The House’s Reading of the Constitution Gets Off to an Awkward Start

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As hard as it is to believe, the Constitution has never been read aloud on the floor of the House — until today. At the behest of Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, members of both parties began taking turns reading portions of the document at around 11 a.m. this morning, as proof, Goodlatte's office says, of the House's "commitment to hold true to the fundamental principles upon which this country was founded." Of course, over time our increasingly enlightened society has come to disagree with some of these principles — the acceptance of slavery, for example. Not a problem, the Hill reported yesterday:

A Goodlatte aide explained that the Constitution will be read in its most modern, amended form. This will prevent lawmakers from having to recite politically uncomfortable portions, notably the provisions on the “three-fifths compromise” under which slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and representation.

Not everyone entirely agreed with this decision. The first to passive-aggressively voice his objections was Washington Democrat Jay Inslee. He didn't explicitly oppose leaving out passages of the Constitution superseded by later amendments, but instead sought to ask Goodlatte what the reasoning was behind the policy. As you can see, the chair of the proceedings wasn't exactly in the mood to have such a debate.

Inslee was shot down on procedural grounds, but not long after was allowed by the chair to ask Goodlatte about his "decision-making process." Note the derisive laughter — among Republicans, we're going to assume — when Inslee, instead of saying that Congress hasn't debated the terms of the reading, instead seems to clumsily claim that the members of the House haven't had time to review the Constitution.

Goodlatte basically passes the buck to the Library of Congress, and so at last we're all set, too — wait, okay now Illinois Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr. is up at the microphone. With abundant politeness, he notes that maybe it's not a great idea to gloss over the Constitution's historical flaws, since they do continue to affect some of the work that Congress does to this day.

With Goodlatte insisting they will recognize the racial progress embodied in the Constitution by having civil rights leader John Lewis read the Thirteenth Amendment, finally, we are ready to begin. Members of Congress take turns at the podium, and when not speaking, do their best to stay awake and resist playing Angry Birds on their newly authorized iPads.