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Small Size, Enormous Importance

The Popular Item Around Capitol Hill Is the Pocket-Sized Constitution, Allowing Lawmakers to Delve Under Their Lapels to Reference ‘the Law of the Land’

Douglas Graham/Roll Call

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Forget about BlackBerrys and American-flag lapel pins. The hottest accessory on Capitol Hill is the pocket-sized copy of the Constitution.

During a recent interview, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner pulled out his copy to cite the 14th Amendment on public debt, while Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has been photographed gesturing with his portable Constitution.

And countless staffers, tea partyers and activists carry their own.

One of the main producers of these diminutive documents is the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. It gives away copies to politicians and everyday citizens. 

“The Constitution is the law of the land, and we think it’s important for people to know what the law is,” said David Boaz, executive vice president of Cato. “We want American citizens to read the Constitution.”

In a sense, Cato is like the Gideon missionaries who leave Bibles in hotel rooms, spreading the word around the country. 

Aside from the millions of copies of the Constitution it has distributed, the think tank has also printed 12,000 copies of a Spanish translation of the Constitution and 8,000 copies of an Arabic translation.

“We think the principles in the Declaration of Independence are universal,” Boaz said, “and we like to get people to talk about them in all sorts of places.”

He has noticed a rise in the popularity of pocket Constitutions over the past decade, which he attributes to the constitutional discussions on issues such as the USA PATRIOT Act, the Wall Street bailout and the health care bill. 

The Heritage Foundation also prints pocket Constitutions in English and Spanish, although the latter is still getting off the ground. At this point, it has distributed 3.5 million in English and 500 copies of the Spanish-language version, which became available in March.

Israel Ortega, editor of Libertad.org, Heritage’s Spanish-language website, said the introduction of the Spanish-language version of the pocket Constitution has been successful so far, and many view it as a “great resource.” 

Zeldon Nelson, CEO of the conservative National Center for Constitutional Studies, also said he’s seen an uptick in interest. 

“Thousands of local groups, such as the tea
partyers, fear that our politicians and government leaders are undermining  our nation,” Nelson said, explaining that the groups “are buying tens of thousands of copies to distribute, in order to re-educate the American citizenry about our constitutional republic.”

Nelson’s group has produced 8 million pocket Constitutions in recent years. 

“One goal of the NCCS is to have every American citizen read the United States Constitution, the supreme law of the land, and to understand it,” Nelson said.

But it’s not just the right that is carrying around copies.

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