Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Reading of the Constitution gets a little sticky

January 10, 2011 by Sayeh Hormozi


The New Year is a time of reflection. A time where we think about the past 12 months and carefully contemplate our successes, our mistakes and make resolutions about our futures. We make new rules for ourselves. Starting January 1st, no more than 3 visits to Starbucks a day. In 2011, no more Dancing with the Stars, much more C-Span.

Injured congresswomen reads the Constitution.

The Atlantic has video of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, victim of a shooting attack on Jan. 8th, reading the Constitution.

Congress is no different. According to Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, each house has the power to “determine the rules of its proceedings.” So this year, in an effort to demonstrate a renewed commitment to the United States Constitution, members of the House of Representatives for the 112th Congress read the document aloud on the chamber floor—a symbolic gesture to launch the new rule that any bills introduced to the House must cite the section of the Constitution that legitimizes it (watch the entire reading below).

In advance of the reading, it was decided that any portion of the document that was superseded by an amendment would be omitted. The 3/5ths compromise, for example, a provision that counted slaves as 3/5ths of a person for population and representation purposes, was left out of the reading as it was abolished by the 13th amendment. Prohibition was also skipped, as it was repealed by the 21st.

Some parts on the other hand were left out on errrr…accident. After realizing that portions of both Articles IV and V were completely skipped, Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia appeared on the floor to explain that two pages of the Constitution had stuck together during the reading, resulting in the oversight.

An honest mistake. The decision to intentionally leave parts of the Constitution out, however, was met with criticism by some Democrats, stating that the essence of the document is its perfectibility and simply reading its most current version does the citizenry a disservice—obscuring how far we’ve come.

Despite the rocky start however, like an old married couple, hoping that renewing their vows will somehow rekindle their connection and commitment to one another, Republicans and Democrats joined together for the 90 minute reading of the Constitution. According to reports, one could even feel a sense of bipartisanship, albeit ephemeral, appearing in the handshakes between Dems and Repubs as they took their turns to read at the podium.

Like an old married couple renewing their vows Republicans and Democrats joined together.
At the National Constitution Center, as with all things political, we take the high road. Literally. The Constitution is etched in glass and hangs above our permanent exhibition. As you walk around the exhibit space, you can see where the Constitution has been revised and changed. Portions are crossed out and arrows point to how those portions currently read. So our take on the old or new question? Both. We display them simultaneously.

What do you think? Should the Constitution have been read in its current form—the one which dictates our government? Or should Congress have read the document in its entirety, exposing parts of our history that some would rather forget? Something to consider: any time the Constitution is printed, including in government proceedings, it includes all the text—including the portions superseded by amendments. Next time, maybe we will loan them our version and skip the controversy all together.


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