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Sunday, Jan 21, 2007, 8:41 am

A Lesson In How to Read the Constitution

By Brian Zick
A couple days ago, Think Progress called attention to AG Gonzales' rather, um, unique reading of the Constitution, and posted a video and transcript of his exchange with Arlen Specter regarding habeas corpus. This is the highlight:
GONZALES: I will go back and look at it. The fact that the Constitution — again, there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There is a prohibition against taking it away. But it’s never been the case, and I’m not a Supreme —

SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. The constitution says you can’t take it away, except in the case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus, unless there is an invasion or rebellion?

GONZALES: I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn’t say, “Every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas.” It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except by

SPECTER: You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General.

Kevin Drum and Mark Kleiman (among others) have responded with a measure of disgust and concern, Kleiman observing:
Of course, by that logic, the Constitution doesn't grant freedom of speech or the right to keep and bear arms; all it does is forbid Congress to take them away.
But there is defnitely good news in this development. It's been a mere couple days since Gonzales' stunning revelation, so maybe that's a little too soon for most rational folks to completely repudiate over 300 years of precedent. But I suspect pretty quickly that politically combative minds will begin to recognize the significant plus side of being able to interpret the Constitution totally devoid of absolutely all context whatsoever, historical and legal and otherwise, and to simply decide what the Constitution means in the most superficially literal syntactical sense on an ad hoc basis, one sentence - or segment of a sentence - at a time.

Like, for example:
Article. II.
Section. 1.
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.
It says "a" President. It doesn't say "George W. Bush." So, ipso facto, George Bush does not really, after all, have any executive Power vested in him by the Constitution. And therefore he has no authority to order troop escalations or wiretaps, or even breakfast in the White House kitchen. Yes, I dare say this new style of constitutional interpretation is a treasure trove of legal implications which Bush and his butt boy Gonzales have not likely considered.
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