By Linda Chavez
Every member of Congress takes an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," but the newly elected 112th Congress will be the first in the nation's history to hear the text actually read aloud when the House convenes Jan. 5.
The success of the tea party movement in the last election is the impetus behind the first public reading (the text has been inserted in the Congressional Record twice), and it sets the stage for the battles to be waged over the next two years. Many of the conservative newcomers think of themselves first and foremost as constitutionalists, but they will face challenges when it comes time to put their principles into action.
The incoming GOP House leadership has announced that it will adopt new rules requiring each piece of legislation to include a statement citing the specific constitutional provision authorizing Congress to enact the proposed law.
The motivation is a sound one -- Congress has increasingly expanded the areas over which it has tried to exercise control in recent years -- but the requirement doesn't go far enough. Instead of making proposed laws simpler and more easily understood, it could end up adding a new layer of legalese that will provide much fodder for debate. But it will not solve one of the most intractable problems of modern legislation: Too many laws enacted now are simply incomprehensible.
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