An Inconvenient Constitution


It's that time of the year again: time for the re-introduction of the perennially hopeless Enumerated Powers Act in Congress. Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) has pimped the idea—a law requiring members of Congress to cite the specific constitutional provision authorizing their legislation—for years in the House. He introduced the bill's latest House-side iteration back in January. This week, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced the bill in the Senate.

Woe betide those who would force Congress to justify legislation with reference to the Constitution. At best, according to Andrew Grossman of the Heritage Foundation, it's just an educational exercise:

Though the Act could not guarantee the constitu­tionality of legislation, it would have a significant effect on Congress. Most clearly, when invoked it would shift debate to fundamental questions of the rule of law. There is an educational value to this exercise that stands to attract additional Members, over time, to the "constitutional caucus."  

Most importantly, requiring legislation to state the basis of its authority would reveal the hollow­ness of the constitutional doctrine underlying so much congressional action. Every bill would be an opportunity for Americans to think seriously about our constitutional order, the wisdom of its design, and the consequences of departing from its strictures.

Even in his pessimism, Grossman seems hilariously optimistic about a bill that, if passed, would probably be as effective at "educating" members of Congress (and the public) as the Constitution already is at constraining them.

It's a nice thought, anyway.

At Reason: Jacob Sullum covered Coburn's delightful obstructionism, Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote about his war on pork, and Dave Weigel asked whether Coburn is "an extreme social conservative, a libertarian hero, or both?"