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Constitutional Authority Statements in the 112th Congress: How Did the Members Do?

January 15, 2013

While Members of the House of Representatives gathered this morning to read the Constitution aloud from the floor, the Washington Times’ Stephen Dinan today had a front page story taking  a comprehensive look at so-called “Constitutional Authority Statements.”  In a move seen as a sop to the tea party two years ago, House Republicans began insisting that Members of Congress attach these statements to each bill they introduced, with a citation to specific provisions of the Constitution  providing Congress with the power to enact the proposed law.

Two things jumped out about these statements to us.

First, as CAC’s President, Doug Kendall, indicates in Dinan’s piece, Members of Congress have been nothing if not creative in scouring the Constitution for sources of authority.  It has been surprising to see Members claiming to derive legislative powers from the 10th Amendment, which is explicitly about the non-delegation of power to Congress. Or the First Amendment, which begins “Congress shall make no law...”

Second, and equally interesting, is the especially “Laugh Out Loud” quality of many of the statements from tea party favorites:

  • Rep. Pete Sessions appears to have discovered a previously unknown “Ambulatory Surgical Centers clause” in the Constitution – an innovative reading if there ever was one. He cites it along with a general reference to Article I, Section 8.
  • Rep. Phil Gingrey hung his tea party hat on the much-maligned Necessary and Proper Clause to justify a bill that appeared to extend patents on certain antibiotics. He overlooked Article I, Section 8, Clause 8—the one that gives Congress the authority to secure patents.
  • Rep. Michele Bachmann, who decried the use of the Commerce Clause during debate over health care reform, had no problem citing it when lobbying for $700 million of federal money for a pork project in her district. (Excuse us—an important local infrastructure project.)  
  • Defeated tea party heroes Rep. Joe Walsh and Rep. Todd Akin went ahead and cited the entirety of Article I, Section 8, a tribute to rigorous constitutional analysis. Yes, they correctly identified the part of the original document where Congress’ powers are listed.

Constitutional Authority Statements, and the reading of the Constitution from the floor, are gestures to the Constitution that Republicans introduced during the last Congress, along with a heavy dose of moralizing attitude. At Constitutional Accountability Center, we are huge fans of citing the Constitution — but not so much of the attitude.

If conservatives are going to keep up their pose of lecturing the rest of us about the Constitution during the 113th Congress, we hope they at least remember to do their homework this time.