Grand Theft Constitution

Maybe it’s not a violation of criminal statutes.

But the misappropriation of the U.S. Constitution by conservatives for their partisan posturing ? as illustrated in last week’s reading of the nation’s founding document in the House ? does fit the definition of theft: taking property without consent?in this instance the ‘consent’ of the governed.

However, this is a heist conservatives’ have successfully pulled off before as evidenced by their politicized appropriation of the American Flag, the Pledge of Alliance, national security, God, mom, apple pie, etc. etc?

This brazen theft by deception of the Constitution ? the foundational document of the U.S. government ? happens on three levels: dismissive; disturbing and downright dangerous.

The dismissive level involves crack-pot political candidates like Christine ‘I’m Not A Witch’ O’Donnell. During her unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid last year O’Donnell’s inane pontifications about various provisions in the Constitution were the butt of jokes from coffee cup conversations to TV comedy.

It’s easy to dismiss O’Donnell, who recently called the vote last month extending unemployment benefits a “tragedy.” She’s loopy and a lawbreaker too, having confirmed that she used political campaign contributions to pay for personal items like rent and a mattress.

The disturbing level came last week when the Republicans in the House kicked off the new session of Congress with a public reading of the Constitution?a muck-reeking exercise unmitigated by bi-partisan participation.

While supposedly showing their fealty to the “original meaning” of the Constitution they used a prop. Putting con into Constitution, they read from a censored version of the document that selectively excluded salient passages like those pertaining to slavery.

But more debilitating and more far-reaching than the dismissive and disturbing are the dangerous perspectives held on the Constitution by some of those constitutionally empowered with interpreting that document ? members of the U.S. Supreme Court, specifically those on that body’s far-right majority.

Only recently Justice Antonin Scalia, the kingpin of the Court’s conservative fringe, declared that 14th Amendment prohibitions against discrimination do not apply to women and gays.

Now, conservatives have a First Amendment right to proclaim themselves America’s preeminent protectors of the Constitution, irrespective of the truth or sincerity of their assertion.

But critics rightfully do point out that too many conservative doctrines pervert the textual meaning of the Constitution, beginning with conservative policies that pollute pledges contained in the Constitution’s Preamble.

The Preamble pledge of promoting “the general welfare,” for example, does not mean promoting the welfare of the wealthy first, foremost and forever ? which is a pillar of the Republican Party.

The GOP apparently also ignores the Preamble pledge of “establishing Justice.” How else to explain their passion for cutting taxes for the rich while seeking to slash Social Security for elderly citizens?

While it’s politely fashionable in the wake of the tragic mass murder in Arizona to criticize rhetorical excesses on the right and left, which are said to be creating the climate of political hatred rampant across America, the reality is that it is right-wing antics that have inflamed that atmosphere. It is not liberals or leftists who lambaste their opponents with violence laced barrages.

Conservative starlet Sarah Palin put the gun-sight cross-hairs on Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s district advocating her removal, not the ACLU or the New Black Panther Party, that small crew that conservatives last year desperately tried to blow up into big boogiemen.

And, lest we forget, Nevada’s Sharron Angle gained wide attention last year during her unsuccessful Republican U.S. Senate campaign against incumbent Sen. Harry Reid with her repeated calls for “Second Amendment Remedies” ? urging her supporters to consider using guns for attaining the results they desired.

Last week’s reading of the Constitution in Congress elevated farce exponentially.

Compounding the deception of excising slavery and three other items from that happy-face Constitution reading exercise, Republicans killed the voting rights of the six congressional delegates from America’s remaining colonies in one of their first official actions.

By law, those six delegates cannot vote during regular congressional sessions. So stripping those delegates of their limited right to participate in occasional Committee of the Whole votes was mean-spirited and undemocratic ? contradicting Republican claims that the Constitution reading “celebrated democracy.”

Those six disenfranchised delegates represent Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianna Islands and the Virgin Islands ? coincidentally jurisdictions with majority non-white populations–all citizens but without representation.

The Congressional conservatives’ ideological confederates in the federal courts have long embraced a notion they call “original intent” ? imposing their thoughts about what they claim to know the nation’s Founders thought.

Justice Scalia has defended his contention that 14th Amendment “equal protection of the laws” guarantees do not apply to women and gays by insisting that post-Civil War amendment was intended only to protect black males.

However, curiously Scalia didn’t protect black males when he joined a court majority in December 2000 in using the 14th Amendment to stop the vote count in Florida ? a nakedly partisan action that put George W. Bush into the White House.

During that presidential election in Florida where candidate George W. was found to have ‘won’ by 537 votes, his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, launched a series of vote-stealing schemes that disenfranchised tens of thousands of blacks.

Those schemes included using a faulty felons list that falsely included the names of many people who had never been arrested for anything, and prevented them from voting.

That deliberate blocking of black votes was the type of race-based disenfranchisement the drafters of the 14th Amendment had specifically sought to preclude ? original intent.

Scalia’s ‘attytoods’ on the 14th Amendment resemble the opinion expressed by one U.S. Supreme Court Justice in a 1872 ruling rejecting the appeal of a woman barred from becoming a lawyer in Illinois: the “nature of things indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood.”

Arlen Specter, the 30-year U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, castigated U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito during his farewell speech last month.

Specter, a long time Republican member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, faulted that pair for repudiating their “confirmation testimony” promising to follow the Constitution and the intent of Congress when they backed the Citizens United ruling that permitted corporations to secretly bankroll political advertising.

The multi-million dollar political spending spawned by Citizens United is widely seen as having enabled the Republican congressional sweep in last November’s election.

Criticisms of Roberts and Alito also came from Congressman John Hall (D ? N.Y.), another person leaving Capitol Hill.

Hall called Roberts and Alito “activist judges [who] made a very activist decision” in the Citizens United ruling that “overturned more than a century of precedent.”

Hall, in a newspaper interview, said, “I learned when I was in social studies class in school that corporate ownership or corporate control of government is called Fascism. So that’s really the question ? is that the destination if this court decision goes unchecked?”

Fascism certainly isn’t in the Constitution, and even O’Donnell’s witchery would have a hard time making it appear there.

Those genuine conservatives who are fond of labeling President Obama a communist, fascist, socialist and worse should raise their eyes from the text of their censored Constitutions and look at how the real one is being shredded by the actions of people within their own ranks.

LINN WASHINGTON is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run, reader-sponsored online alternative newspaper.


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Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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