More than 90 percent of Americans say that the Constitution is very important to them and two-thirds say that a “detailed knowledge” of our charter is “absolutely necessary.” Federal and state officials, whether elected or appointed, must take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. It is, in its own words, the “supreme law of the land.”
Liberty requires limits on government, and those limits come primarily from the Constitution. Chief Justice John Marshall explained it this way in Marbury v. Madison: “The powers of the legislature are defined, and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the constitution is written.” Needless to say, a written document matters only if it is read.
If mistaking or forgetting the Constitution’s limits on Congress threatens our liberty, then those who love liberty should read our Constitution often. Those who must abide by its limits, those who swear to support and defend it, should read our Constitution often.
So who would have thought that simply reading the Constitution out loud on the House floor — by the very House members who the day before took an oath to support and defend it — would be met with such cynicism. Many belittled it as “symbolism,” as if that were a bad thing. One Democratic congressman dismissed reading the Constitution as nothing but “propaganda.” He is — seriously — the previous chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on, yes, the Constitution.
I think this just confirms why America’s founders wrote the Constitution down in the first place. It appears that some in Congress would be just fine with the American people mistaking or forgetting the limits that the Constitution places on federal power.
Only a quarter of the people who say a detailed knowledge of the Constitution is necessary say that they have such knowledge. Reading it is the least we can do.
— Orrin G. Hatch is a U.S. senator from Utah.