Congresswoman Absurdly Claims that Lack of Dental Care Constitutes a Denial of Constitutional Rights

Our Constitution guarantees us government subsidized cavity treatment, root canals, and teeth cleaning…At least, that is what Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee would have us believe. One would expect her to provide her colleagues with a more reasoned analysis of constitutional law. After all, the congresswoman’s website trumpets her B.A. in Political Science from Yale University—with honors. In addition, she earned her law degree from the University of Virginia Law School. A significant regimen of constitutional law is required to graduate. Yet, instead of defending the Constitution with her extensive legal education, the congresswoman chose to rhetorically desecrate our founding document on the floor of the House of Representatives recently.

During House debate on legislation aiming to repeal the Orwellian named “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee argued that such repeal would violate the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.

According to the congresswoman, “The Fifth Amendment speaks specifically to denying someone their life and liberty without due process. That is what HR 2 does… In my own county, Harris County, this bill will allow some 800,000 uninsured…citizens…to be insured… Can you tell me what is more unconstitutional than taking away from the people of America their Fifth Amendment rights, their Fourteenth Amendment rights, and the right to equal protection under the law? I know that Mr. Land who suffers from schizophrenia with his family, Miss Betty who had to go to the ER room in Texas because of no insurance…or Mrs. Fields, whose mother couldn’t get dental care…would question why we’re taking away their rights.”

Does the Constitution really guarantee us the right to cavity fillings, root canals, and teeth cleaning? Does the Constitution guarantee us any government health assistance at all? Let’s take a brief look at the amendments of the Constitution which Representative Sheila Jackson Lee spoke so passionately about. Rather than follow her lead in taking a few words out of context, take a few moments to review the relevant portions of both amendments.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states the following:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The concept of “due process of law” encompasses both substantive due process and procedural due process. Substantive due process protects the citizen against government actions that would encroach upon rights guaranteed in the first eight amendments of the Constitution– such as freedom of religion, speech, the press, and keeping arms– along with protections against other fundamental rights. Fundamental rights are those rights which government has neither the power to grant nor the power to take away. Neither our founders nor Supreme Court precedent suggests that welfare or government programs constitute “fundamental rights”.

Procedural due process ensures that the law will be followed and applied fairly before life (capital punishment), deprivation of liberty (including imprisonment), or property forfeiture results from law enforcement proceedings. In the twentieth century, the Supreme Court extended these procedural “due process” protections to some government actions which deprive an individual citizen of access to a government program–such as jobless benefits, disability benefits, or a public education.

This procedural due process analysis has NEVER been applied to legislation which restricts access to a program to the general population. Rather, procedural due process in regards to government programs involves determinations regarding whether a person meets a guideline requirement for a program. For instance, suppose a person is receiving Social Security Disability Insurance. “Due process” must be followed when the government makes a determination that the recipient no longer meets the guidelines for such assistance.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson’s Lee’s suggestion that repeal of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” would result in the deprivation of property without due process finds NO support in Supreme Court precedent or in historic constitutional law analysis. This newly established entitlement benefit does not fit the constitutional definition of “property”. Therefore, Fifth Amendment “due process” is not required in passing legislation repealing the entitlement.

During the same House session, the congresswoman also proclaimed, “I really want to refer to the 14th Amendment that allows and guarantees you equal protection under the law. If this bill is repealed…a hemophiliac will probably be questionable because he would have lifetime caps…maybe he would not be guaranteed equal protection of the law…the Constitution needs to be protected …maybe they would not be able to withstand this onslaught of their rights because the Constitution guarantees them equal protection and some who have insurance and some do not are not treated equally.”

Once again, let’s consult the Constitution. The relevant portion of Amendment 14 states

…No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Equal Protection Clause enshrined in our Constitution the founding principle that “all men are created equal” under the law. The law must be applied equally to each individual regardless of economic class, race, gender, religion, or ethnicity. The congresswoman cannot point to any Supreme Court case which suggests “equal protection under the law” is related to equal consumption of goods or services. Yet, she brazenly stated on the floor of the House that because people are not “treated equally” in insurance coverage, the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause is violated. Her views may align with Karl Marx on this matter; but they certainly don’t align with our Constitution.

The congresswoman took an oath of office that: “I…do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States…that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same… So help me God.” Should we give the congresswoman the benefit of the doubt?  Is she merely ignorant of the clear meaning of these foundational constitutional protections?  Sadly, her legal education suggests a deliberate contortion of the Constitution. If so, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee stands in violation of her oath of office.

Like Esau of the Bible, she chooses to exchange our birthright—the Constitution– for a cup of porridge. She exchanges our rights of equal protection of the law and due process for government subsidized dental care.