The U.S. House of Representatives opened its legislative session with a recitation of the United States Constitution. However, by the time freshman Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher from Frog Jump, Tenn., concluded the 27th Amendment there were just 30 Republicans and 12 Democrats still in the chamber.
Going into this unprecedented recitation, there was a great deal of snarky commentary about the gimmicky nature of this exercise — that it was an obvious sop to the tea party. But given that every house member had just taken a solemn oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic" and to " "bear true faith and allegiance to the same" the decision of the current House leadership to remind themselves of the precise contours of the charter that authorizes their awesome but limited powers seemed both fitting and proper.
At a time when thousands of our troops around the world stand in harms way 24 hours each day to defend our Constitution, could our elected representatives take an hour or two to collectively review what the Constitution says about the power to declare war, to raise and support armies and to provide and maintain a navy?
At a time when a sluggish economy lures politicians to get creative about how the federal government might impose its good intentions in the market, would it be too much of an imposition for politicians to consider the specifically enumerated powers delegated to them by the Constitution for addressing challenging social and economic issues?
Perhaps the representatives who left the chamber before the full Constitution was read found the exercise overly didactic or purely symbolic. But lessons and symbols are important for reinforcing principals and ideals in our civic life. The rule of law that is anchored in this extraordinarily resilient constitutional system of ours, complete with limits on governmental excess, divided powers, checks, balances and the grant of rights, is not self-enforcing. Scores of nations have copied the words of our Constitution without adopting its principles and ideals.
We applaud the new House leadership for reminding themselves — if no one else — that their legislative powers are derived from We the People and that those delegated powers are expressly limited. We trust that their new rule requiring that each piece of proposed legislation provide an explicit constitutional basis for Congress's authority to enact such legislation is honored with greater respect than yesterday's recitation of the Constitution itself.