Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

A funny way of showing it

The new Republicans say they love the Constitution. So why are they always talking about changing it?

Don't you find it ironic that the people who claim to love the Constitution more than anybody are so eager to drastically revise it?

The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives played to its tea-party base by opening the proceedings with a reading of the Constitution - well, most of it anyway, skipping some embarrassing parts, like that business about "three-fifths of all other persons." But now let us turn our attention to how the tea-party folks would amend the document they regard with such reverence.

The so-called "repeal amendment," if approved - which, fortunately, seems unlikely - would allow the repeal of any act of Congress or federal regulation by the legislatures of two-thirds of the states. Legislators in 12 states have come out in favor of this nutty idea, as have Virginia's attorney general, Kenneth Cuccinelli, and the new majority leader in the House, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia.

"The repeal amendment would provide a check on the ever-expanding federal government, protect against congressional overreach, and get the government working for the people again, not the other way around," Cantor says.

Why didn't Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and the other Founding Fathers think of this?

In the way of checks and balances, the founders provided three branches: a chief executive, two houses of Congress, and a Supreme Court. The chief executive can check Congress with a veto, the two houses can check each other (and the president in several ways), and the Supreme Court can check them all.

This design has worked pretty well so far. But the repeal amendment would essentially establish a fourth branch of government - with power, but without responsibility.

Instead of reading the Constitution aloud, the Republican members of Congress might do better to read the Federalist Papers, written by Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to explain and defend the Constitution to the then-disunited states. In Federalist No. 34, Hamilton countered those who objected to the idea that the laws of the United States would be the supreme law of the land.

"But what inference can be drawn from this, or what would they amount to, if they were not to be supreme?" he asked, and answered: "It is evident they would amount to nothing."

And what should we make of the tea-party members who want to repeal the 17th Amendment, adopted 98 years ago, which provides for the direct election of U.S. senators by the voters, rather than by state legislatures? Do they not trust the people in this democracy?

Pennsylvania's General Assembly can't even adopt a budget on time. Would it do a better job of choosing your senators than you do? I rest my case.

Obviously, the Founding Fathers could not have predicted today's immigration from Latin America and other parts of the world. Neither could the authors of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868 and reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." It was meant to apply to newly freed slaves.

That means what it says, strictly construed, and tea-party people are generally strict constructionists. But Pennsylvania State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican from Butler County, would like to correct this construction. He and other right-wing legislators from several states have introduced "birthright" legislation that would deny citizenship to children born of immigrants, illegal or legal. Republicans have also blocked the "Dream Act," which would have made it possible for people brought to this country by illegal immigrants as children to earn their way to citizenship.

Latinos have accounted for more than half the growth of the U.S. population since 2000, according to the Census Bureau. And Hispanic voters are nearly three times more prevalent in states that gained congressional seats after the last census than they are in states that lost seats, according to the Pew Research Center. That's true of such battleground states as Florida and Nevada.

The "birthright" scheme offends the principle of federalism, but these xenophobic politicians are also managing to offend something else: a growing number of actual and potential voters. Nice going.