Defenders of Constitution don’t always use it for law

January 15, 2013

Each of them takes an oath to defend the Constitution, but many House lawmakers either don’t understand the founding document or don’t take its precepts seriously, according to an analysis by The Washington Times that studied the constitutional backing that representatives submitted for each of the more than 3,000 bills they introduced in 2011.

Under rules that the new Republican majority put into place, each House member introducing a bill must cite specific parts of the Constitution that they think grant Congress the authority to take the action they are proposing.

The first year’s worth of action was less than inspiring for adherents of the founding document: Many lawmakers ignored the rule, while others sliced and diced the clauses to justify what they were trying to do. One thumbed his nose at the exercise altogether, saying it’s up to the courts, not Congress, to determine what is constitutional.

Most striking of all is how little the statements mattered in the debates on the bills. They were mentioned just a handful of times on the floor, and didn’t foster the constitutional conversation that Republican lawmakers said they wanted to spark.

“A lot of people were wanting it to be a mechanism for actually forcing something to happen. And that didn’t happen. And I think it didn’t happen because, by its very nature, it’s not the right mechanism for doing it,” said Matthew Spalding, vice president of American studies at the Heritage Foundation.

He helped push for the rule two years ago and said it can be a good tool to teach about the Constitution, but it’s not the way to enforce limits.
“This thing does not bear that burden,” he said.

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