Tomorrow, as part of the GOP’s broader messaging strategy to falsely paint themselves as the party of the Constitution, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) will lead the new GOP-led House in a ritualized reading of the United States Constitution. Yet while the GOP has been big on this kind of constitutional theatre for much of the last year, most Republicans have been coy about revealing what they actually think the Constitution provides. When asked last night if he shares the widespread conservative view that the minimum wage is unconstitutional, for example, Goodlatte claimed that he did not know the answer to the question.
Yet, while most GOPers have remained carefully vague about how they view the Constitution, those few who have revealed their specific views leave little doubt why the rest of the party is keeping quiet. Their views are both dangerous and radical:
- Child Labor: In three separate opinions, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas called for a return to a discredited theory of the Constitution that early twentieth century justices used to declare federal child labor laws unconstitutional. Many GOP elected officials have embraced rhetoric suggesting that they agree with Justice Thomas that child labor laws are unconstitutional. They should answer directly whether they agree with him or not.
- Whites Only-Lunch Counters: In a now-infamous interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) claimed that there are constitutional problems with the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters. Justice Thomas’ pre-New Deal understanding of the Constitution also supports Paul’s view.
- Minimum Wage: Although Goodlatte claimed not to know whether the minimum wage is constitutional, Thomas and many other prominent Republicans believe that it is not.
- Education: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) believes that all federal education programs — including Pell Grants and student loan assistance — are unconstitutional. And he is far from alone among GOP Members of Congress.
- Gender Discrimination: Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia recently expressed his view that the Constitution has nothing to say about discrimination against women. Goodlatte, the architect of the GOP’s plan to read the Constitution on the House floor, cited Scalia as the justice who “most reflects” his own views. And Scalia will deliver a lecture on the Constitution to GOP Members of Congress later this month at the invitation of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).
- Ending Senate Elections: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) recently claimed that the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, which allows voters to elect their own senators, “was a mistake.” Scalia agrees.
- Eliminating the U.S. Dollar: Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), who will take over the House subcommittee that oversees federal monetary policy, has claimed that paper money is “nothing short of counterfeiting,” and has even called the U.S. dollar unconstitutional. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) appears to agree with him.
- Social Security and Medicare: Additionally, while only a handful of Republicans openly admit that they believe Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, Sens. Paul, Lee and Coburn all have expressed views suggesting that they also believe that these landmark programs violate the Constitution. Moreover, the GOP’s own “Pledge to America” expressly embraces a radical “tenther” view of the Constitution which would require Social Security, Medicare and numerous other essential programs to be declared unconstitutional.
Ever since they decided to wrap themselves in the Constitution, most GOPers have gotten away with vague bromides expressing their love for the document without revealing what they actually think about the Constitution. Meanwhile, those few GOP officials who have gone on record with their views have consistently shown themselves to be extreme radicals. If a Member of Congress disagrees with Clarence Thomas that child labor laws are unconstitutional; or with Rand Paul that civil rights violate the constitution; or with Tom Coburn that all federal education programs should cease to exist, than they should say so. But they should no longer be given the option to keep their views secret.