COMMENTARY | Last week, Chris Moody in The Ticket pointed out seven ways that Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry wants to change the Constitution. Despite Perry's professed support for the Constitution, his proposals show contradictory stances on several important Constitutional issues.
Take states' rights. Executive editor of The American Prospect Bob Moser has called Perry a "states' rights purist." Perry has so much respect for states' rights that he wants to repeal the 16th Amendment, which gives Congress the power to collect taxes "without apportionment among the several States." In his book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, Perry wrote that the 16th Amendment "provides a virtual blank check to the federal government to use for projects with little or no consultation from the states."
So "consultation from the states" is important to Perry. However, Perry then proposes to drastically limit states' rights in at least two ways. Perry proposes Constitutional amendments to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and to make abortion illegal.
But the people of several states through legislation have taken clear stances in favor of gay marriage and abortion rights. Perry's proposed Constitutional amendments are in total contradiction to his commitment to "consultation from the states."
Another issue is Perry's supposed respect for the original language of the Constitution. Perry wants to repeal the 17th Amendment, which gives the people the right to elect their Senators directly. Perry proposes that we return to the original language of the Constitution, where Senators were appointed by state legislators.
Perry's reasoning seems curious. He states that the 17th Amendment was passed in "a fit of populist rage" -- as if strengthening the power of the people were now something wrong -- and claims that the amendment somehow "empowered the federal government." (But how does direct election of Senators empower anyone but the people?)
The contradiction here is that, for all his seeming respect for the original language of the Constitution, Perry then proposes that we change the language of the original Constitution in radical ways. He proposes to give Congress the power to override Supreme Court decisions, which would eliminate the judicial independence that is a cornerstone of the checks-and-balances approach to government taken by the Constitution; even Perry admits that this "risks increased politicization of judicial decisions." Further along these lines, Perry proposes to abolish lifetime tenure for federal judges by amending Article III, Section I, a further weakening of the checks-and-balances system.
Aside from his specific proposed changes, Perry also seems shaky on the separation of church and state. In July, acting in his capacity as governor of Texas, Perry called for a national day of prayer and fasting, an event advertised as an opportunity "to worship the name of Jesus." Now, the First Amendment states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
All provisions of the Constitution extend to the states as well. Although Perry did not make attendance at the day of prayer and fasting a matter of law, his sponsorship of this event as governor of Texas certainly serves to "establish," or privilege, not just Christianity, but his specific style of Christianity.
Having a couple of retired Catholic bishops as two of 74 "national endorsers" hardly made this an ecumenical event. All of the actual leadership for this event, as well as all of the honorary co-chairs, seem specifically to be evangelical Protestant Christians. But if elected, Perry would be president of all Americans, not just the evangelicals; why then did he lend the weight of his office to one religious group? This certainly violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the First Amendment.
Overall, it is hard to escape the impression that, despite his lip service to the Constitution, Rick Perry simply wants to change that Constitution to serve his own partisan views. This is a perilous course.
- Rick Perry
- Rick Perry