Skip to main content

House members read the Constitution

By the CNN Wire Staff
Click to play
House reads Constitution, line by line
  • NEW: Controversy erupts during the reading the of Constitution
  • The reading of the Constitution was kicked off by House Speaker John Boehner
  • Rep. Bob Goodlatte: "This historic and symbolic reading is long overdue"

Washington (CNN) -- Members of the new Republican-led House of Representatives took part Thursday in an unusual event: a reading of the U.S. Constitution on the floor of the chamber.

The move was initially conceived primarily as an expression of the GOP's small-government values and a nod to conservative Tea Party activists who helped propel the Republicans to their landslide victory in last November's midterm elections.

While some progressives derided the event as a political stunt, a number of congressional Democrats took part in the reading.

The recitation, which took 84 minutes, was kicked off by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Republicans take control

"This historic and symbolic reading is long overdue and shows that the new majority in the House truly is dedicated to our Constitution and the principles for which it stands," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.

"As the written expression of the consent the American people gave to their government -- a consent with restrictions and boundaries -- the public reading of the Constitution will set the tone for the 112th Congress."

Some conservatives contend that congressional Democrats have regularly overreached the constitutional powers granted to Congress. They believe the rule will help to refocus legislative priorities.

Controversy briefly erupted during the recitation when Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois, objected to a decision not to read a phrase in the original text categorizing a slave as three-fifths of a person.

Jackson, an African-American, is the son of the famed civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Goodlatte dismissed the objection, stating that the non-partisan Congressional Research Service had provided a current, amended copy of the document for the purpose of the reading.

Language referring to individuals as three-fifths of a person was overridden by the 14th Amendment.

The chamber erupted in applause when Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, read the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery. Lewis, also an African-American, played a role in the civil rights movement.

A spectator in the House gallery was ordered to be removed after yelling out Barack Obama's name when members read the section of the Constitution mandating that only citizens born within the United States are eligible to serve as president. People belonging to the so-called "birther" movement contend that Obama was not born in America, though that assertion has been discredited.

CNN's Evan Glass, Alan Silverleib, Virginia Nicolaidis, and Ed Payne contributed to this report