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.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.