Detail Time for Republican Candidates on Constitution

The Republican presidential candidates are about to get a chance to put some policy meat on the rhetorical bones when it comes to talk about the Constitution.

On ABC’s “Top Line” today, we checked in with Princeton Professor Robert George, who’s moderating a Republican presidential forum Monday in South Carolina, in his role with the American Principles Project.

George – who will question candidates at the American Principles Project Palmetto Freedom Forum alongside Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa — said he plans to press candidates who have said the federal government has grown beyond its constitutional bounds what that actually means.

“A number of the Republican candidates have made clear that their view is that the national government has grown too big, too intrusive, too expensive. And they have claimed – I think quite plausibly – that there are constitutional questions and not just policy questions at issue here,” George said.

“The trouble is that the Republican candidates who make those claims and arguments have not gone into much detail about their views. And I think it’s time to press those candidates about the details.”

In George’s view, reining in the federal government shouldn’t fall to the Supreme Court exclusively, or even primarily.

“It seems to me that the primary responsibility for ensuring that the national government does stay within its constitutional limits rests with the Congress and the president — with the elected representatives of the people,” he said.

” I would reject any theory that says that Congress and the president should just do whatever they think is best from a policy point of view and then wait for the Supreme Court to tell them whether it’s permissible or not,” he said. “I would add that I think it’s the responsibility of the people – who are sovereign in this constitutional system – the people to police those boundaries by making politicians who transgress the boundaries pay the consequences at the polls.”

I took George’s “Civil Liberties” course at Princeton in 1995. (I got an A-.)

And with all the talk about the Tenth Amendment inside the Tea Party movement these days – it “reserved to the States” powers not delegated to the federal government — I asked George why the textbooks he assigned in his class in the mid-1990s didn’t even include that amendment in its index.

“The Tenth Amendment is actually not something that adds a new dimension to the Constitution. It is rather a reminder of the original theory of constitutional government under the original Constitution, before the adoption of the first eight amendments, which we call the Bill of Rights,” he said.

“Now of course, if you talk to Rick Perry, if you talk to Ron Paul, probably a number of the other candidates, they’ll say there’s an additional reason that it’s been forgotten, and that is that the national government has grown too big and too strong and too powerful and that the Supreme Court has walked away since about 1937 from its responsibility to try to hold the national government to its proper constitutional limits and bounds.”