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New Complaint: The GOP ‘Sanitized’ the Constitution

So the Constitution was read aloud on the House floor this morning, despite increasingly creative objections from liberals. And other than a few members of Congress stumbling over some of the passages, the act was a touching gesture that might be a nice tradition for the House to consider establishing on an annual basis.

Of course, the reading wasn’t without some initial drama. Right before it began, there was some squabbling on the floor over whether the superseded passages with references to the three-fifths compromise would be read:

Prior to the reading, which began at 11:05 a.m., Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) used a parliamentary inquiry to ask Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) which version of the Constitution would be read. The original Constitution with amendments tacked on the end? Or the Constitution with the amendments incorporated into the main text?

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) explained:

“I want to be very clear in reading this sacred document,” said Jackson, who prefers the version with amendments at the end. “Given the struggle of African Americans and the struggle of women to create a more perfect document, we want to hear those elements of the Constitution that have been didacted. They are no less serious a part of our struggle and many of us don’t want that to be lost.”

The Republicans were clear that the superseded text would not be read, prompting an outcry from liberals who claimed that they were whitewashing the original document. At Plum Line, Adam Serwer argued that the GOP was “Huck Finning the Constitution” — a reference to the new edition of the classic book that censored out racial slurs:

Republicans, intending to make a big symbolic show of their reading of the Constitution, have now taken a similarly sanitized approach to our founding document. Yesterday they announced that they will be leaving out the superceded text in their reading of the Constitution on the House floor this morning, avoiding the awkwardness of having to read aloud the “three fifths compromise,” which counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and apportionment.

The reason to include the superceded text is to remind us that the Constitution, while a remarkable document, was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light at the summit of Mount Sinai. It was written by men, and despite its promise, it possessed flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today. Republicans could use the history lesson — last year they attacked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her nomination process because one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was flawed since it didn’t consider black people to be full human beings.

Serwer is seriously reaching here. The reason Congress read the Constitution wasn’t to perform an academic historical exercise. The left may not understand this, but the Constitution is actually still used on a daily basis to uphold our nation’s laws.

Moreover, I just don’t see the comparison. Huckleberry Finn is a classic piece of literature that can’t be edited with a vote. On the other hand, the Constitution is a governing document that has and can be changed. Instead of focusing on the ugly, superseded portions of the document, lawmakers would do better to concentrate on upholding the parts that are still binding today.



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