By order of the new Republican majority, members of Congress read the United States Constitution aloud on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday, the day after new lawmakers were sworn in. It was an apparent first, and a reflected the influence of the Tea Party movement, which has celebrated the founding document and argues that Congress has blown the lid on federal spending by vastly exceeding the powers granted to it in the Constitution. Tea Party supporters say Congress could reduce taxes and spending if it would only stick to a strict interpretation of the document.
But if the Tea Party hears one thing in a reading of the Constitution, many Democrats and liberals hear another. They welcome the emphasis on the Constitution, they say, but they also believe that the framers left the language deliberately vague so that We the People of successive generations would be able to interpret it as the United States evolved. (Before the reading could even begin, Democrats raised questions about which version of the Constitution Republicans wanted read -- would they include the part, since amended, about slaves counting as only three-fifths of a person? Republicans said they would not.)
Despite the framers’ stated intentions in the preamble to the Constitution, there is little “domestic tranquility” when it comes to interpreting what the document means. The following is a guide to some of the clauses most revered, and disputed, by advocates on either side of the political spectrum. -- KATE ZERNIKE