Rick Perry's Convenient Constitution: Views Shift With The Political Tides

August 15, 2011 4:27 pm ET

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) owes his fame in large part to his prominent statements about the federal government intruding on states' rights, but he supports imposing his repressive right-wing ideas on abortion and sexuality upon the whole nation through constitutional amendments. According to Perry, safety net spending and the direct election of U.S. senators are also on the wrong side of the Constitution.

Perry Trumpets States' Rights — Except When It Comes To His Ultra-Conservative Positions On Same-Sex Marriage And Abortions

Perry Uses The 10th Amendment To Argue Against Health Care Reform, Environmental Regulations, And National Education Standards. In a March 9, 2011, speech, Rick Perry said: "Two years ago, we also joined together, we raised our voices against Washington's continuing encroachment into matters best left to Texas. Since that time things have gone from bad to worse. Washington seizing control, or attempting to seize control, of our air permitting process, reinterpreting the Clean Air Act in a way that it was never intended to be, and in the guise of health care reform, imposing mandates on our citizens that clearly overstepped federal bounds. They've even attempted to bribe us with our own money. We've been resisting the lure of taking federal dollars that would've forced us to blindly accept national education standards, tied our hands in the way that we administer unemployment benefits. Our founding fathers very clearly spelled out exactly the powers that were enumerated to the federal government and explicitly left the rest to the states. Over the years and decades, Washington has extended its reach bit by bit until the sound concepts behind the 10th amendment were blurred and lost, and the idea of states' rights treated almost as a punchline." [Gov. Perry Speech, 3/9/11, via YouTube]

  • Perry Hinted At Secession From The Union At A Tea Party Event In 2009. As reported by the Huffington Post: "Texas Gov. Rick Perry fired up an anti-tax 'tea party' Wednesday with his stance against the federal government and for states' rights as some in his U.S. flag-waving audience shouted, 'Secede!' [...] Later, answering news reporters' questions, Perry suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union, though he said he sees no reason why Texas should do that. 'There's a lot of different scenarios,' Perry said. 'We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot.'" [Huffington Post, 4/15/09]

Perry: Texas Law Criminalizing Sodomy "Is Appropriate." From the Associated Press: "The Texas law that bans homosexual sex is 'appropriate,' Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court said it would decide a Texas case that asks whether it's unconstitutional for states to punish same-sex couples for having sex. 'I think our law is appropriate that we have on the books,' Perry said. The case the court will review is the prosecution of two Houston men under a 28-year-old Texas law that makes it a crime to engage in same-sex intercourse." [Associated Press, 12/4/02, via Amarillo Globe-News]

Perry Supports Constitutional Amendment Prohibiting States From Legalizing Gay Marriage. As reported by ABC News: "Texas Governor Rick Perry told the Associated Press today that he does support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, stripping states of the power to decide who can get married. 'Yes, sir I would.  I am for the federal marriage amendment,' Perry told the Associated Press in a phone interview. 'And that's about as sharp a point as I could put on it.'" [ABC News, 7/30/11]

  • Perry Had Previously Said That States Could Do As They Pleased With Regard To Marriage Law. As reported by the Associated Press: "Perry, who has been weighing a presidential run, said he opposes gay marriage — but that he's also a firm believer of the 10th Amendment. 'Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That's New York, and that's their business, and that's fine with me,' he said to applause from several hundred GOP donors in Aspen, Colo. 'That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.'" [Associated Press, 7/22/11, emphasis added]
  • Libertarian Reason Magazine: Perry's Contradictory Stances On 10th Amendment And Constitutional Definition Of Marriage Mean "He Is Either Confused, Or A Liar." From Reason: "Two of Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry's most cherished loves are in conflict. Those two things are the 10th Amendment ... and right-wing holy rollers, a constituency that Perry will need if he decides to seek the GOP presidential nomination. [...] Putting aside for a moment that the president has no role in the amendment process, and that with enough time and fear-mongering, the Constitution could be amended to such an extent that the 10th Amendment would be absolutely worthless, Perry's conversation with [Family Research Council President Tony] Perkins suggests that he is either confused, or a liar. For Perkins wasn't the only person Perry spoke to this week about his comments in Aspen. On the same day the Perkins interview appeared, the Texas governor told the New Hampshire Union Leader, 'If you're going to respect the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, you can't go picking and choosing' which laws to shove down the states' throats. Either way-confused or lying-Perry's lip service to the 10th Amendment appears to be exactly that." [Reason, 7/29/11, emphasis added]

Perry Supports A Constitutional Amendment Banning Abortion. In an email to the Houston Chronicle, Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger wrote: "Gov. Perry is proudly pro-life and successfully championed strong pro-life legislation in Texas including parental consent, this year's sonogram bill and a budget that significantly defunds abortions in Texas. The governor has long supported overturning Roe v. Wade, and would support amending the U.S. Constitution, with the backing of Congress and the states, to protect innocent life." [Houston Chronicle, 7/29/11, emphasis added]

  • Perry Signed A Bill Forcing Women Seeking Abortions To "Hear A Detailed Description Of The Fetus And Then Wait A Full 24 Hours" Before Undergoing The Procedure. As reported by the Huffington Post: "Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill on Tuesday that would force Texas women to undergo an ultrasound, hear a detailed description of the fetus and then wait a full 24 hours before receiving abortion care. [...] The Texas law -- which is one of the more most extreme sonogram proposals that has passed -- requires doctors to tell a woman the size of her fetus' limbs and organs, even if she does not want to know. The law also forces physicians to make an image of the fetus and the sound of its heartbeat available to a woman before she can undergo the abortion procedure." [Huffington Post, 5/25/11, emphasis added]
  • Perry Personally Pushed The Mandatory Sonogram Legislation As An "Emergency" Bill To Speed Its Passage. As reported by the Statesman: "Gov. Rick Perry today will announce that he will designate as emergency legislation a bill requiring a woman who is seeking an abortion to first have a sonogram, according to a source familiar with his plans. He will announce the push during a speech this afternoon to the Texas Rally for Life, an annual anti-abortion event at the Capitol. In 2009, the state Senate passed legislation requiring that doctors offer women sonograms, but it died in the House. Perry's legislation would go a step further because it would require that women get the sonograms. Perry's designation will allow the House and Senate to vote on the sonogram legislation sooner than they usually could." [Statesman, 1/22/11, emphasis added]

Perry Believes Social Safety Net Programs Are An Unconstitutional "Ponzi Scheme"

Perry: "Social Security Is A Ponzi Scheme" That "Even Makes Mr. Ponzi Feel Bad." From the November 21, 2011, edition of Fox News Sunday:

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX): What I'm saying is that between Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare there's $106 trillion of unfunded liabilities, and not one dime saved to pay for them. My children who are in their 20s know that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. [...] Well it, it probably is a, is a program that even makes Mr. Ponzi feel bad if he were still alive. The fact is, our children know that the money that they're putting into Medicaid they'll never see. And they need to fix it, and it is a Ponzi scheme. I don't know how you'd explain it any other way than what, what you just did. There are fewer people paying into it, and our kids are never gonna see any benefit from it. Fix it, and fix it today. [Fox News Sunday, 11/21/11, via Political Correction]

Perry: General Welfare Clause Of Constitution Doesn't Justify Medicare, But "I Don't Know If I'm Going To Sit Here And Parse...What The Founding Fathers Thought General Welfare Meant." In an interview with Newsweek, Rick Perry had the following exchange with reporter Andrew Romano:

[NEWSWEEK:] The Constitution says that "the Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes... to provide for the... general Welfare of the United States." But I noticed that when you quoted this section on page 116, you left "general welfare" out and put an ellipsis in its place. Progressives would say that "general welfare" includes things like Social Security or Medicare-that it gives the government the flexibility to tackle more than just the basic responsibilities laid out explicitly in our founding document.  What does "general welfare" mean to you? 

[PERRY:] I don't think our founding fathers when they were putting the term "general welfare" in there were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care. What they clearly said was that those were issues that the states need to address. Not the federal government. I stand very clear on that. From my perspective, the states could substantially better operate those programs if that's what those states decided to do. 

[NEWSWEEK:So in your view those things fall outside of general welfare. But what falls inside of it? What did the Founders mean by "general welfare"? 

[PERRY:] I don't know if I'm going to sit here and parse down to what the Founding Fathers thought general welfare meant. 

[NEWSWEEK:] But you just said what you thought they didn't mean by general welfare. So isn't it fair to ask what they did mean? It's in the Constitution. 

[PERRY:] [Silence.] 

[NEWSWEEK:OK. Moving on. [Newsweek, 8/12/11, emphasis original, via Daily Beast]

Perry Opposes The Constitutional Amendments That Created Income Tax And The Popular Vote To Elect Senators

Perry Favors Repealing Federal Government's Constitutional Authority To Levy Income Tax. From Fed Up! by Rick Perry: "[W]e should restrict the unlimited source of revenue that the federal government has used to grow beyond its constitutionally prescribed powers. One option would be to totally scrap the current tax code in favor of a flat tax, and thereby make taxation much simpler, easier to follow, and harder to manipulate. Another option would be to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution (providing the power for the income tax) altogether, and then pursue an alternative model of taxation such as a national sales tax or the Fair Tax." [Fed Up!, p. 126, emphasis added]

In His Book, Perry Writes Disapprovingly Of The 17th Amendment Providing For The Direct Election Of U.S. Senators. From Fed Up! by Rick Perry: "But the Progressives were not finished. They dealt another blow to the ability of states to exert influence on the federal government with the passage and ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment. That amendment established the direct election of senators, replacing the constitutionally prescribed system of state legislatures choosing them." [Fed Up!, p. 36]