Should House Speaker Nancy Pelosi be prosecuted on a Bill of Attainder? Should the House of Representatives consider legislation that begins by saying it is:
"A Bill of Attainder to deprive Nancy Pelosi and other persons of liberty and property without further process of law for having violated the following ex-post facto law barring the setting of mandates on American citizens requiring them to buy health insurance. This case shall be exempt from all judicial review as previously provided by Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States."
You mean such a thing is flatly forbidden by the Constitution? That Bills of Attainder and prosecution of citizens for ex post facto laws (statutes criminalizing an action retroactively) are prohibited by the Constitution? Really?
Well, as Speaker Pelosi said in response to a question that challenged the constitutional authority of Congress to mandate Americans to buy health insurance:
"Are you kidding? Are you kidding?"
As they say in astronaut lingo: Houston, we have a problem.
And that problem, plainly put, is the willingness of our friends on the left to simply ignore the founding document of this country: the Constitution of the United States.
So, what to do with this noodge of a difficulty? A problem that has actually been gaining speed and force for decades, only most recently illustrated by Speaker Pelosi's "are you kidding" disdain in response to a question about constitutional authority to mandate health care.
In The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It, Angelo Codevilla provides an excellent idea. Turn the tables on those who have shown a repeated determination to ignore the Constitution. (He includes President Obama in his formulation, but for the sake of constitutional simplicity, we'll stick with Speaker Pelosi here.) If in fact the Pelosi and Reid Democrats are relieved of their control of the House or Senate or both this fall, come January it is time to begin re-focusing Americans on just why it is America has a Constitution in the first place. Why we have it, what it says -- and the fateful consequences of ignoring it.
One of the best methods to teach on this issue, although surely not the only method, is to take Pelosi's disdain for the Constitution and use Pelosi herself to illustrate just how important the Constitution is and why we need to return to a serious understanding of it. And -- horrors! -- abide by it.
What would happen if such a piece of legislation calling for the prosecution of Pelosi were introduced in, say, a newly Republican-run House of Representatives come January? Why, according to time honored tradition, the bill would be assigned to committee, of course -- in this case doubtless the House Judiciary Committee. Upon arriving, the new Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman -- presumably today's Ranking Member, Lamar Smith of Texas -- would assign it to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties and its new chairman, presumably James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. Why there? Because this is the proper subcommittee that, the House informs us: "shall have jurisdiction over the following subject matters: constitutional amendments, constitutional rights, federal civil rights, ethics in government, other appropriate matters as referred by the chairman, and relevant oversight."
OK, then. We're in the right place. Now the fun begins.
Codevilla points out with some understatement that members of what he calls the Ruling Class -- let's just call them Democrats in this example -- would arise, suddenly alarmed. They would demand, heatedly no doubt, as to where in the Constitution any authority exists to prosecute the former Speaker, now simply a Congresswoman from California and possibly the Minority Leader, with such an outrageously un-constitutional piece of legislative, well, garbage.
At which point: a hearing is called to discuss the bill.
This is where Codevilla's perceptive point gathers steam.
You have to love the institution of the congressional hearing. In practice, 90% of them are boring if necessary, and sometimes they aren't necessary. But there is that 10% where the media suddenly swarms, sniffing a really good story that packs personality, politics and everything from sex (the Clinton impeachment) to drugs (any current hearing on border security) to rock and roll (the long ago hearings that summoned forth a concerned Tipper Gore, wife of then Senator Al Gore, to discuss the government's role in labeling rock lyrics for anxious parents).
But a hearing to strip a former Speaker of the House of her rights and explore an ex post facto prosecution removing any possibility for judicial review? This is sex, drugs and rock and roll in Washington.
And therein lies the teachable moment on exactly how and why Pelosi's disdain for the Constitution -- a disdain shared in countless forms over the decades -- should be used to educate a new generation of Americans.
The Pelosi Prosecution hearings should be a wide open exploration of the U.S. Constitution itself. And not something just designed for a congressional hearing room, either. This is the moment to enlist the aid of colleges, foundations, and others in initiating discussions of the Constitution across America and in the media.
In fact, Hillsdale College has already been doing this, and will have another round of discussion this very week.
Hillsdale's focus this week will be topics such as::
• "Free Markets, Regulation and the Constitution"
• "Howard Zinn and Civic Education"
• "Does Tea Party Constitutionalism Have a Future?"
• "Founding Father" (presented by National Review's Richard Brookheiser)
• "How to Interpret the Constitution: A Debate"
• "Civil Liberties and Islamic Terrorism: A Debate"
• "The Constitution and the 2010 Elections"
• "Why We Celebrate Constitution Day" (presented by George Will)
But congressional hearings on the Pelosi prosecution should be as wide-ranging as possible, with topics such as:
• The Constitution's history: who wrote it, why they wrote it.
• Why and how has the Constitution been amended?
• What about Supreme Court and lower federal court decisions in which the Constitution was manipulated to allow for everything from slavery to segregation to the abolition of school prayer to the creation of a right to abortion and gay marriage?
• What about that Pelosi insistence on mandating that every American must buy health insurance?
• The use of "international standards" in American law.
• Hate speech and violations of the First Amendment.
• The Ground Zero Mosque, burning the Koran and the history of religious liberty.
The list is long, actually, and the suggestions above, whether the actual agenda at Hillsdale or the handful of other obvious discussion points could go on and on, doubtless to be improved by many.
Think of the witnesses!
The very first witness should be Nancy Pelosi herself, called to discuss her view of the Constitution and just why she should not be prosecuted.
But don't stop with her. There is a veritable cornucopia of witnesses who could put a spotlight on the Constitution, its proper use -- and its abuse. Former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese, talk radio star Mark Levin, the head of the Landmark Legal Foundation and author of the bestsellers Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America and Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto.
Bring on Justice Scalia, the indomitable former Judge Robert Bork. Summon the lawyers, the ex-judges, the journalists, the preachers and the teachers. And the liberals. Don't forget them. Called on the carpet to illustrate why the Constitution is ignorable for health care but not in prosecuting Pelosi will be worth the price of the popcorn.
Let's go back through critical Supreme Court decisions from Dred Scott (slavery) to Plessy v. Ferguson (segregation) to Schechter Poultry v. United States (FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act) to Everson v. Board of Education (separation of church and state) and Roe v. Wade (abortion). Not to be forgotten, all those state attorneys general like Virginia's Ken Cuccinelli and Florida's Bill McCollum who are taking ObamaCare to court on constitutional grounds.
Perhaps a basic refresher course on what it means to be qualified to hold federal office would be useful. Astoundingly, in the heated Delaware Republican primary for the U.S. Senate between Congressman Mike Castle and Christine O'Donnell that takes place today, the Washington Post quotes "state GOP officials" as saying O'Donnell "is simply unqualified to hold office."
Unqualified? Aside from the fact that the Delaware GOP itself nominated Ms. O'Donnell in 2008 to run against then-Senator Joe Biden, this charge is an astounding confession of constitutional ignorance.
The Constitution explicitly lays out the only qualifications to be a United States Senator. Written in Article One, Section Three, those qualifications are as follows;
No person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.
Ms. O'Donnell is 41 years old, a lifetime American citizen, and an inhabitant of her state, Delaware. That's it. She more than meets the only qualifications required by the Constitution of the United States to serve as a United States Senator, something that is revealingly if not horrifyingly an apparent constitutional newsflash to the Delaware Republican Party. Anything other than that is merely a revelation of what lies in the mind of the beholder, because it certainly isn't written in the Constitution.
But in truth, the stunning lack of knowledge of the Constitution is not limited to some Republican pols in Delaware. Would that to be the case! This kind of Constitutional ignorance -- willful, deliberately political or otherwise -- is rampant across America.
During a townhall meeting with constituents in 2009, Illinois Democratic Congressman Phil Hare was questioned by St. Louis Tea Party member Adam Sharp about the same issue that prompted Pelosi's derisive "are you kidding" response. The exchange was captured on video.
Sharp asked Congressman Hare which part of the Constitution authorized a government mandate to citizens demanding they buy health care.
The Congressman's response? "I don't worry about the Constitution on this." To which Sharp is heard responding: "Jackpot, brother." As it were, the defense rests.
Not to be forgotten in a Pelosi prosecution are the sentiments of President Obama on the Constitution, as he expressed them when still an Illinois state senator back in 2001. On January 18, 2001 in a public radio interview Obama said:
"The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent, as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, as least as it's been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted in the same way that, generally, the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can't do to you, says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn't shifted."
Got that? The future President of the United States opposed "the essential constraints" of the Constitution. Is there a wonder he, along with Pelosi, believes in just instructing Americans that from now on they have to have health care, the Constitution be damned?
All of this collectively -- the Court decisions, the constitutional ignorance, the willful decision to ignore the explicit principles of the Founding document upon which the country is supposed to run, with everyone's rights protected -- is reason aplenty the Pelosi probe should go for some time. Perhaps all of the next two years, which is to say the next session of Congress.
And as the 2012 session draws to a close? The bill to prosecute Nancy Pelosi should be brought to a vote. And passed -- in the subcommittee. And passed again in the full Judiciary Committee.
And then, one last vote. In which the bill should be defeated on the floor of the House -- unanimously. With every member voting and all of America watching. A lesson hopefully learned about the importance of the Constitution and the rights it provides all Americans. All Americans including both Nancy Pelosi -- and the rest of us that she has demanded be forced to buy health insurance in violation of our Constitutional rights.
A panacea? And end to the discussion? No. It should be the beginning of a constitutional awakening in this country. The start of an effort to teach every American child the importance of the Constitution of the United States. And remind every American long since out of school just how their everyday, get-out-of-bed freedom depends on a thorough understanding of the Constitution of the United States.
Prosecute Nancy Pelosi?
Use this prosecution to teach the importance of the Constitution?
Are you kidding? Are you kidding?
Well, no.Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at email@example.com.