Congress.

4. Gender discrimination: Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia recently expressed his view that the Constitution has nothing to say about discrimination against women. Goodlatte, the architect of the GOP’s plan to read the Constitution on the House floor, cited Scalia as the justice who “most reflects” his own views. And Scalia will deliver a lecture on the Constitution to GOP members of Congress later this month at the invitation of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).

To reach Ian Millhiser, please contact Lori Lodes at [email protected] or via phone at 202.741.6375.