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Majority Makers: Justin Amash Isn’t Afraid to Walk Own Path

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Justin Amash isn’t afraid to break with the Republican Party on legislation he finds unconstitutional. According to Congressional Quarterly, in votes where majorities of the two parties opposed each other, Amash stuck with the GOP 89 percent of the time in 2011.

So why did he vote against his party on GOP proposals to ax federal funds for public radio and the reproductive health nonprofit? Because a 225-year-old document weighed heavily on his conscience.

Amash goes to extremes for more than his BBA. He's just as stubborn when it comes to the Constitution, which tends to gnaw at his brain and "trigger alarm bells in my head" as he reads bills and resolutions, he said.

"To me, the Constitution is the first thing you have to look at when you look at legislation," he said. "It's not something you look to just to find a justification to defeat legislation. You have to look to it even when it might be a subject matter that you want to support and you want to promote."

That explains the seating chart affixed to the wall to the left of Amash's desk. Smack in the center of the horseshoe grouping is Amash.

"That's me right there in the middle," he said proudly, pointing to the photo last fall.

He explained it was a class that greatly affected his life: constitutional law. He loved it so much that he bid on the seating chart at a student auction and asked his professor to sign it for good measure.

That might be one way he earned a reputation on Capitol Hill as a wonk, despite being the second-youngest lawmaker. Friedrich Hayek quotes speckle his Facebook. He keeps framed photos of the Austrian economist in his office.

When anyone wants to debate the original intent of the Constitution, Amash is always game. And his colleagues seem to know that about him.

But sometimes Amash's loyalty to the Constitution carries him away from the Republican fold. He'll vote against a measure if it doesn't toe the constitutionality line even a GOP proposal.

In the case of the NPR and Planned Parenthood votes, Amash knew that if he flipped out his handy iPhone Constitution app a tool he uses on a regular basis he'd read that Article 1, Section 9 prohibits laws that single out any one company or group. Both proposals were unconstitutional in his eyes.

However, not all of Amash's dissensions come in the name of constitutionality. With his libertarian tendencies, he sometimes disagrees with Republicans on areas of foreign policy and civil liberties, often finding himself aligned with unlikely Democrats.

He opposed a four-year extension of certain surveillance powers in the USA PATRIOT Act, for example. He rejected the fiscal 2012 defense policy law because of the controversial detainee provision allowing the president to hold without trial U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism.

Amash was the only Republican to vote against a bill that would have required "In God We Trust" to be displayed throughout government offices even though the Eastern Orthodox icons nailed above his office door show that he's religious.

"Trying to score political points with unnecessary resolutions should not be Congress's priority," he wrote on his Facebook, where he defends his every vote.

Thanks in part to stances such as that, Amash is one of the more independent-minded freshmen. In votes where majorities of the two parties opposed each other, Amash stuck with Republicans 89 percent of the time in 2011, the 25th-lowest rate among House Republicans, according to Congressional Quarterly records.

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