August 17, 2019

Democrats and Republicans Have Two Different Constitutions

“Democratic and Republican politicians agree on one thing about President Donald Trump’s tax returns: The Constitution determines who can see them. Democrats such as Representative David Cicilline insist that Congress needs access to fulfill its “constitutional responsibilities of oversight” and evaluate possible violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clauses. Republicans such as Representative Bradley Byrne insist that the House Ways and Means Committee’s request for the returns raises “questions of grave constitutional significance.” According to Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, the request goes beyond what the Framers of the Constitution “had in mind” when they “created Article I.”

Statements such as these illustrate something important about how the Constitution figures in public life. Elected officials from both parties appeal routinely to the nation’s foundational document. But, far from serving as a symbol of “unity and common purpose,” the Constitution has come to enable, or even exacerbate, partisan strife. In political debates such as the Trump tax tussle, it often feels as if the United States has two legal charters, one for Republicans and another for Democrats.”

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