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Charter ignorance

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Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

If ignorance of the law really is no excuse, ignorance of the supreme law of the land — the U.S. Constitution — is particularly inexcusable for U.S. House members. But that's just what a Washington Times analysis of “constitutional authority statements” they submitted with bills introduced in 2011 revealed — and to an appalling extent.

Required beginning in 2011 under a rule implemented after Republicans regained House control, the statements are supposed to cite specific parts of our nation's charter that grant Congress authority to act as bills propose — and to foster appreciation for and a conversation about the Constitution.

But The Times found few mentions in floor debates of lawmakers' constitutional justifications, which missed the mark in many ways.

Some cited the 10th Amendment, which reserves powers to the states; others, just the Constitution's preamble, or nonexistent or incorrect clauses, or just part of a clause whose entirety clearly was misconstrued. And The Times provides examples from both sides of the aisle.

This bipartisan constitutional ignorance implicates the shortcomings of American education — and of House members who don't bother to learn what their schools failed to teach them about the Constitution.

The Times' analysis exposes a major reason why the American people hold Congress in such low esteem: Too many of its members don't know what they're talking about when it comes to the Constitution.

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