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Elizabeth B. Wydra Headshot

Why Did the GOP "Edit" the Constitution?

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Today's reading of the Constitution on the House floor was surely intended by the GOP leadership as a Tea Party moment. But it looks like it has turned into a progressive moment instead.

Before the House started the reading, two Democratic congressmen stood up to inquire about the language the House leadership had deemed appropriate to read aloud on the House floor. While this elicited some laughter in the chamber -- oh, the conservatives must have thought with a chuckle, how delightful that the liberals are revealing that they are so ignorant of the Constitution that they need to ask for clarification on its language via parliamentary procedure! -- this was a significant, legitimate point. Rather than reading the entire Constitution, with all its flaws and corrections, the GOP-led House was going to read an "edited" version of our Nation's charter.

One cannot fault members of the House for being reluctant to read the portion of the original Constitution that declared slaves to be three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation, or the fugitive slave clause. But, as Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., so powerfully explained before the reading began today, the fact that these portions of the original Constitution were superseded by Amendments that abolished slavery and guaranteed equality is an important one. These Amendments -- as well as the Amendments to secure the vote for women and remove poll taxes from standing in the way of low-income voters, among others -- were the result of generations of men and women who gave blood, sweat, and treasure in the struggle to improve our founding charter and create a "more perfect union."

The original Constitution was a truly great document, but with serious flaws. Over the past two centuries, Americans have amended the Constitution to make it even greater. When you read the Constitution in its entirety, you cannot help but be impressed by the progressive arc of our constitutional history. By trying to sweep under the rug those portions of the Constitution that have been amended, the House GOP leadership attempted to obscure our progressive constitutional history.

"We the People" are the editors of the Constitution, not politicians from one party or another. And it is only by reading the Constitution in its entirety that the promise and power of that duty can be appreciated. It is a great sign of a constitutional awakening for progressives that two Representatives in the House stood to explain that to the GOP House leadership today.