President Obama has been accused of violating the Constitution with two high-profile decisions over the last month. Polling and reactions from elected officials reveal an important truth: the Constitution is a winning political issue – Americans respect it and want their leaders to adhere to it.
Most recently, the administration has attempted force companies and organizations that offer health insurance plans to cover the full costs of contraception. For groups that have a religious objection to doing so, the policy represents a brazen violation of their First Amendment rights.
But proponents of the policy are quick to insist that the issue is not Americans’ fundamental rights of conscience, but rather the availability of contraception. In an attempt to backstop that position, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC) stormed out of a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on Thursday after a Georgetown University student was prohibited from testifying about contraception.
“As the hearing is not about reproductive rights but instead about the administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience,” committee staff stated, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) “believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.”
It stands to reason that committee liberals would attempt to shift the debate to one of “reproductive rights.” When the issue is the constitutional right to free religious practice, the American people are wholly opposed to the contraception mandate.
Townhall columnist Guy Benson examined a pair of polls on the issue in a Wednesday blog post. He found that when the issue is framed as one of a “right to contraception,” Americans support the policy. When it’s about freedom of conscience – and freedom from government coercion against one’s deeply held beliefs – Americans oppose it.
The fact that the issue is a constitutional one, then (even if one agrees with the policy, the constitutional issue is unavoidable), makes the left-wing position less tenable. Hence Maloney’s and Holmes-Norton’s desire to shift the debate to any issue other than the policy’s constitutionality.
The same efforts are underway with respect to the president’s unconstitutional non-recess appointments. In discussing the move, explained Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) at a Heritage event on Wednesday, “Democrats won’t even discuss” the recess appointments clause, “its history, its purpose, its text, or even its original meaning. They want to set that aside.”
While polling on the issue has been scarce, the rhetoric from the president’s allies speaks for itself: they insist on discussing supposed Senate obstructionism – never mind that the Senate could not have moved on two of the non-recess appointed officials even if they had wanted to, or that Democrats themselves hold the Senate majority and therefore set the agenda.
Since the administration’s position is indefensible from a constitutional perspective, they insist on shifting the issue in any way they can.
These attempts to draw attention away from the constitutionality of these proposals are instructive: in order to sell them to the American people, their advocates must avoid discussion of the Constitution altogether. The fact that that is necessary should demonstrate that the Constitution is still a winning issue for the American people.