Christine O'Donnell: First Amendment Expert or Idiot?

christine odonnell senate

You may have already seen the clip of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell betraying her ignorance of the First Amendment in her debate with Chris Coons the other night.

But in case you haven't, here it is again:


I don't know if my favorite part is when she disbelievingly asks her opponent, Chris Coons, if the separation of church and state is enshrined in the First Amendment, or if when the crowd of law students burst into horrified laughter at her asking, "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" she grinned at them like she didn't get that they were laughing at her, not with her.

To be fair, she may have been attempting to nail Coons on the fact that the actual words "separation of church and state" don't appear in the First Amendment. But her tone was almost baffled wonderment. I kept expecting her to say, "Really? The first one?"

More tellingly, she stumbled earlier in the debate when she was asked if it was true she supported repealing the 14th (defines citizenship and allows foreign-born citizens to vote), 16th (establishes the income tax), and 17th amendments. She said would not repeal the 17th (direct election of senators), but needed a refresh on what the 14th and 16th were.

Look, if you handed me a quiz right now about the amendments to the Constitution, I'd fail. I admit this. But I am not running for Senate on a platform of returning the government to the founding principles enshrined in the Constitution, nor do I drop references to it every other sentence.

If you're going to wrap yourself in the Constitution, you ought to, you know, have enough of a nodding familiarity with it that you don't need a quick refresher in the middle of a public debate. (O'Donnell claims a "graduate fellowship" at the Claremont Institute in constitutional law. She's clearly hoping that people will think the Claremont Institute is part of the well-regarded Claremont Colleges. It's not -- it's a far-right conservative think tank. And the fellowship lasted one week and granted no degree).

If you're not rock-solid on your constitutional facts, you don't snarkily challenge someone that just recited the establishment clause from memory with "Really. That's in the First Amendment." You especially don't tell that person that he "just proved how little you know about not only constitutional law but about the theory of evolution."

Christine, sweetie: I don't think it's him that just proved how little he knows.


Image via Christine O'Donnell for US Senate/Facebook

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