Sometimes I think tea partyers are in an emotionally abusive relationship with the Constitution. One day, they proclaim its inerrancy and say it must be loved, honored and obeyed in all its original perfection. The next day, they call for a constitutional convention, arguing that it’s broken, outdated and desperately in need of a facelift.
In other words: I love you, you’re perfect, now change.
This pure, pristine document is so fervently adored by people of the parchment that some carry it around with them at all times – sometimes in their breast pockets, close to their hearts, perhaps to protect them from a stray Second Amendment-protected bullet. They cite it as they might scripture (that is, often incorrectly, and for their own purposes).
They believe that anyone who questions the Constitution’s decrees must be verbally flogged or even impeached. The United States’ sacred scroll must be feared, fetishized and followed to the letter – down to the comma, even – in its original, strictly constructed form.
But now a line of thinking has emerged that the best way to preserve the Constitution is to revamp it completely.
Consider Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, a tea party darling, who wants to convene a constitutional convention to amend this precious political heirloom.
And not to push through just a single amendment, but nine.
These amendments include: allowing a two-thirds majority of the states to override a Supreme Court decision; prohibiting Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one state; and requiring a seven-justice supermajority for Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law. Abbott also demands a balanced-budget amendment, which almost certainly would have been opposed by Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who was the most prolific defender of the Constitution.
These are not minor copy edits.
‘to restore the rule’
In a 92-page document defending his proposals, Abbott laments widespread ignorance of the Constitution and argues that his plan is “not so much a vision to alter the Constitution as it is a call to restore the rule of our current one.”
“The Constitution itself is not broken,” Abbott writes in italics. “What is broken is our Nation’s willingness to obey the Constitution and to hold our leaders accountable to it.”
In other words, the Constitution says what Abbott thinks it says, not what it actually says, or what the Supreme Court decides it says – so now we just need to rewrite it so that the text fits what’s in his head.
Abbott is not the only right-wing Constitution-thumper to call for reframing the Founders’ allegedly perfect handiwork.
Marco Rubio, apparently trying to capture more of his party’s fringe, recently announced that on his “first day in office” as commander in chief, he would “put the prestige and power of the presidency behind a constitutional convention of the states.” Its agenda would be to impose term limits on federal legislators and judges, as well as a balanced-budget amendment.
Rubio assured Americans that delegates to such a convention “won’t be able to touch our important constitutional rights.”
Who determines which parts of the Constitution are important and therefore untouchable, and which are unimportant and touchable? Rubio, apparently.
Then there’s Donald Trump, who, along with others, wants to roll back the 14th Amendment to quash birthright citizenship. (In the meantime, he’ll settle for casting aspersions on his political enemies’ birthplaces.)
And Ben Carson – author of a book subtitled “What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties” – has argued that U.S. law is not subject to judicial review from the Supreme Court, contra Marbury v. Madison. (Carson has also expressed other funny ideas about what’s in the Constitution and who wrote it.) Like Rubio, Carson has supported the idea of a constitutional convention, along with fellow Republican presidential candidates Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and John Kasich.
Then there’s Ted Cruz, who devotes a whole section on his campaign website to his pledge to “defend the Constitution” and “restore the Constitution as our standard.”
Cruz, too, has decided that the best way to “restore” the Constitution is by altering it. He supports amendments to require a balanced budget, let state legislatures define marriage and subject Supreme Court justices to periodic retention elections.
These and “many more” unspecified amendments are needed, he told reporters, “because the federal government and the courts have gotten so far away from the original text and the original understanding of our Constitution.”
Because, obviously, the best way to honor that cherished, perfect, original text is by getting rid of it.
Washington Post Writers Group