The House Rules Package, H. Res. 5, which passed in the House Jan. 3, included a provision to permit the 10:00 a.m. reading Tuesday morning at the recommendation of the new House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte.
“One of the resounding themes I have heard from my constituents is that Congress should adhere to the Constitution and the finite list of powers it grants to the federal government. Our constitutional principles remain timeless and it is fitting that we start the 113th Congress by reading the Constitution aloud on the floor of the House of Representatives,” Goodlatte, R-Va., wrote in a statement Monday.
“The Constitution is the written consent the American people gave to their government to protect individual liberty and maintain limited government. This reading of the Constitution demonstrates that House Republicans are committed to our Constitution and the enduring principles for which it stands.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also touted the occasion, quoting the key author of the document, James Madison: “It is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people.”
“This is the people’s House and as Members of Congress we must never lose sight that we are committed to protecting the fundamental rights of the people we represent,” Cantor, R-Va., said. “Congress must live within its means, limit the growth of government and maximize individual liberty. Guided by these principles, I am confident the House will chart a course for the future that ensures liberty and prosperity for all Americans.”
Two years ago, when House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican majority rolled into control of the lower chamber, the Constitution was read aloud for the first time ever in the House chamber. On that occasion, which was also organized by Goodlatte, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle lined up on a first-come, first-serve basis to read the esteemed document.
Boehner began the reading by reciting the preamble, “We the People … ” before Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi picked up on Article I, section 1, deeming that “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.’”
But even that rare moment of bipartisanship was not without controversy. Moments earlier, as lawmakers prepared to begin, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., questioned whether original sections of the document that were later amended – largely pertaining to slavery – would be omitted from the reading.
“This is very emotional for me. This is very emotional, I know, for a number of Members, given the struggle … of African Americans, given the struggle of women, given the struggles of others to create a more perfect document, while not perfect, a more perfect document, to hear that those elements of the Constitution that have been redacted by amendment are no less serious, no less part of our ongoing struggle to improve the country and to make the country better, and our sense in our struggle,” Jackson, who resigned his seat in the 113th Congress shortly after winning re-election, said two years ago.
“When we were informed, for example, that the three-fifths clause would not be mentioned and that other elements of the Constitution which justify why some of us fight for programs in the Congress will not be written in the redacted version, it is of consequence to whom we are.”
This time, the text read on the floor will once again reflect changes made by the 27 amendments to it. Portions superseded by amendments will not be included.