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Tea Party Nation Prez Wants to 'Rewrite' Constitution; Thinks Allowing Only Landowners to Vote 'Makes Sense'

Judson Phillips runs one of the largest Tea Party social networks, and thinks too many young and poor people are voting. So he'd like to change the Constitution.
 
 
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When Tea Partiers talk about the U.S. Constitution, it's usually with a sense of veneration for a document that's seen to be divinely inspired, written by a group of seemingly infallible Founding Fathers. That sense of Constitutional mysticism, however, may only -- for at least one Tea Party leader -- extend to the document when useful for accusing liberals of violating it.

Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation, just loves the United States Constitution -- except the parts he'd like to rewrite. Like Article III, for example, which establishes an appointed federal judiciary as a check against the occasional tyranny of the mob, and allows justices and judges the independence that comes from not having to suck up to corporate interests for campaign contributions, which is exactly what they'd have to do if they were elected officials, as Phillips thinks they should be. Instead of having the president -- the elected representative of the people -- appoint the Supreme Court, he'd prefer to have the dollars of oil magnate David Koch do it.

That's what Phillips said, in not so many words, on his Nov. 16 Tea Party Nation podcast:

"Article III needs to be rewritten....When Article III of the Constitution was written, the judiciary was considered to be the weakest branch of the government. But in 1803, the Supreme Court gave itself the powers to declare laws unconstitutional, and as soon as they did that, they suddenly became the most powerful branch. And, unfortunately, they have lifetime tenure, and what we have to do -- at least, this is my opinion, people may disagree with me and I'll certainly entertain other opinions -- but what I think we have to do is to rewrite Article III to make judges subject to a popular vote. Let 'em have six-year terms, just like United States senators do, and that will run all the way down from the justices on the Supreme Court down to federal district judges in your local hometown."

Even his guest, North Carolina Freedom president David DeGerolamo, took pause at that suggestion. "But you're making the assumption that the people will vote based on the most qualified person," DeGerolamo replied.

"Actually, the assumption I'm making," said Phillips, "is that it will put the fear of God into the judges, and that the next time the ACLU wants to come along with some lunatic proposal to let prisoners out or prevent reasonable restrictions on child molesters or things like that, these judges will think long and hard about signing, or, uh, finding for the ACLU when they have to face the voters in a couple of years."

This led DeGerolamo to concede that while elections may not be the best way to select judges, "I don't see any other choice."

But the real problem Phillips had with the judiciary was not its rulings on prison overcrowding or the privacy of felons; it was a federal court's stay of Arizona's law, passed earlier this year, that would allow local law enforcement to stop anyone who "looked" like they might be in the country without documentation and demand to see their papers. That was the discussion that led to Phillips' comments on Article III.

Of course, you can't actually "rewrite" any article of the Constitution; through a deliberately cumbersome process, amendments can be added to the Constitution that may nullify provisions of an article, or to codify rights not expressed in an article.

While the U.S. Constitution, as originally written, left it to the states to determine who is allowed to vote, Phillips contends that the colonial tradition of allowing only landowners to vote may not have been such a bad thing. As reported by Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind at their site, Tea Party Nationalism, Phillips offered this:

"The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn't you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you're a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you're not a property owner, you know, I'm sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners."

Now, it's a little unfair, as some sites have reported, to say that Phillips was advocating that position for the present time. He was, as I hear it, saying that restricting voting rights to property owners "made sense" for the time, in his view. Which is troubling enough.

But when DeGerolamo suggested that voting be reserved today as a right for those "who pay taxes," Phillips seemed to be totally down with that.

It's important to note what Tea Partiers mean when they talk about those who "pay taxes" -- they generally mean income tax. If that's what DeGerolamo means, what he's saying is that poor people, who pay payroll taxes for their future Social Security and Medicare, would not be allowed to vote, because their earnings fall below the line of taxable income.

And why stop there? DeGerolamo, whose North Carolina Freedom is a chapter of the FreedomWorks-allied Tea Party Patriots, suggests repealing the 14th Amendment, which gave the freed slaves the right of citizenship, and which confers birthright citizenship on all Americans.

Phillips wants to repeal the 16th and 17th amendments, which respectively created the federal income tax and changed the election of the Senate to direct popular vote. (Senators used to be elected by state legislatures.) Phillips also wants to repeal the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18.

Even DeGerolamo had a problem with that last one, seeing as that would prohibit a significant portion of the military from voting.

Some on the Right will say that Phillips' views don't reflect the main of the Tea Party movement, but I just witnessed a live chat sponsored by FreedomWorks, the big astroturf group chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, in which participants called for disallowing anyone "receiving a welfare check" from voting, and one other called for the repeal of the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery and indentured servitude.

Tea Party Nation is, according to Bill Berkowitz at BuzzFlash, the third largest Tea Party social network, with more 31,000 members. It's the organization that sponsored the Tea Party Nation Convention at which Sarah Palin spoke last year (for a reportedly six-figure fee) -- the same convention at which Tom Tancredo, recently defeated in a third-party bid for Colorado's governor's mansion, called for literacy tests for voting rights. Berkowitz's piece features an interview with Devin Burnhart, who examines some of the core beliefs of Judson Phillips and Tea Party nationalists.

With their big wins in state legislatures and Congress last month, Tea Party leaders and their followers are feeling emboldened to say just what they mean: that the poor are not real Americans, and deserve no place at the table; that the Constitution is insufficiently beholden to corporations and mob rule, and needs to be rewritten; that people with brown skin should be held to a different standard than those with white skin.

No further proof needed: For at least some of its followers, the Tea Party movement's mission is the maintenance of privilege for white people with land.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.