The moment seems designed for maximum effect. Many lawmakers will participate, with one representative reading a portion of the document before yielding the floor to another representative to continue reading and so forth. Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said Democratic lawmakers are welcome to participate if they wish.
“We always hear members of Congress talking about swearing an oath to represent their constituents when in reality the only oath we take is to the Constitution,” Boehner said in a speech this fall. “We pledge to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. No more, no less.”
The House Historian’s Office found no record of the Constitution ever having been read aloud on the House floor, although twice lawmakers have submitted the text into the Congressional Record. Roswell Flower (D-N.Y.) did so in 1882 and Thomas Reilly (D-Conn.) in 1915, according to House Historian Matthew Wasniewski.
The historic nature of next week’s reading came as a surprise to some tea party leaders.
“That’s pretty extraordinary,” said Mark Meckler, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. “It shows the extraordinary times now. Regular people all across the country are focused on the Constitution, and the message was sent to Congress we want them to do the same.”
Akhil Reed Amar, a constitutional scholar at Yale Law School, said he supports the reading. “I like the Constitution,” said Amar, author of “America’s Constitution: A Biography.” “Heck, I’ll do them one better. Why only once in January? Why not once every week?”
But Amar added: “My disagreement is when we actually read the Constitution as a whole, it doesn’t say what the tea party folks think it says.”
Amar argues that the Constitution charters a “very broad federal power” and is not the narrow state’s rights document that tea party activists present it as.