As the newly divided Congress files into town, incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner is making sure the tea party knows Republicans heard their message about the need to adhere to the nation's founding document.
He has invited Chief Justice John Roberts to swear in his staff, an unprecedented ceremony in congressional history. Another justice, Antonin Scalia, is scheduled to teach Constitution 101 later this month to tea party freshmen and others in Rep. Michele Bachmann's constitutional conservative caucus.
In the meantime, all new bills will have to be justified on constitutional grounds and, to get in the mood, on Thursday the U.S. Constitution will be read aloud for the first time from the floor of the House of Representatives.
"They will be reading an amended version and all amendments," said Kathryn Rexrode, communications director for Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who is organizing the event. It is expected to take one to two hours and is open to all members of Congress on a first-come, first-served basis.
"One of the resounding themes I have heard from my constituents is that Congress should adhere to the Constitution and the finite list of powers it granted to the federal government," Goodlatte said in a statement. "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."
C-SPAN viewers will want to tune in at 10:30 a.m., when Goodlatte is expected to open with the Constitution's stirring preamble:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
After that, there may be jostling to read the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition as set forth in the 18th Amendment. In between, perhaps a female lawmaker will recite the words of the 19th Amendment, which gave women an electoral voice.
But amid the arcane grammar and British-style spelling ("defence"), there are other parts barely worth repeating. Article I, Section 9, for instance, banned the importation of slaves after 1808 more than 200 years ago.
It is not clear whether the "amended" Constitution includes clauses superseded by later amendments. But aside from rock-ribbed originalists, what lawmaker would relish seeing themselves on YouTube uttering these phrases:
Article I, Section 2. "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."
Better known as the "three-fifths compromise," this gave Southern states more seats in Congress by counting slaves as partial people. The 14th Amendment giving citizenship to all those born or naturalized in the United States (more on that later) made former slaves whole for representation, even if most of their descendants wouldn't actually get to vote until a century later.
Then there is Article IV, Section 2, the fugitive slave clause: "No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due."
The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery after the Civil War, rendered that clause moot.
Nevertheless, "amended portions remain in the document much like rings on the constitutional tree," said Middle Tennessee State University professor John Vile, an expert on the constitutional amendment process.
About the 14th Amendment: Perhaps a Democrat will want to step up to read it given that many tea party supporters and some Republican leaders have suggested it be repealed because it guarantees birthright citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Given the charge by conservatives that the Affordable Care Act violates the Commerce Clause, there may be competition among opponents of the new health care law to read Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3. Ditto for Clause 18, the "necessary and proper clause" that "is at the heart of tea party arguments as to the extent of federal powers," said Dennis Goldford, who teaches constitutional law at Drake University in Iowa.
Vile suggests leaders assign a states' rights advocate or "someone with an accent from the Deep South to read the 10th Amendment so they can dwell over" the words "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Tea party followers pushing states' rights routinely insert the word "expressly" into the phrase to back up their interpretation, said Goldford, who points out that it actually appears in the long-displaced Articles of Confederation.
Goldford suggests listening for another addition in Article II, Section 1, the presidential oath of office. It reads: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
There is no "So help me God," a phrase traditionally added and attributed, without proof, to George Washington.
Perhaps, but the unprecedented exercise is sure to remind all who watch that the Constitution is nothing if not open to interpretation.
When the U.S. Postal Service years ago proposed honoring "The King" of rock 'n' roll, the American Civil Liberties Union called the proposed stamp of Elvis Presley unconstitutional. It said in a press release that it would violate Article I, Section 9, Clause 8: "No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States."
This time, though, it was all a tempest in a teapot. The ACLU opinion turned out to be a spoof.