Paul Broun’s 4 Way Test

Today, I had the good fortune of meeting Congressman Paul Broun, who represents the good people of the 10th district of Georgia.

Now don’t get me wrong, Congressman Broun is a very nice fellow: affable, polite, and courteous. But his core philosophical foundation as a legislator, his “4 Way Test,” is seriously flawed. In essence, Congressman Broun’s 4 Way Test is four questions that the Congressman asks about “every piece of legislation that comes before the House for a vote.” And they are:

1) Is it Moral / Right?                 3) Is it Necessary?
2) Is it Constitutional?                4) Is it Affordable?

I did not have the chance to go over the finer points of this 4 way test. For example, I did not get the chance to ask him if the ordering of the questions are lexical: that is, does the first question take priority over the second, the second over the third, and so on and so on. This is a crucial question, because its answer would determine how Congressman Broun would arbitrate between competing claims generated by conflicting answers to these questions.

Putting that aside for a second, let us just focus on the first two points. I think it’s safe to assume that the Congressman is taking a natural rights position on laws: he thinks that there are things which are independently “moral/right” (in a universal sense) and those that are right only in a particular legal framework (i.e., the Constituion).

This is where the flaw lies: Congressman Broun makes a distinction where he should not. Insofar as the House of Representatives has any powers at all, it is because the Constitution grants it these powers. Therefore, every member of Congress ultimately answers to the Constitution and nothing else. In a sense, what Congressman Broun thinks is moral/right is immaterial, because ultimately he is bound by the Constitution.

In otherwords, the Congressman has the order of his 4 way test reversed: the first question should not be whether the legislation is “moral/right,” but whether it is constitutional.

But where is the disturbing part, as I’ve alluded to in the title? Well the disturbing part comes in when he said that he determines what is moral/right by holding up a FUCKING BIBLE!!! Look, I’m not prejudiced against religious believers, but did not the First Amendment explicitly reject religious reasoning as a justification for public policy? Since when did the Bible trump the Constitution when it comes to public policy?

Wait, don’t answer that.

One more point of hermenuetical interest: the Congressman interprets the Constitution by passing out copies of The Federalist Papers to his staff. There isn’t anything inherently wrong in using the Federalist Papers as an interpretive tool, but if it is the only tool, then there is something to be concerned about. As a general point about interpretation, if you only use one commentary to view what is an incredibly vague document, you have a problem as a matter of scholarship.


One Response to “Paul Broun’s 4 Way Test”

  1. ModCon Says:

    Do you think Dr. Broun applied his four-way test when he blew more than 80% of his office budget on politically motivated, franked literature? Is it moral/right to spend taxpayer money entrusted to you to serve your constituents on campaign literature? Um, no.
    Is it constitutional? The Constitution doesn’t expressly forbid it, it doesn’t expressly allow it either. Broun is famous for saying if it is not in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution then congress can’t do it; I’m pretty sure inundating your constituents with junk mail is not.
    Is it necessary? To get reelected maybe, but not to effectively serve your constituents.
    Is it affordable? I would prefer that my congressman have a staff to help him analyize and evaluate the enormous amount legislation he is responsible for voting on. I guess he doesn’t need to read the bills “God will speak to him.”

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