Sheila Jackson Lee’s 400-Year-Old Constitution Flub and Why a Test on the Constitution Should be Required of all Members of Congress

In a floor speech yesterday, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, said that the U.S. Constitution to be 400 years. Here’s what she said:

“Maybe I should offer a good thanks to the distinguished members of the majority, the Republicans, my chairman and others, for giving us an opportunity to have a deliberative constitutional discussion that reinforces the sanctity of this nation and how well it is that we have lasted some 400 years, operating under a constitution that clearly defines what is constitutional and what is not.”

The Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787 by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and ratified by conventions in eleven States. It went into effect on March 4, 1789. The first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, were proposed by Congress on September 25, 1789 and were ratified by the necessary three-fourths of the States on December 15, 1791.

Given Sheila Jackson Lee’s historiography, the Constitution would have been drafted and ratified between the Founding of Jamestown in 1607 and the landing of the Mayflower in 1620.

People are outraged at her ignorance. But what does it matter? Most of our elected officials don’t pay any attention to it. Obama certainly doesn’t. It’s become a political prop.

Congress depends on constitutional ignorance of its members and voters.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) says that support for nationalized healthcare is constitutional under the ‘Good and Welfare Clause.’ Huh? asked Rep. Conyers, “What part of the Constitution do you think gives Congress the authority to mandate individuals to purchase health insurance?” Here was Conyers’ response:

“Under several clauses, the good and welfare clause and a couple others. All the scholars, the constitutional scholars that I know — I’m chairman of the Judiciary committee, as you know — they all say that there’s nothing unconstitutional in this bill and if there were, I would have tried to correct it if I thought there were.”

Note that Conyers is Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Chairman!

It seems t o me that someone who took an oath to uphold the Constitution would know what the Constitution says and means. James Madison explained the meaning of “general welfare” in Federalist 41:

“But what color can the objection have [that the phrase ‘general welfare’ is not specified by particulars], when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? . . . Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars . . . .”1

In the entire list that follows the semicolon, there is nothing that even remotely resembles the social welfare programs that have been passed by Congress and signed by presidents.

I’m familiar with the “General Welfare” clause, but I don’t recall a “Good” clause. And if there were a “Good” clause, who would get to define it?

The Supreme Court found the right to kill unborn babies, not in the Constitution itself, but in the “penumbra,” the shadowy parts of the very specific document. So why is anybody surprised at a dating mistake?

  1. The Federalist No. 41: General View of the Powers Conferred by The Constitution,  No. 41 (January 19, 1788). []
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