Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to announce his bid to seek the GOP presidential nomination on Thursday. It will be Perry’s second attempt to secure a home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Perry showed commendable candor in the lead-up to his 2012 bid regarding his unorthodox views about the Constitution. Most politicians who hope to win a national election, for example, would not openly admit that they believe that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional.
Yet Perry was remarkably honest about his belief that federal programs that millions of American depend upon for their health and livelihood somehow violate America’s founding principles. In 2010, he published a book, Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, laying out his narrow understanding of the Constitution in considerable detail. He also gave numerous speeches and made multiple television appearances touting his belief that much of the last century of American history was a constitutional error.
Here are some of Perry’s more surprising beliefs:
1) Social Security And Medicare Are Unconstitutional
The Constitution permits the federal government to “lay and collect taxes” and to use the funds raised by these taxes to “pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” This provision lays out the constitutional basis for federal spending programs such as Social Security, Medicare and numerous other such programs that seek to advance the general welfare.
Perry, however, believes these programs are unconstitutional. “I don’t think our founding fathers when they were putting the term ‘general welfare’ in there were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care,” Perry told the Daily Beast’s Andrew Romano in 2011.
He offered similar views in a 2010 address to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) National Policy Summit. Proclaiming that “the nearly unlimited scope of the federal government contradicts the principles of limited, constitutional government that our founders established to protect us,” Perry claimed that an assault on this principles “continued into the Roosevelt New Deal.” He then named “a bankrupt Social Security system” as an example of a New Deal program he opposed.
Later, in the same speech, he claimed that President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society “further eroded our founding fathers’ boundaries that they had put upon the federal government.” He also specifically named Medicare as an example of Johnson’s supposed sins against the Constitution.
2) All Other Federal Health Programs Are Also Unconstitutional
Perry also listed Medicaid in his ALEC speech as an example of a Great Society program that, he believes, violates the Constitution. Similarly, his statement that Congress’s constitutional authority to spend money does not permit “a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care” sweeps broadly, implicating all federal health care programs. So that means that programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program or much of the Affordable Care Act would also cease to exist under Perry’s vision.
Perry has also made statements suggesting that any federal laws regulating the health care industry are unconstitutional. “There is nothing in that Constitution that says Washington D.C. is supposed to be telling us how to deliver health care,” the former Texas governor told a crowd of New Hampshire voters in 2011, reiterating a view he’d expressed on Glenn Beck’s now-defunct Fox News show a few months earlier. Taken to its extreme, this view would not only prevent federal regulation of health insurers and hospitals, but it would also eliminate the Food and Drug Administration’s power to keep dangerous drugs and quack remedies out of pharmacies.
3) Federal Clean Air Laws Are Unconstitutional “Nonsense”
Perry also claimed that the notion that the federal government is “telling us how to . . . clean our air is really nonsense.” It’s likely, moreover, that Perry’s objections to environmental regulations extend far beyond the Clean Air Act. A section of Fed Up! argues that the Supreme Court has read Congress’s power to “regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states” too broadly. Although Perry does not explain in detail how he would interpret this provision of the Constitution, he does suggest that Congress has overreached its constitutional authority in a long list of policy areas, including “the environment,” “guns,” and “civil rights.”
4) Federal Education Programs Are Unconstitutional
In his Beck interview, Perry denounced federal laws which “tell us how to educate our children.” Similarly, in Fed Up!, Perry criticized members of his own party for supporting federal education legislation. Their decision to do so, Perry claims, is a “perfect example of Republicans losing sight of the fact that perfectly laudable policy choices at the local level are not appropriate (much less constitutional) at the federal level.”
5) Nearly All Federal Laws Protecting Workers Are Unconstitutional
Fed Up! labels the the New Deal “the second big step in the march of socialism,” and blames the Supreme Court for allowing New Deal laws to take effect “by abdicating its role as the protector of constitutional federalism.” One decision that Perry singles out for criticism is NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., a 1937 decision upholding the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 — a federal law that still provides much of the backbone of the nation’s law governing unions. It should be noted that Jones & Laughlin’s reasoning also provides the basis for other federal regulation of the employment relationship, such as minimum wage laws or the ban on child labor. So it is likely that those laws would cease to exist under Perry’s reading of the Constitution as well.
Later in Fed Up!, Perry argues in favor of a kind of special rule permitting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans various forms of employment discrimination, to exist. It’s not entirely clear whether Perry believes that all of the Civil Rights Act is consistent with his idiosyncratic view of the Constitution, or merely its prohibitions on race discrimination. Nevertheless, while Perry would strip away most nationwide protections for workers, he would apparently leave at least some civil rights protections in place.
6) Federal Financial Reform Is Unconstitutional
Citing an announcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking public comment on regulations being considered to implement the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, Perry’s book claims that “there is a better way to ensure that local communities are represented in government. If the Constitution were shown the appropriate respect, Washington regulation writers wouldn’t have to worry about underrepresented views, because they wouldn’t have control over them in the first place.” It’s unclear just how far Perry would go in rolling back Wall Street regulation, although this passage suggests that he would go quite far.
7) Voters Should Not Be Able To Choose Their Own Senators
Perry also claims that “[t]he American people mistakenly empowered the federal government during a fit of populist rage in the early twentieth century by giving it an unlimited source of income (the Sixteenth Amendment) and by changing the way senators are elected (the Seventeenth Amendment).“ The Seventeenth Amendment provides for direct election of senators, rather than having senators be selected by state legislatures — a process that was abandoned, at least in part, because it led to considerable corruption.
8) Taxing Investment Income Should Be Unconstitutional
The Sixteenth Amendment provides that “Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” It was ratified to overrule an 1895 Supreme Court decision which effectively declared taxation of income from capital unconstitutional, though it permitted taxation of income from wages or salaries. The upshot of this decision is that a wealthy heir who lives entirely off of inherited investments would pay no taxes, while the heir’s pool cleaner would be taxed on their wage.
Perry’s claim that the Sixteenth Amendment was a mistake suggests that he would go back to this regime.
9) But Activist Judges Are A Serious Problem
Having laid out a long list of laws he thinks should be declared unconstitutional, Fed Up! pivots to a rant against Supreme Court justices who act as “’Grand Ayatollahs’ of the Constitution.” He objects to Supreme Court decisions supposedly dictating “where we may and may not pray to God, when life begins, whether contraception must be allowed to be sold, whether and how we can celebrate religious holidays, what level of pornography and vulgarity must be allowed, whether those other than man and woman must be allowed to marry, what level of discrimination may or even must be carried out . . . whether a state must allow women to attend an all-male military academy, who may be executed and whether we may execute criminals at all.”
Perry, in other words, believes there should be strict limits on the Supreme Court’s power to hand down decisions he disagrees with, even as he insists upon using the Constitution as a weapon to erase whole swaths of American law.