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The House reads the Constitution for you

George Washington is depicted presiding over the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The Founding Fathers' greatest hits (and more!) are soon to be performed in the House. Not by the original artists, of course. (North Wind Picture Archives via AP Images)
George Washington is depicted presiding over the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The Founding Fathers' greatest hits (and more!) are soon to be performed in the House. Not by the original artists, of course. (North Wind Picture Archives via AP Images) (Via Ap Images)

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 4, 2011; 10:42 PM

The new House Republican leadership is getting ready for its much-anticipated reading of the Constitution as the House begins its workday Thursday.

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The basic document, 4,500 or so words, which lays out the three-branch structure and the roles of each branch, would take about 30 minutes to read aloud. The amendments, about 3,300 words, would take an additional 20 to 25 minutes. If most all members take part, that would be about 18 words each. That's maybe 10 to 15 seconds per member live on C-SPAN.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who came up with this idea, estimates that the whole show, starting at 10:30 a.m., "will take between one and two hours." Could take more if the newbies want to congratulate the new speaker and give a shout-out to their supporters back in Alpena or whatever.

Goodlatte, who'll begin the reading, said in a statement Tuesday, "Members will read the Constitution and amendments on a first come first serve basis."

This could make for some interesting moments and jostling. (Please, let's have no pushing and cutting into line.)

For example, the Constitution adopted by the Founding Fathers includes in Article IV, Section 2 a paragraph requiring non-slave states to return runaway slaves to their owners. (It was repealed by the 13th Amendment after the Civil War.) Won't be a lot of enthusiasm for reading that one.

And there was the 18th Amendment, prohibiting "intoxicating liquors," adopted in a fit of national lunacy in 1919. That was repealed in 1933 by the 21st Amendment. (Well, at least we got a lot of great movies as a result.)

Our personal favorite is the critical but oft-overlooked Third Amendment, which is only 32 words. That one, in no uncertain terms, prohibits soldiers from sleeping in your house without your consent.

Republican readers will probably want to recite the 27-word Second Amendment. Democrats might want to talk about the expansive "necessary and proper" clause in Article I, which gives Congress the power to "make all laws necessary and proper" for things like the "common defense and general welfare" of the country.

Some female members might game the line in order to be able to read the 19th Amendment, which says "the right of citizens . . . to vote shall not be denied . . . on account of sex."

There's so much great stuff in the document that we asked six prominent constitutional scholars - three left-leaning, three right-leaning - which ones they would choose to read.

Stanford law professor Pam Karlan, who clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun, opted for the third clause of Article VI, which says "no religious test shall ever be required" for people who want to hold public office.


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