Cummings questions House reading of Constitution
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is questioning what he called the “unilateral” decision of House Republicans to eliminate passages of the Constitution that were later amended in their session-opening reading of the document today.
Those passages included the clause in Article I, Section 2, that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of taxation and congressional representation.
“The Constitution is the basis of our laws, but it is also a historical document whose text demonstrates the potential for growth present from the beginnings of our nation,” Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement. “While portions of the Constitution have been amended, those portions have not been deleted, nor have they been excised from history.”
Republican and Democratic House members took turns reading the Constitution and its amendments, an exercise that took about an hour and a half. They included Rep. Donna Edwards, a Prince George’s County Democrat.
“I was proud to join colleagues from both sides of the aisle to read the U.S. Constitution,” Edwards said in a statement. “Each of us benefits when reminded of the incredible depth, enormous complexities, and flexibility captured in this extraordinary document."
Complete statements of Cummings and Edwards follow, after the jump.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings:
“The Constitution is the basis of our laws, but it is also a historical document whose text demonstrates the potential for growth present from the beginnings of our nation. While portions of the Constitution have been amended, those portions have not been deleted, nor have they been excised from history. Our Founders provided for amendment because they understood that times would change and that our laws should be able to be amended to respond to emergent situations. They understood that their work would not be finished in their lifetimes, or in the lifetime of any American. It is work we continue today. Benjamin Franklin acknowledged as much when he remarked that Americans had been given, ‘A Republic, if you can keep it.’
“The adoption of the U.S. Constitution marked the birth of the greatest experiment in government known to man. To not read the full document, including all text that was later amended, is to fail to acknowledge the struggle our nation has constantly fought, within and without, to ‘keep’ our Republic. It is a failure to show Americans that while we seek a more perfect union, we do so from imperfect beginnings, through an imperfect history, with an imperfect government created by an imperfect document. We fail to show the American people that imperfection is not to be feared and that our ability to constantly improve on what the Founders gave us is a blessing, not a reason for divisiveness.
“We have the ability to change laws made at the time of our founding and to rectify unintended consequences of those laws as we work to continuously improve the lives and futures of the American people. Our nation and our lawmakers are not, and have never been, perfect. But we must never shy away from pride in the journey we have all taken, as a nation, toward our more perfect union.”
Rep. Donna Edwards:
“I was proud to join colleagues from both sides of the aisle to read the U.S. Constitution. Each of us benefits when reminded of the incredible depth, enormous complexities, and flexibility captured in this extraordinary document. Our Constitution ensures our civil liberties, empowers Congress to act for the common good, and guarantees that all Americans have equal opportunity under the law.
“Our Constitution is both a strong foundation and a living document that has changed as our times and understandings have changed. I am disappointed that we did not come together to read the Constitution in its entirety to embrace both the full vision of our founders and their fallibility as reflected in the original content and the amendments that have strengthened this great nation. As an African American woman, it is through these amendments and this history that my experience is captured in its entirety. It is imperative that we remember the purpose and interpretation enshrined to a government by the people, for the people.”