WASHINGTON - Republican Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia won his seat in
Congress campaigning as a strict defender of the Constitution. He
carries a copy in his pocket and is particularly fond of invoking the
Second Amendment right to bear arms.
But it turns out there are
parts of the document he doesn't care for - lots of them. He wants to
get rid of the language about birthright citizenship, federal income
taxes and direct election of senators, among others. He would add plenty
of stuff, including explicitly authorizing castration as punishment for
This hot-and-cold take on the Constitution is
surprisingly common within the GOP, particularly among those like Broun
who portray themselves as strict Constitutionalists and who frequently
accuse Democrats of twisting the document to serve political aims.
have proposed at least 42 Constitutional amendments in the current
Congress, including one that has gained favor recently to eliminate the
automatic grant of citizenship to anyone born in the United States.
- who typically take a more liberal view of the Constitution as an
evolving document - have proposed 27 amendments, and fully one-third of
those are part of a package from a single member, Rep. Jesse Jackson
Jr., D-Ill. Jackson's package encapsulates a liberal agenda in which
everyone has new rights to quality housing and education, but most of
the Democratic proposals deal with less ideological issues such as
congressional succession in a national disaster or voting rights in U.S.
The Republican proposals, by contrast, tend to be
social and political statements, such as the growing movement to repeal
the 14th Amendment's birthright citizenship. Republicans like Sen. Jeff
Sessions of Alabama, the lead Republican on the Senate Judiciary
Committee, argue that immigrants are abusing the right to gain
citizenship for their children, something he says the amendment's
authors didn't intend.
Sessions, who routinely accuses Democrats
of trying to subvert the Constitution and calls for respecting the
document's "plain language," is taking a different approach with the
14th Amendment. "I'm not sure exactly what the drafters of the amendment
had in mind," he said, "but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in
from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that
child is forever an American citizen."
Other widely supported
Republican amendments would prohibit government ownership of private
companies, bar same-sex marriage, require a two-thirds vote in Congress
to raise taxes, and - an old favorite - prohibit desecration of the
During the health care debate, Rep. Pete Hoekstra,
R-Mich., introduced an amendment that would allow voters to directly
repeal laws passed by Congress - a move that would radically alter the
Founding Fathers' system of checks and balances.
Bachmann, R-Minn., who founded a tea party caucus in Congress honoring
the growing conservative movement that focuses on Constitutional
governance, wants to restrict the president's ability to sign
international treaties because she fears the Obama administration might
replace the dollar with some sort of global currency.
is among the most conservative members of Congress, said he sees no
contradiction in his devotion to the Constitution and his desire to
rewrite parts of it. He said the Founding Fathers never imagined the
size and scope of today's federal government and that he's simply
resurrecting their vision by trying to amend it.
"It's not picking
and choosing," he said. "We need to do a lot of tweaking to make the
Constitution as it was originally intended, instead of some perverse
idea of what the Constitution says and does."
The problem with
such a view, says constitutional law scholar Mark Kende, is that
divining what the framers intended involves subjective judgments shaded
with politics. Holding up the 2nd Amendment as sacrosanct, for example,
while dismissing other parts of the Constitution is "cherry picking,"
said Kende, director of Drake University's Constitutional Law Center.
Virginia Sloan, an attorney who directs the nonpartisan Constitution Project, agreed.
are a lot of people who obviously don't like income taxes. That's a
political position," she said of criticism of the 16th Amendment, which
authorized the modern federal income tax more than a century ago. "But
it's in the Constitution ... and I don't think you can go around saying
something is unconstitutional just because you don't like it."
said that while some proposals to alter the Constitution have merit,
most are little more than posturing by politicians trying to connect
"People are responding to the politics of the day,
and that's not what the framers intended," she said. "They intended
exactly the opposite - that the Constitution not be used as a political
The good news, Sloan and Kende said, is that such proposals rarely go anywhere.
the nation's founding, just 27 have survived the arduous amendment
process, and 10 of those came in the initial Bill of Rights.
two have come in the past 40 years, and both avoided ideology. One,
ratified in 1971, lowered the voting age to 18; the other, ratified in
1992, limited Congress' ability to raise lawmakers' salaries.