The fringe right are convinced their opinions are enshrined in the Constitution. If you doubt them, they typically reply “Just read it!” (More)

My Constitution, Part I: “Just Read It!”

This week Morning Feature considers the Constitution … as right wingnuts imagine it. Today we begin with ‘constitutional conservatives’ who believe their opinions are enshrined in the Constitution, regardless of case law. Tomorrow we’ll look at the ‘sovereign citizen’ movement and their truly bizarre views. Saturday we’ll conclude with how to discuss the Constitution with archetypal Fred.

“The Constitution never mentions….”

Every conversation I’ve ever had with ‘constitutional conservatives’ included the phrase “the Constitution never mentions….” For example:

  • Women have no reproductive rights because “the Constitution never mentions birth control or abortion.”
  • The Supreme Court should have struck down Obamacare because “the Constitution never mentions health care.”
  • States should be able to ban LGBT marriage – or jail LGBTs for sodomy – because “the Constitution never mentions homosexuality.”
  • Women and people of color have no right to get paid the same as white men, for the same job, because “the Constitution never mentions equal pay.”

On and on the litany goes, from school lunch programs to workplace safety regulations, from the National Weather Service to the Environmental Protection Agency, from Supreme Court decisions that struck down race-restrictive deeds to the Civil Rights Act, the response is always “the Constitution never mentions….”

In short, if it’s not spelled out in the Article I, Section 8 list of enumerated powers, or the Bill of Rights, then it’s unconstitutional. Period. Even if 99% of Americans want something that isn’t spelled out in that list, they can’t pressure Congress to pass a law for it. If they do, that’s “the tyranny of the majority.”

“You don’t have a right to a chair”

The Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore explains, citing a speech by Rand Paul:

If I’ve tried to do one thing consistently during my tenure at [Political Animal], it’s to explain the roots of Republican extremism in an ideology of “constitutional conservatism” that basically rejects the power of democratic majorities to promote policies that “violate” a wildly expansive number of individual rights, which conveniently coincide with the material and religious interests of conservative constituencies. Combine that with a Supreme Court majority, and you have a return to the Lochner Era in which the basic social safety net is declared an unconstititional abridgement of property rights. Combine it with Second Amendment absolutism, and you have the justification of violent revolution against a “socialist” state that does terrible things like enacting Obamacare.

But you don’t have to listen to me: Sen. Rand Paul put it pretty plainly in remarks to college students:

“Government was instituted among men to protect your rights, not to create rights,” Paul said.

“So you don’t have a right to a chair, you don’t have a right to shoes, you don’t have a right to pants, you don’t have a right to health care, you don’t have a right to water – you have a right to be free….”

“There are certain rights that are yours, that come to you from your creator, and no majority should take them away.”

In other words, conservatives should get every policy they want – and should never have to accept a policy they dislike – because the Constitution demands it. No matter who wins the White House or control of Congress. No matter who sits on federal courts or staffs federal agencies. The Constitution is “the supreme law of the land” … and the Constitution they imagine is a right wing laundry list.

“Just read it for yourself!”

It’s true that the Constitution never mentions contraception or abortion. It never mentions health care or homosexuality. It never mentions equal pay, race-restrictive covenants, school lunches or workplace safety, the weather or environment, science or the arts, or many other things our federal government funds and/or regulates.

You also won’t find the words “God,” “Jesus Christ,” or “Christian” anywhere in the Constitution … but that won’t stop ‘constitutional conservatives’ from insisting the Founders intended this to be “a Christian nation” or demanding that government protect “our Judeo-Christian values.”

Because here’s the thing. You can read the entire text of Constitution in about an hour. And then you can spend days, weeks, law school semesters, and indeed an entire legal career … studying how our courts have interpreted and applied that text to specific cases. Including cases that interpreted the Commerce Clause, the Taxing and Spending Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the other provisions wherein the courts found authorization or protection for reproductive rights, marriage equality, health care, school lunches, equal pay laws, workplace safety regulations, etc.

Even if you set out to read only U.S. Supreme Court that expressly interpret and apply provisions of the Constitution … you would be reading for years. There are literally millions of pages in just those U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

But for ‘constitutional conservatives,’ those millions of pages are irrelevant. At the most extreme end, they reject the landmark Marbury v. Madison, wherein Chief Justice John Marshall decided that federal courts can review and reverse laws or executive decisions that violate the Constitution. Because “the Founders never intended for unelected judges to make law.” Never mind that John Marshall grew up alongside and worked with those Founders. But he knew less about what the Founders wanted than does Rand Paul or Ted Cruz or some talking head on Fox News or pundit at The Federalist … because “just read it for yourself!”

It’s an incredibly arrogant attitude that rejects 230 years of constitutional case law and history … and declares that you can know everything the Constitution means – and doesn’t mean – merely from reading the plain text of the document.

Tomorrow we’ll see the roots of that arrogance in Protestant fundamentalism, and its bitter fruit in the ‘sovereign citizen’ movement.

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Photo Credit: Liberty Magazine

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Happy Thursday!