The House reads the Constitution for you

By Al Kamen
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.

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 (It was repealed by the 13th Amendment after the Civil War.)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 That was repealed in 1933 by the 21st Amendment.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.

Former federal appellate judge Michael McConnell, a conservative counterpart on the Stanford faculty to Karlan - and they don't seem to agree on much - also picked that clause. When told it was taken, McConnell graciously opted, tongue firmly in cheek, for the well-known "magazine clause" in Article I, Section 8. (No, not about Time and Newsweek - it's about exclusive federal authority over "Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.")

Another leading conservative, Notre Dame law professor Richard W. Garnett, said it would be good to look at Article V, which he said "sets out the process by which We the People" can amend the Constitution "as we see fit."

Two liberal-leaning scholars thought they might want to read two sections of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Erwin Chemerinsky, law professor and dean at the University of California at Irvine, picked the first section of the post-Civil War amendment, which bars states from denying anyone "due process of law" and "equal protection of the laws," because that applied the Bill of Rights to the states.

Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet, who clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, opted for reading the last section of that amendment, which gives Congress the power to enforce the 14th Amendment.

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who runs a legal blog popular with conservatives, would read the First Amendment, on freedom of speech, press and religion, and the Second Amendment, on bearing arms. The latter amendment was the last part of the Bill of Rights to be applied to the states, coming in a Supreme Court ruling last June.

Tune in. Might make for an interesting morning.

By any other name . . .

As the new GOP-led House takes shape, we have the usual - and usually revealing - shuffling of committee and subcommittee names. For example, new Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has a new name for the old subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection.

That's been renamed the subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade. Since the country, especially the Midwest, sadly has lost its manufacturing base, does that mean we have neither manufacturing nor consumer protection?

Time to move on?

It appears that former AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin, author of a satirical newsletter that jokingly endorsed New York governor-turned-TV pundit Eliot Spitzer's trysts and who was fired last year by President Obama, has come to the end of his legal battle to regain his job.

A three-judge federal appeals panel here Tuesday rejected his appeal from a district judge's ruling, unanimously concluding that Walpin did not have a right to reinstatement.

Walpin told our colleague Ed O'Keefe that he will probably not appeal to the Supreme Court. Probably just as well: The unanimous seven-page ruling was reached by one judge appointed by President Bush I, another by President Bush II and a third by President Clinton.

Moves of note

Gary G. Grindler, who's been acting deputy attorney general since last February, has been named chief of staff to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. That keeps him close at hand. A good thing, considering that the new deputy attorney general, James Cole, is almost surely going to be in the deputy's job less than a year. Cole's recess appointment last month is, under the Constitution (see Article II, Section 2), good only until the end of this session of Congress, maybe around early December. Unless, of course, the Senate confirms him. Don't hold your breath.

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