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January 6, 2011

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“The Constitution is the basis of our laws, but it is also a historical document whose text demonstrates the potential for growth present from the beginnings of our nation,” Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat and former chairman of the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“The Constitution is the basis of our laws, but it is also a historical document whose text demonstrates the potential for growth present from the beginnings of our nation.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.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:07 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Washington


Typical Cummings. The purpose of the reading was to emphasize that the Constitution limits the power of the federal government, and that the Congress, the President, and the Courts are constrained by its provisions. Cummings just wants to play the race card, as usual.

Only a blind fool would characterize Mr. Cumming's comments as "playing the race card". Speaking as a white male who knows a bit about the Constitution and the people who wrote it, I find his comments both appropriate and necessary. This ridiculous and offensive exercise in selective reading is just pure political theater by people who know little and care less about the Constitution, its purpose and its intended effects.

Obviously, they were reading the current version, which is the one that is now in force. Does Mr. Cummings abide today by 18th century laws or consitututional provisions that were amended out of existence - perhaps that might explain his continual need to remind all of us what divides us instead of trying to unite us.

Must be the same re-writers "fixing" Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

I wonder if they read the entire 2nd amendment? You know, the one that limits gun rights to state militias.

Hey DipSh!t - (yeah you Cummings) if the northern states had had their way, blacks would have counted for 0/5 of a man, so I guess you have to thank the southern states for making slaves 3/5 whole ...

Cummings is right on. This isn't a Fox News spin document. Conservatives love to argue the original intent of the framers except that they have problems when that doesn't fit in with their image of themselves.
Not the race card friends. Its called the facts card. Sorry it bothers you. Maybe stick to Fox News for the rewrite and spin on the constitution!.

@Lou.. what a serious joke u are.. first of all.. southern states did not MAKE black folks.. GOD Did.. it was the severe retardation of the US to justify us being a so called CHRISTIAN country founded on CHRISTIAN principles that made the enslavement of an entire race more palateable for the masses, and to declare that all MEN are created equal.. We do not have to thank the southern states for ANYTHING except being country azz backward thinking folks (historically speaking) who went to war over STATES RIGHTS (to freakin own and destroy people..)

and it was many of the middle and northern states that abolished slavery.. not because they wanted to.. because their economy was not so dependent on it, and the middle states (quakers, etc) who really had a distain for this non Christian like behavior..

"Only a blind fool would characterize Mr. Cumming's comments as "playing the race card""

That's all that racist does for a living!

"I wonder if they read the entire 2nd amendment? You know, the one that limits gun rights to state militias."

You were asleep for Heller and McDonald? It looks like it!

Hey, Lou, my namesake, who is misinterpreting history and the Constitution now? The southern states wanted the northern states to agree to the 3/5 provision giving slaveholding property-owners--most of whom lived in the South--greater representation in the Congress. Why? The greater representation made outlawing slavery and the continued importation impossible until the combination of northern and western states had the numbers to end it. It also meant that the southern states had a higher tax obligation because of the increased "number" of "people" taxed.

We as a people cannot move on until our government moves on. When every document we have ask of ethnicity we will always have divisiness. Our Constitution is our history, but our Constitution is not what keep us divided. Until we truly look at each other equally without one race being greater than the other, we as a people will always have a race problem. It is what it is.

Perhaps the GOP didn't want to offend the thin-skinned liberals, er, uh, I mean, progressives...HEY! Why doesn't Elijah read those parts into the Congressional Record?

Its amazing how the the "race card" only is used when something doesnt go the way "They" want it to. We have to re-write history books,stop the police from profiling and hire based on race (not ability).'They" always get what they want after pulling the card! They know it and we know it.

trebort49 is a racist asshole, as usual, becuase obviously, pointing out racisim is racist - idiot asshole.

Listen up. Drop the racist stuff and pay attention here. We are about to find out who is really on the side of the
American people. The ones throwing the punches are not really out to help "us" but to help themselves politically.
I'm a white person that has lived in areas that didn't like whites, but I've lived in areas that didn't like blacks too. Trust me here, a bigot is a bigot and their skin color only changes their argument on who they are blaming.
There is also classism going on among us. Almost none of these people have ever been poor or oppressed, even if they are minorities or women. Not many Harvard or Yale students are really oppressed, are they, no matter their color. Watch these people closely and see who the true Americans are - the true believers - and pay attention. There are traitors among them who have sold us all out, no matter what color you are.
The question is not whether you are white or black or anything in between. Are you a real American and a True Believer?

Rep. Cummings is absolutely correct. What everyone has to understand is that our Constitution, like all laws and rules, are basically guidelines that always need to be improved. Anyone who thinks they are etched in stone is utterly clueless and devoid of quality managerial skills. True progress is the product of openmindedness, not a system infected by selfishness and greed.

Boehner and his fellow House Republicans just made themselves perfect targets for a tsunami of criticism and dissent. When things start going against them, I expect them to whine that everything is not fair, pick up their toys and sulk like spoiled brats. Boehner is doomed to fail. This is not a prediction - this is a fact!

For years the GOP has pushed a kind of constitutionalism which is really more like "Constitution-ism" - treating the legal document as a sacred one whose words are infallible and not up for debate. Any attempt to reform or reinterpret this document away from its 18th-century roots is consequently sacrilegious adulteration, to be doggedly resisted. This obviously flies in the face of things like the Three-Fifths Compromise and the 18th Amendment, and other outdated passages whose provisions are no longer in force, so they obviously could not be read on the floor of Congress and were quietly excised.

It also makes a mockery of the Founders' stated intent in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself. Remember that the Preamble to the Constitution describes ours as a "more perfect Union," not a flawless one, and that Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that it was the right of the people to "alter or abolish" any form of government which no longer served their needs.

The Founders understood that any government that claimed to rule by divine right would resist change when it was needed and enforce its own will at the expense of the people's. They had just finished fighting such a government when they met to draft the Constitution in 1787. The Founders knew that no government was perfect and respected the rights of future generations to alter the Constitution when new conditions arose that they had not foreseen. The GOP's brand of "strict Constitutionalism" throws this revolutionary tradition out the window and remakes its central document into a crude idol that they pray to to maintain the status quo at all costs.

The real question is why the media didn't recognize and report on the omissions? I'm certain they have access to a copy of the constitution.

Go and read the statements made by the framers. They never meant for arms to be limited strictly to the militia. Today's ruby red slipper clicking liberals continue to try and convince everyone of something that wasn't so.

Do these people not have anything better to do than stand around and read the Constitution aloud?

The Constitution as amended is the the law of the land, any 4th grader knows that. Our first orange Speaker of the House wanted to remind his colleagues that they swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the U.S. and its amendments strike out parts of the original Constitution by 2/3rds of the States (actually it was 3/4ths that approved the amendments) so the amended constitution is the Constitution. Pay attention people!

The Constitution is no more the guidelines than the 10 Commandments are the 10 guidelines. Grow up you can't have it your way unless you are a judge who is changing the interpretation of the Constitution.

The concept of slavery is alive and well today. We are all being used by the government to be slaves to international big business. whatever we earn gets taxed severely and distributed to those who for the most part elect not to work.

Many of those who can't work would like nothing more than to work.

If we went back to full employment 4.5% (frictional unemployment) people would have discretionary income and put their money into the hands of their churches and bonifide civic focused non-profits to help the poor and government would not be needed to manage the dole as they are very bad at it.
What has the government given us in the last 15-20 years that we can say we are proud of? The only thing is our military that I can think of and now the government has begun to downgrade that which makes us more vulnerable if we don't have weapons of deterrence.

Hey Russia did you get what you wanted in that START treaty... we as Americans got the shaft by our own government. We need powerful deterrent weapons not words from wimps.
The only reason Obama should be bowing to Putin/Sarkozy/or SA Princes is to hear them speak.

@Fedup. LOL

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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