SINS OF OMISSION…. The reading the U.S. Constitution from the House floor wrapped up yesterday morning, and as theatrical gestures go, this one was largely harmless.
But before the political world moves on, it’s worth noting that those who listened to the reading didn’t hear the entire Constitution — there were some omissions organizers of the p.r. stunt intended to make, and then there were the omissions that happened by accident.
On the former, the reading left out any constitutional text that had been invalidated by subsequent amendments to the document. This, conveniently, spared members the embarrassment of having to read portions that, for example, counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person. Adam Serwer had a good item yesterday, noting why this is a mistake.
The reason to include the superceded text is to remind us that the Constitution, while a remarkable document, was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light at the summit of Mount Sinai. It was written by men, and despite its promise, it possessed flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today. Republicans could use the history lesson — last year they attacked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her nomination process because one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was flawed since it didn’t consider black people to be full human beings.
As Jamelle Bouie wrote about the Huck Finn controversy, “If there’s anything great about this country, it’s in our ability to account for and overcome our mistakes.” We shouldn’t pretend we didn’t make them.
The New York Times editorial board made a similar point today: “Members of the House might have thought they were bringing the Constitution alive by reading it aloud on Thursday. But they made a crucial error by excising its history. When they chose to deliberately drop the sections that became obsolete or offensive, and which were later amended, they missed a chance to demonstrate that this document is not nailed to the door of the past. It remains vital precisely because it can be reimagined.”
Those were the deliberate omissions. Let’s not overlook the accidental ones.
During Thursday morning’s “historic reading,” one member apparently skipped Article 4 Section 4 and part of Article 5 Section 1 when he or she inadvertently turned two pages at once, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who was in charge of the reading, said on the House floor this afternoon.
Goodlatte returned to the House floor at 2:23 p.m., more than two hours after the error occurred, read the missing sections, and placed them officially in the congressional record.
When shallow press stunts go awry….