The new House GOP majority is planning to read the entire Constitution aloud on the House floor tomorrow. We can’t argue with that—our elected representatives can always use a brush-up on what’s in the document. But what’s troubling about the GOP’s planned Constitution-reading is that the new far-right class of House Republicans is trying to paint themselves as the sole defenders of our nation’s laws.
In fact, as PFAW’s Jamie Raskin examines in a new report, the Tea Party movement and the elected officials it empowered are in fact fighting against selected values in the Constitution. Raskin writes of the Tea Party’s relationship with the Fourteenth Amendment:
By railing against the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, the Tea Party makes clear that it is not at peace with our written Constitution, and its hostility to democratic constitutional purposes runs even further back than its opposition to Populist and Progressive-era amendments. The Tea Party has problems with the Fourteenth Amendment’s fundamental protection of equal civil rights, the very anchor of modern democratic constitutionalism. Tea Party activists may dress themselves up in colonial garb and swear their devotion to the Constitution. But the Constitution they revere is not the real one, but only a projection of their own reactionary desires.
Tea Party leaders have a tortured relationship with the Fourteenth Amendment. They have been attacking its very first sentence, which grants citizenship to all people born in the United States: “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.” This sentence overturned the Dred Scott decision, which had determined that descendants of slaves could never be citizens of the United States with equal rights. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex,.) and other activists have been calling for a constitutional amendment to repeal this language in order to solve the crisis they perceive in the advent of Americans they call “anchor babies,” babies born in the United States to undocumented immigrants. At the same time, other conservative activists without the intellectual honesty of Rep. Paul and the constitutional repealers are claiming that this language does not establish birthright citizenship at all, despite the fact that it has always been understood that way. Ignoring the plain text, they contend that Congress can deny citizenship to the “anchor babies” through a simple bill, and they have proposed to do just that in the Birthright Citizenship Act, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
This difference in opinion on whether to repeal this provision of the Fourteenth Amendment or simply deny its existence and legislate over it is a tactical skirmish, yet both sides essentially agree that it is time to subtract a long-standing and fundamental liberty from the Constitution. The last time we tried this was with Prohibition and we could expect similar chaos and division resulting from this kind of repressive effort if it succeeds today.
Beyond the first sentence, the Tea Party has even bigger fish to fry when it comes to the Fourteenth Amendment, which its leaders see, paradoxically, not as the legitimate and authoritative constitutional source for the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, but rather as the illegitimate pretext for a massive assault on the civil rights and liberties of private business owners ever since then. This extraordinary controversy over the meaning and uses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Reconstruction effort that gave rise to it, and the Civil War that made it possible, tells us everything we need to know about the boastful and ubiquitous claim that the Tea Party speaks for liberty and freedom.
Raskin’s report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America, also tackles the Tea Party’s complicated relationship with populism, libertarianism, and the original Tea Party of the American Revolution.
You can read the whole thing here.