On Reading Aloud in Congress

Opening the 112th Congress by having a succession of representatives read the Constitution aloud on the floor of the House was a worthwhile exercise, despite heated criticism to the contrary.

If nothing else, it showed how little respect many members of Congress have for the supreme law of our republic. Fewer than half the members even bothered to be present during the reading.

Some members groused about what a waste of time it was, sniffing that it was cheap grandstanding. Perhaps it was. We won’t know until we’ve had time to see whether Republicans actually uphold the Constitution with their votes.

Nonetheless, the most bizarre criticism was that of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) who denounced the reading of the Constitution as “propaganda.”

The most comical (tragi-comical?) protest came from Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), who tried to delay the reading on the grounds that Congress hadn’t had 72 hours to review the document in question. Seriously. This was hypocritical, since Democrats routinely ignored the 72-hour provision during the last two years (e.g., the non-stimulus and Obamacare). It was also ludicrous, since one would have assumed that all members of Congress are familiar with the Constitution, since they have solemnly sworn to uphold it.

The resistance by Nadler and Inslee to reading the Constitution was not an aberration, but indicative of the deeply entrenched disdain that many progressives have for it, even as they publicly proclaim their admiration.


President Obama has long lamented that the Supreme Court “didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution,” thereby making the redistribution of wealth more difficult than Obama would like it to be.

Erstwhile Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, when asked whether her proposed healthcare reform bill was constitutional, reacted with shocked incredulity that anything she wanted could be unconstitutional, expostulating, “Are you serious? Are you serious?” (Notably, now that U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson struck down the individual mandate component of Obamacare as unconstitutional, one sees that the constitutionality of a bill is indeed a serious matter worthy of Pelosi’s consideration.)

Last year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid inserted this language into the pending healthcare bill, “It shall not be in order in the Senate or the House of Representatives to consider any bill, resolution, amendment, or conference report that would repeal or otherwise change this subsection.”

It appears that Sen. Reid is one of those who most needs to listen to the Constitution, for if he read it, he would see that it is unconstitutional to ban changes in our laws, and that the founders had no desire to tell us how we should govern ourselves today. In fact, Reid would know that if he paid any attention to the annual reading in Congress of George Washington’s Farewell Address. Here is what the father of our country, that wise and virtuous patriot, said:

“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, ‘till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all…. If in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”

It’s time to quit ignoring our Constitution as the three branches of government so frequently do (see here and here). Let’s get back to basics in government. Last week was believed to be the first time that the complete Constitution had ever been read in Congress. Let’s make reading the Constitution in Congress an annual event, as it is for Washington’s Farewell Address.

In fact, let’s make reading bills aloud in their entirety in both legislative chambers mandatory and require members to be in attendance before they can vote on them.

“But wait!” you protest, “there aren’t enough minutes in a year to read all that verbiage.” Right you are. That would be one way to try to shrink our leviathan government back to a manageable size and constitutional scope.

Perhaps we should consider making it standard operating procedure for all important documents to be read aloud in Congress.