GARRETT: Maintaining the Founders’ vision
On Sept. 17, 1787, the 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the document they had so delicately crafted in the defense of liberty. As we celebrate the 224th birthday of the signing of the Constitution on Saturday, let us take pride in the fact that our Constitution remains the oldest constitution still in effect and serves as an inspiration to both free and oppressed people around the world.
Among its many virtues, the Constitution ensures that individual liberty is the birthright of every American. Understanding that the natural tendency of government is the perpetual growth of power at the expense of personal freedom, the Founders sought to provide our republic with a set of laws expressly written “to secure the blessings of liberty.”
With that vision in mind, the Founders embedded safeguards in our Constitution to prevent and protect against the establishment of tyranny. The Constitution divided the federal government into three branches of government and empowered those branches to check and balance each other. The Constitution explicitly defined the limited powers of Congress and reserved those not delegated to the federal government to the states and to the people. And, most importantly, the Constitution recognized that all power is derived from the consent of the governed. That is why our Constitution elegantly begins with the words: “We the People.”
Today, there is a great public debate regarding the proper role of government. In the wake of mounting deficits and debt and the excessive growth of government, the American people are demanding a renewed commitment to the Constitution to reverse our race toward bankruptcy. Americans know that the neglect of the Constitution’s limitations on government power threatens the future prosperity of our great nation and the liberty of its citizens.
As chairman of the Constitution Caucus, I am dedicated to the restoration and promotion of the Founders’ vision for American democracy and the principles of freedom enshrined in our Constitution. Indeed, this is what moved me to launch the Constitution Caucus in 2005. The Constitution Caucus serves as a public forum for education and discussion of these principles. Six years removed from the founding of the Constitution Caucus, I’m proud to see these efforts now coming to fruition.
In January, the House convened with a reading of the Constitution on the House floor for the first time in American history. Additionally, the House rules now require that all legislation contain a citation that indicates a constitutional justification for the law it proposes, a rule I have long championed and worked for years to implement.
These recent actions in the House are a step in the right direction but I believe we can do much better. In particular, I believe we can do more to ensure the constitutional citation rule is taken more seriously. As was my initial fear when the rule was implemented in its current form, we are already seeing some House members neglecting their adherence to the new rule, often citing and abusing the “common defense,” “general welfare” and “necessary and proper” clauses as ways to circumvent the Constitution’s limits. Other bills merely cite the section of the Constitution where the enumerated powers are listed without identifying the specific justification for the bill.
As I have maintained from the beginning, for the constitutional justification rule to be effective, it must have teeth, a mechanism to hold House members accountable to the constitutional justification they provide for their proposed legislation. To that end, I have advocated to take the rule a step further, proposing that House members be allowed to raise a point of order and vote to reject a bill of dubious constitutionality. As chairman of the Constitution Caucus, I will work tirelessly to ensure that a more robust constitutional citation rule is included in the House rules next Congress.
Members of Congress take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the people should demand that their representatives take that oath seriously. That is, after all, our patriotic duty.
When Benjamin Franklin exited the Constitutional Convention, he was approached by a woman who asked, “Well, Doctor, what we have got - a republic or a monarchy?” To which Benjamin Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Franklin knew that the Constitution would only endure if it lived in the hearts and minds of the American people.
As we mark Constitution Day this Saturday, we should honor Franklin and the rest of the revolutionary generation by rededicating ourselves to the Constitution and ensuring that the American experiment in democracy will be preserved for our generation and generations to come.
Rep. Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican, is chairman of the Congressional Constitution Caucus.