Last November, the satirical newspaper the Onion published an article entitled "Area Man Passionate Defender of What He Imagines Constitution To Be." The piece "reports" on a man who incorrectly believes that the Constitution declares the United States to be "one nation under God" while also prohibiting flag-burning and the income tax.
In this year's midterm election campaign, Republican candidates, especially those endorsed by the ubiquitous yet inscrutable "Tea Party", are working hard to convince us that the Onion's headline applies equally to their understanding of the Constitution: Republicans solemnly proclaim their deep respect for the nation's founding document, but don't seem to have actually read the thing. Delaware senate candidate Christine O'Donnell declared that, "when I go to Washington, D.C., the litmus test by which I cast my vote for every piece of legislation that comes across my desk will be whether or not it is constitutional". That is a worthy goal and could save the courts some time in having to exercise judicial review, but it depends on O'Donnell having at least a working knowledge of what the Constitution says and means. In one recent debate, she claimed that "where the question has come between what is protected free speech and what is not protected free speech, the Supreme Court has always ruled that the community, the local community has the right to decide." That's the polar opposite of what the Court has decided: unpopular speech is protected by the First Amendment and majorities -local or otherwise-do not get to decide otherwise. As Justice Jackson eloquently put it in a 1943 decision: "One's right to...free speech...and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections." In another debate, O'Donnell didn't seem to know that the First Amendment prohibits Congress from passing laws "respecting an establishment of religion." (A professor who attended the second debate reports that "you actually heard the audience audibly gasp" when O'Donnell revealed her ignorance).
Several more examples.
It goes on and on-the Republican party of strict constitutional construction doesn't believe in actually reading the document they'd like to strictly construct. Instead, Bush advisor Karen Hughes, tasked with improving America's image in the Muslim world, explained to an Egyptian opposition leader in 2005 that the reason why American presidents frequently refer to God in public speeches is that "our Constitution cites "one nation under God." (No, it doesn't-that's the Pledge of Allegiance.) Maine Sen. Susan Collins criticized the Obama administration for providing the attempted Christmas Day bomber Miranda warnings and access to an attorney, protections she said the Constitution guaranteed to "American citizens" (she emphasized these words). Not correct-none of the protections in the Bill of Rights is limited to citizens only.
A number of Republican candidates associated with the Tea Party, including O'Donnell, have signed the ten point "Contract from America": point one is "Protect the Constitution." A better starting point might be actually reading the nation's founding document.
Oh no! The Constitution is much better in the abstract! If people read it, they're liable to find out it doesn't have all the things in it they claim it does and they'd have to invent yet another source for their reactionary ignorance lest the wind (hot, smelly, lots of it) be taken out of their sails*. They're safe - nobody else has read it either except those pointy-headed librul elites who keep trying to base things on reality.
*In sailing, I think that's called 'being in irons'. Not a bad idea. I'd love to see certain of 'em in irons.