Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s love of the U.S. Constitution and her devotion to constitutional conservatism are being met with derision by the usual suspects.
In the July 5, 2011 issue of The New Republic, Bachmann’s commitment to the Constitution is attacked because it is grounded in the view that constitutional government is necessarily limited government.
Bachmann deserves praise, not scorn.
By expressing her belief in the Constitution as American bedrock, Bachmann joins the ranks of notable Americans of diverse backgrounds who made their passion for the Constitution the hallmarks of their careers.
From the latter half of the Twentieth Century, two names immediately come to mind -- the late Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and the late Yale Law School Professor Alexander Bickel. Although Bachmann, Jordan and Bickel each come from a “different place,” what unites them is a belief that the Constitution embodies a promise and the wisdom of the ages that bear upon contemporary America.
Barbara Jordan was African-American, the daughter of a Baptist minister, and the descendant of slaves, sharecroppers and indentured servants.
In the summer of 1974, Jordan sat on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and voted to impeach President Richard M. Nixon.
Nearly thirty-seven years ago, on July 24, 1974, Jordan delivered her statement to the Judiciary Committee, in which she denounced the abuse of presidential power and disregard for the Constitution. Jordan told her life story, and made clear that her belief in the Constitution was “whole.”
Jordan lamented that “George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake” from the opening words of the Constitution – “We the People.” But Jordan continued, “My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.”
Jordan believed that government was limited in its powers. She supported impeachment on multiple grounds, including Nixon’s having violated the “constitutional rights of citizens . . . .”
According to Bill Moyers, Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary, Jordan’s “kin” included Montesquieu and Edmund Burke.
Montesquieu was the French philosopher who spelled out the need for checks and balances in government. Edmund Burke was the English parliamentarian who sided with the American colonies against the Crown, but opposed the French Revolution. Clearly, for Jordan and Moyers intellectual ancestry and constitutional fealty were not constrained by race or class.
Alexander Bickel was born in Romania to Jewish parents, who immigrated to Brooklyn when Bickel was a teenager. Bickel graduated from City College and from Harvard Law School. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, where he helped Frankfurter prepare for the Court’s landmark desegregation decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.
Bickel successfully argued the Pentagon Papers case before the Supreme Court, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibited the prior restraint on publication by the New York Times and the Washington Post of a leaked classified history of American political and military involvement in Southeast Asia between 1945 and 1967.
As a professor, Bickel authored the book, "The Least Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the Bar of Politics," in which he argued that the courts should tread lightly because the judiciary is unelected, and avoid reaching constitutional decisions if other grounds for decision were present.
In 1980, Bickel was described as “probably the most creative constitutional theorist of the past twenty years.”
Although politically a liberal, Bickel’s writings on the Constitution and the role of the Court helped shape the views of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. The Constitution was Bickel’s life.
Congresswoman Bachmann is heir to the same constitutional passion as Barbara Jordan and Alexander Bickel. No one group or viewpoint holds a monopoly on constitutional devotion. Michele Bachmann and constitutional conservatism deserve to be heard.
Lloyd Green was an appointee in the Department of Justice during President George H.W.Bush's administration. He was one of the "excellent nerds" of the 1988 Bush Campaign's Research Department.