Conservatives Love the Constitution. Except When They Don’t.

There are few things more absurd than the right’s rhetoric about the Constitution. To hear them tell it, the Constitution was delivered to the Founding Fathers by Jesus himself at Mt. Sinai, a perfect and holy document that they nonetheless are always wanting to change.

The list of changes proposed by conservatives is very long, from the balanced budget amendment to a personhood amendment to an amendment banning same-sex marriage. And Rick Perry has a few more he’d like to add to the list:

None of the candidates, though, have gone as far as Perry, who at a speech Monday in Bettendorf, Iowa proposed limiting Supreme Court justices to 18-year terms…

But Perry also used the book to back amendments to require balance budgets, to “clarify the scope and intent of the 14th Amendment,” repealing the 16th Amendment and one to allow Congress to override the Supreme Court with a two-thirds vote.

The anti-judicial rhetoric is particularly noxious and absurd.

“It is time to tear down the monuments to bureaucratic failure, and in their place build a smaller, more efficient federal government that puts the American people first,” Perry said. “Too many federal judges rule with impunity from the bench, and those who legislate from the bench should not be entitled to lifetime abuse of their judicial authority.”

That last sentence is a pure dog whistle. Phrases like “legislate from the bench” and “judicial activism” are empty catchphrases that mean nothing more than “judges ruling in ways we don’t like.” I would actually love to be able to interview Rick Perry — or any of the other candidates — and question him about how he defines such terms. He would babble like an idiot trying to come up with something coherent. And unlike all the journalists you see moderating those “debates” on television, I wouldn’t just move on to the next question. I would make him defend that position and push him on it.

19 comments on this post.
  1. Artor:

    “He would babble like an idiot trying to come up with something coherent.”

    This would be different from any other interview, speech or debate in what way? The entire GOP slate this year is composed of babbling idiots.

  2. jjgdenisrobert:

    “clarify the scope and intent of the 14th Amendment,”: The intent and scope of the 14th amendment is quite clear, and it has been clarified by none other than the Supreme Court itself. In order to overturn the fact that the Supreme Court is responsible for clarifying the scope and intent of laws, Perry would have to scrap the Constitution itself, not just parts of it. It’s just as fundamental to the document as the existence of the Presidency or the bicameral Congress.

  3. Deen:

    “It is time to tear down the monuments to bureaucratic failure, and in their place build a smaller, more efficient federal government that puts the American people first,” Perry said.

    I suppose we could just make it a one-person government, would that make Perry happy?

  4. matty1:

    “clarify the scope and intent of the 14th Amendment,”

    Is ‘clarify’ his way of spelling reduce?

  5. eric:

    Ed, you forgot to mention that he also wants to repeal the 16th and 17th amendments. He wants State governors to appoint Senators instead of them being elected, he wants to remove the fed’s power to directly collect income tax.

    Basically all his suggestions are designed to provide wealthy elites more influence on government, and to reduce the power of checks, balances, or the general citizenry to rein in such influence.

  6. jacobfromlost:

    When the courts work well, part of the very reason they are there is to make the laws functional in reality. The Constitution is a very solid foundation for “functionality in reality” already, which must be why they want to change it.

    If you end up with laws that (in some way) conflict with other laws, conflict with what can actually be done in reality (if they cannot be enforced, are not logical, etc), conflict with the Constitution, etc, then “the bench” has to sort this out. That isn’t “legislating” from the bench, it is correcting the fundamental mistakes IN the law so that the law is consistent, enforcable, and makes sense in reality to the best of our ability to understand it (at least in our country).

    I sometimes get the sense from some conservatives that they think the law is magical–and that if you pass a law, even if it makes no sense with other laws, can’t be enforced, or doesn’t jibe with reality…you should just let it stand because it is The Law.

    I am so glad our founders weren’t men like those in the political spotlight today. The contintent would have been doomed for thousands of years.

  7. eric:

    @6:

    I sometimes get the sense from some conservatives that they think the law is magical–and that if you pass a law, even if it makes no sense with other laws, can’t be enforced, or doesn’t jibe with reality…you should just let it stand because it is The Law.

    You might be painting an extreme picture, but the gist of your comment is spot on. Historically, this is exactly what conservatives have thought: let the majority rule, come what may. Consider Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous dissent in the Lochner case:

    “If my fellow citizens want to go to hell, I will help them…Its my job,”

    and

    “My agreement or disagreement has nothing to do with the right of a majority to embody their opinions in law.”

  8. John Hinkle:

    After Perry’s speech, an interviewer picks out a tea bagger from the crowd.

    Interviewer: So, you agreed with what Perry had to say?

    Bagger: Oh, absolutely!

    Interviewer: What is it about the 14th and 16th amendments you don’t like.

    Bagger: *bovine stare* Uhh… umm… moo-o-o-o-o-o!

  9. d cwilson:

    I sometimes get the sense from some conservatives that they think the law is magical–and that if you pass a law, even if it makes no sense with other laws, can’t be enforced, or doesn’t jibe with reality…you should just let it stand because it is The Law.

    When you start with the premise that the Constitution was delivered to Founding Fathers by Jesus who rode into Independence Hall on the back of his dinosaur, it’s easy to believe that the law is magic.

    But conservatives don’t believe all laws are magic. Modern conservatives are dominated by people who think anything passed after 1850 (including amendments to the Constitution) was part of a satanic conspiracy to impose European-style socialism on us.

  10. Chiroptera:

    …and one to allow Congress to override the Supreme Court with a two-thirds vote.

    Well, one could see here the idea of checks and balances: the prevention of one branch of government (the judiciary in this case) from having too much power.

    ‘Course Congress already has the ability to override a Supreme Court decision. Namely, by passing a law by simple majority vote that overrides the Court’s decision. That needs to be signed by the President, but that’s all part of that checks and balances thingy.

    I guess that Perry is talking about Court decisions about the proper interpretation of the Constitution. But, again, Congress already can override a decision by the Supreme Court with a two-thirds vote: by passing an Amendment that overrules the Court.

    Then three-fourths of the States need to sign off on that, too, but you don’t want the Federal Government to have too much power on this, do you States’ Rightists?

  11. D. C. Sessions:

    Why, oh why can’t we have a better press corps?

    In particular, has anyone asked Perry whether he supports the Supreme Court’s activist ruling in Citizens United?

  12. d cwilson:

    Then three-fourths of the States need to sign off on that, too, but you don’t want the Federal Government to have too much power on this, do you States’ Rightists?

    You have to look at the fine print in Perry’s plan. It clearly states that Congress will only override SCOTUS rulings relating to things like abortion or gay rights and not things like Citizens United. The latter were obviously written the way that Jesus and the Founding Fathers intended.

  13. Michael Heath:

    Ed writes:

    I would actually love to be able to interview Rick Perry — or any of the other candidates . . .

    The most obvious way to universally expose their ignorance and hypocrisy can easily be done in this manner.

    1) Ask them open-ended questions about the Constitutions so they falsely proclaim their fealty for it.

    2) Read them the following from the 14th Amendment and ask what it means to them:

    No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    3) Then go over how they justify supporting state power to deny gay people their equal rights. Ask them why they aren’t in the front of the battle lines fighting for the equal rights of gay people if they supposedly support the Constitution rather than denying gays their property rights, liberty rights, and equal protection rights, all of which are clearly denied when we deny their right to marry.

    If they respond by claiming this is why they advocate for a constitutional amendment to prohibit gays from marrying, go back to the Constitution and the DofI and quote how our rights are our’s alone, not the government’s or other people’s, and a just government is obligated to defend rights equally. Ask them why they hate the DofI, the principles and ideals of our founders, and the Constitution. Ask them why they lied about their fealty to it when in fact their position on gay people clearly and unambiguously reveals the opposite.

    4) Then point out examples regarding how biblical edicts conflict with the Constitution. Ask them which they’ll defend with examples of people advocating we violate the Constitution in order to mandate a biblical edict for all. Are they looking to use the power of government to promote their religion or are they authentically committed to defending the Constitution?

    This basic template can be used on a variety of topics. It seems obvious to me yet no journalist uses it. I can only surmise out of ignorance, fear (of losing future access), and laziness.

  14. D. C. Sessions:

    Mr. Heath, you could also ask them how that whole “due process” thing plays out in the case of civil forfeiture. The legal justification for that one borrows heavily from mediaeval theology. Or, of course, ask about the PATRIOT act and especially the latest Senate bill to make the entire world (notably including the USA) a “battlefield” for purposes of military jurisdiction, indefinite detention, and “enhanced interrogation.”

  15. Aquaria:

    Heath:

    I always ask them to get the the first four commandments to line up with the First Amendment.

    This, of course, depends on their knowing the first four, which isn’t as likely as you think.

  16. d cwilson:

    Michael Heath:

    I can already predict their response. I’ll be some variation of the following: There is no right for same sex marriage because marriage is the union of one man and one union and that’s what it’s always been as ordained in the bible.

    At this point, you can mention Jacob and his two wives.

  17. naturalcynic:

    There is a way for Congress to [indirectly] override the Supreme Court: impeachment. There seems to be enough evidence of favors to Scalitomas to impeach and convict for bribery. Then get new supremes nominated that are more in line with Congress’s thinking.

  18. jacobfromlost:

    …”At this point, you can mention Jacob and his two wives.”

    Leave me out of it. (Just kidding. I have 12 wives.)

  19. Michael Heath:

    d cwilson responding to my earlier post about how to set-up a conservative in an interview:

    I can already predict their response. I’ll be some variation of the following: There is no right for same sex marriage because marriage is the union of one man and one union and that’s what it’s always been as ordained in the bible.

    At this point, you can mention Jacob and his two wives.

    Well, we know this is their answer when asked in a vacuum, that’s the ad nauseam response.

    That’s precisely why I would first ask them to expound on their worship of the Constitution and then frame my follow-up question within the context of the 14th Amendment given their stock answer avoids the core principle in play, i.e., no state will make any law.

    The whole point of this exercise if they bring up their standard rhetoric you point out above is to respond by repeating this clause in the 14th Amendment and respectfully asking them to respond within the context of the very thing they previously claimed to love and worship like no liberal could ever do.

    I have seen one similar exchange like this between then VA Sen. George Allen and Chris Matthews. Allen proclaimed himself a disciple of Thomas Jefferson where Matthews immediately asked if he supported gay rights by framing his question within the Jeffersonian perception of rights. It left Allen appropriately sputtering and backing down. A wonderful though rare moment when we could have fun like this on an hourly basis if the media had the education, brains, and courage.

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