Courtesy of PJ Media, here’s a revelation that’s somehow nowhere near as shocking as it ought to be. Yesterday on Capitol Hill, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius admitted that she didn’t bother to check the Constitution or judicial precedent before going ahead with the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.
Asked by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) what tests of legal interpretation she used to determine that the mandate struck the right balance with religious liberty, Sebelius answered:
Congressman, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to understand the nuances of the constitutional balancing tests[.] […] I am not going to wade into constitutional law, I’m talking about the fact that we are implementing a law that was passed by the Congress, signed by the President, which directed our department to develop a package of preventive health services for women. We have done just that with the advice of the Institute of Medicine, and promulgated that rule.
Note well that the combination of congressional votes, presidential signatures, and the opinion of the Institute of Medicine amounts to somewhere between nada and zilch when it comes to constitutional law.
Not-Lawyer Sebelius then admitted that she didn’t even attempt to cure her ignorance before making policy:
GOWDY: Before this rule was promulgated, did you read any of the Supreme Court cases on religious liberty?
SEBELIUS: I did not.
In response, Gowdy took some time to inform the secretary of several such cases, in which the Supreme Court overwhelmingly sided with religious groups over “compelling government interests.” The stage set, Gowdy grilled Sebelius again:
GOWDY: So when you say you balance things, can you understand why I might be seeking a constitutional balancing instead of any other kind?
SEBELIUS: I do, sir, and I defer to our lawyers to give me good advice on the Constitution. I do not pretend to be a constitutional lawyer-
GOWDY: Is there a legal memo that you relied on, at least when-
SEBELIUS: I relied on discussions.
GOWDY: At least when Attorney General Holder made his recess appointments there was a legal memo that he relied on. Is there one you can share with us?
SEBELIUS: Attorney General Holder clearly runs the Justice Department and lives in a world of legal memos.
Nobody expects every politician or administrator to be a full-blown constitutional scholar. But Sebelius’ complete disinterest in the Constitution is an inexcusably drastic lurch in the opposite direction. I didn’t check precedent; Congress’s and the president’s approval was good enough for me… Sebelius thinks the constitutionality of her department’s actions is somebody else’s problem.
That’s not how it works. Just like all other federal officers, Sebelius took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” She’s not supposed to just pass the buck on to the lawyers and the courts; it’s her responsibility to do the homework necessary to ensure that she’s not breaking the law in the course of her duties. That means looking up the precedent, consulting with legal authorities, reading the Founders’ explanation of their intent, and, believe it or not, flipping through the Constitution once in a while.
Seriously, Kathleen, it’s not that bad. My pocket copy’s only thirty pages. The First Amendment is just forty-five words. Reading the Constitution: so easy a Cabinet secretary can do it!
To those of us who’ve been paying attention, it’s no surprise that religious liberty isn’t a concern for the Obama administration, but one still can’t help but be taken aback by how little they try to mask their dereliction of duty.