Of all the promises in the GOP’s “Pledge to America,” the most potentially troublesome is the demand that all legislation include a clause stating exactly how the proposed law is provided for in the U.S. Constitution.
On its face, this sounds reasonable, especially to the element of the Tea Party movement that believes the country’s troubles would ease if we all just got back to what the Founding Fathers envisioned and codified in the Constitution. Set aside, for a moment, the fact that the Founding Fathers were a group of white, wealthy men who hardly represent the pluralistic society America has become (in part because of freedoms derived from interpretations of the Constitution over time). The idea is just wacky.
So the GOP wants a strict reading of the Constitution? Too bad, Air Force. The Constitution only provides for the creation of an Army and a Navy. And--assuming a back-to-basics reading of the Constitution includes all those amendments--how can Congress determine the extent to which the Bill of Rights supersedes other national interests and just common sense? The legal battles over elements of the Patriot Act merely underscore how unclear the lines are. That’s why judges and justices are there.
Congress has been known to try to undo a court decision the ruling party doesn’t like. But this pledge goes a step further, usurping the very role of the judiciary in determining whether laws pass constitutional muster. The separation of powers is one of the most critical elements of our democracy, bringing checks and balances on the power of each branch. The judicial branch can handle the constitutional questions. The legislative branch should stick to legislating.