New Hampshire Republicans are taking textual originalism to a whole new level: three lawmakers have proposed a bill that requires that all legislation find its origin not in the U.S. constitution, but an English document crafted in 1215.
When the legislature reconvenes this month, Republicans want their colleagues to justify many new bills with a direct quote from the 800-year-old Magna Carta:
House Bill 1580 is the product of such a brainstorming session this summer between three freshman House Republicans: Bob Kingsbury of Laconia, Tim Twombly of Nashua and Lucien Vita of Middleton. The eyebrow-raiser, set to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes next month, requires legislation to find its origin in an English document crafted in 1215.
“All members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived,” is the bill’s one sentence.
The Magna Carta, while famed as the first major declaration of rights under English monarchy, is a bit outdated in its actual prose.
The Magna Carta is indisputably an important historical document, with ideas about liberty that inspired America’s founders. But as the Concord Monitor points out, the substance of the document is fixated on the tedium of feudal times, and has little if any relevance to modern American life.
New Hampshire lawmakers might have trouble applying passages like, “We shall straightway return the son of Llewelin and all the Welsh hostages,” or, “If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age.”
One of the bill’s sponsors admitted that he wasn’t terribly familiar with the actual text, and mainly saw the measure as an homage. New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Ray Buckley said he was “mostly speechless” when he heard about the bill. “I appreciate all the hard work the Republican legislators are putting into the effort to make them look like extremists,” he said. “Saves us the trouble.”
Conservatives have long prided themselves on being constitutional “purists” who want to strip government down to the basic form they say was laid out in the country’s founding document. But requiring textual justification from another country’s founding document, which has no legal history or authority in the U.S., is a curious extension of that principle.
As the country’s focus shifts from the Iowa caucus to the more influential New Hampshire primary, it’s worth noting that the state’s Republicans apparently trying to repeal not just the 20th century “welfare state,” or even the 20th century, but the modern era entirely.
(HT: Working America)