The reading of the Constitution on the House floor has never been done before, and it's only happening today thanks to the tea party. Throughout the campaign last year, "returning to the Constitution" (in a vague and largely undefined way) was sacred to the tea party, and supporters of reading the document aloud today seem to hope that hearing the words in the House chamber will cause members to adhere to the document more closely.
Democrats and Republicans are expected to participate in the reading, but not all members of Congress think it's a worthy use of their time.
From a Washington Post interview with Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY):
Nadler called the "ritualistic reading" on the floor "total nonsense" and "propaganda" intended to claim the document for Republicans. "You read the Torah, you read the Bible, you build a worship service around it," said Nadler, who argued that the Founders were not "demigods" and that the document's need for amendments to abolish slavery and other injustices showed it was "highly imperfect."
"You are not supposed to worship your constitution. You are supposed to govern your government by it," he said.
Whatever the motivation of the supporters of reading the Constitution today, it's clear that politics is playing a major factor in what's being read. So, what won't you hear about in the version of the Constitution entered into the Congressional record today? The DC's Chris Moody offers this rundown:
The Constitution contains nine parts that were later changed -- including an entire amendment, the 18th, which banned the manufacturing and sale of alcohol -- which will be left out of Thursday's reading. The omitted sections, which do not apply to the 112th Congress, include the so-called "three-fifths clause," the election of senators by state legislatures and the original process outlined for electing the vice president.
On MSNBC's "Last Word" Tuesday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who's the man in charge of the reading today, defended the scheme -- and the decision to leave out some of the words written by the Founders.
From the transcript:
[Show host Lawrence] O'DONNELL: So, we've established that this was a document written by men, fallible men, who made some grievous--in the case of slavery--grievous mistakes. Why is it that you think we need to somehow return to what? A literal interpretation of the Constitution or some flexible interpretation, or a flexible interpretation that is determinative--something that can be determined only by Republicans?
GOODLATTE: No, I think that what we should return to is a debate in the Congress that looks at the Constitution and looks for a foundation for any laws that the Congress adopts. We are a nation of laws, not of men. And the Constitution is the foundation for those laws.
And so, we think that a lot of times today, members of Congress introduce a bill because they think it's a great thing. And it might be a wonderful thing, but it may not at all be what was intended by our Founding Fathers to be a part of our federal government, as opposed to what our states do or what we as individuals do in a free country.