Thursday, January 6, 2011

Constitutional Muster

For today’s entertainment, we have the House Republicans taking turns reading the Constitution aloud.

It reflects the influence of the Tea Party movement, which has celebrated the founding document and argues that Congress has blown the lid on federal spending by vastly exceeding the powers granted to it in the Constitution. Tea Party supporters say Congress could reduce taxes and spending if it would only stick to a strict interpretation of the document. (Another rule of the new Republican majority requires lawmakers proposing legislation to note how it would be authorized by the Constitution.)

That’s all well and good; a little theatre makes a nice diversion (and it may well prove that, surprisingly, some of their members can actually read). The point seems to be to make the Constitution sound like some holy writ; sacrosanct and immutable. But doesn’t mean a whole lot if one of the first things the GOP does is try to dismantle it.

As one of its first acts, the new Congress will consider denying citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants who are born in the United States.

Those children, who are now automatically granted citizenship at birth, will be one of the first targets of the Republican-led House when it convenes in January.

GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees immigration, is expected to push a bill that would deny “birthright citizenship” to such children.

There’s one small problem with that plan.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868, guarantees citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the United States. It was intended to make sure that children of freed slaves were granted U.S. citizenship.

Well, once they figure out how they can get around that little glitch (and the Equal Protection clause that guarantees every citizen equal rights, including, it would seem, the right of anyone — including same-sex couples — to get married), they’re going to run into the 16th Amendment, which provides for the federal income tax, and the 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of the Senate by the people instead of being appointed by state legislatures. (Why the Tea Party people are opposed to direct election of senators is a mystery unless they have this fevered dream that state legislatures are somehow free of cronyism, corruption, and deal-making for power.)

It’s one thing to read the Constitution. Living up to it and within it is quite another, and you just can’t skip over the parts you don’t like.