October 19th, 2010
01:01 PM ET
4 years ago

O'Donnell gets Coons for Constitutional Law 101

(CNN) – Christine O'Donnell received a lesson on the Constitution at Delaware's Widener Law School Tuesday, but unfortunately for the Republican Senate candidate it came during a debate with Democrat Chris Coons.

On the issue of whether creationism should be taught in public schools, a highly skeptical O'Donnell questioned Coon's assertion that the First Amendment calls for the separation of church and state.

"The First Amendment does?" O'Donnell asked during the Tuesday morning debate. "Let me just clarify: You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?"

Watch the heated interaction, after the jump:

Coons responded by quoting the relevant text: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

"That's in the First Amendment?" a still skeptical O'Donnell replied smiling, as laughter could be heard from the crowd.

Earlier in the debate, O'Donnell flat out asked, "Where in the Constitution is separation of Church and State?" - a question that Coons did not appear to take seriously.

Matt Moran, campaign manager for Christine O’Donnell, said in a statement that O'Donnell "was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts. She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution. It was in fact Chris Coons who demonstrated his Constitutional ignorance when he could not name the five freedoms contained in the First Amendment.”

Unfortunately for O'Donnell, the Tea Party-backed candidate also stumbled over the Fourteenth and Sixteenth Amendments when asked if she would support repealing them.

"I'm sorry, I didn't bring my Constitution with me. Fortunately, senators don't have to memorize the Constitution. Can you remind me of [them]?" O'Donnell said.

Some Republicans and members of the Tea Party movement have advocated repealing the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment that grants citizenship to every individual born in the United States and the Sixteenth Amendment that created the Federal Income Tax.

Members of the Tea Party movement have also called for a repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment – the provision that calls for direct election of U.S. senators. O'Donnell was aware of that amendment and said she supported it.


Filed under: 2010 • Chris Coons • Christine O'Donnell • Delaware
soundoff (325 Responses)
  1. Tom

    A few words come to mind like bimbo, ditz, clueless twerp, idiot; yet none of these can truly describe the Delaware Phenomenom. Maybe a new word needs to discovered which can accurately depict Christine O"Donnell!!!

    October 19, 2010 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  2. Keith in SoJax

    What a wonderful spokeswoman for the GOP! I feel like I'm watching a train wreck. If I were her, I'd be suicidal after watching that video. What are we becoming?

    October 19, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  3. BAYOUE

    Yahoo and Coons gets lesson on Constitution. Nowhere does it mention, state, or imply separation of Church and State. Furthermore, Coons could not cite the guaranties of the first amendment other than his incorrect answer of Separation of Church and State. This is a pitiful attempt to try and make the Conservatives look bad but it shows the ignorance of the Liberal Media and Democratic Party. READ the Constitution. Don't take anyone else's word about what it says.

    October 19, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  4. Phil

    It seems you forgot to mention that Chris Coons could not name the five rights given in the first amendment. I also found it really ironic, that several law school students laughed at O'Donnel's remark, when she was actually correct in her assertion that the phrase does not appear in the first amendment, and it what does appear about religion in the first amendment is to protect your own religious freedom. No where does it say you are unable to have religious themes in government. If that was true, they wouldn't start congress session's with a prayer (which they often do), have In God we Trust on our money, as well as other things. The fact is that the courts have stipulated and extrapolated the meaning. Originally the idea of "separation of church and state" was focused on protecting religion from state influence, not the other way around. That the state couldn't mandate what you believe or what the church practices. It seems to have been expanded to go both ways. O'Donnel, did not say the comment smoothly or slyly, because she is not that kind of politician. You clearly should read your own constitution, and stop spreading falsehoods.

    October 19, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  5. James Denver, CO

    This isn't that surprising. Many people go on on and about how the constitution says this and that but it's very pick and choose. If the constitution doesn't favor your argument you'll ignore it and normally not bother to research. Many tea partiers and republican do this and O'Donnel is one of them.

    October 19, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  6. ToGetherWeStand

    Some much Palin's assertion that Teabaggers value our Constitution...

    October 19, 2010 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  7. MPeters

    This "is it in the Constitution" argument is tired. Judicial review, established in Marbury v. Madison, which gives the United States Supreme Court the right to judicially review constitutional law cases, is not in the Constitution. Show me where it states the United States Supreme Court is constitutionally allowed to "judicially review" things. Its not there.

    My point is...the Constitution isn't a strictly written document that doesn't require interpretation. Its why Scalia, try as he may to push Originalism in his every decision, but sometimes stray from what the actual Constitution says, because the Constitution does not directly address everything within its approximately 25-typed pages.

    And for O'Donnell's clarification, the "Separation of Church and State" is a short-hand version of the idea codified by the passage Coons cited in his debate. Jefferson coined the term in his Letter to the Dansbury Baptists. You know that founding father, who penned the document she finds most near and dear to her conservative heart.

    October 19, 2010 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  8. CathyinAZ

    All I can say is OMG – heaven help us all if the state of Delaware elects her to the Senate!

    October 19, 2010 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  9. T. Bag

    Can't wait to watch Keith Olberman tonight on this one. Evolution is a myth..... campaign manager spin....you see, candidate O'donnell was making a rhetorical statement in which if followed to it's absurdity would lead one into the most preposterous conclusions such as people with strong religious views and little knowledge of the American constitution actually being in contention for a seat in the U.S. Senate..... I mean , really....you can't take anything she says seriously. Who is feeding her the bullet points ? please tell her not to stray too far off these as she gets into trouble...

    October 19, 2010 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?"

    Coons responded by quoting the relevant text: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

    So O'Donnel was correct. The text Coons quoted is very different from a separation of church and state. the quoted text simply says no LAW can be made establishing a religion. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" had always meant that Congress was prohibited from establishing a national religious denomination, that Congress could not require that all Americans become Catholics, Anglicans, or members of any other denomination. The clause is for Freedom of religion not from it!

    October 19, 2010 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  11. vgal

    Wow – impressive. This is the woman that people want running this country? Would you hire a worker who didn't even know the FIRST rule of business in their supposed area of expertise???

    October 19, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  12. Mikemazzla

    The hilarious thing is that there are stillplenty of uneducated rednecks still voting for her. Its embarrasing for Coons to even be debating her

    October 19, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  13. Ed, Santa Fe, NM

    I don't know what's worse: O'Donnell's ignorance or arrogance.

    October 19, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  14. Joshua Ludd

    Funny how many of these "constitutionalists" don't actually KNOW much about the constitution. Its not fortunate that our representatives in government don't have to memorize the constitution.. its a goddamned SHAME that they don't.

    October 19, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  15. Erik

    Can we please have a new rule that everyone running for office has to memorize the Constitution? Seriously, it's kind of important for our elected officials to know what's in there, and it's not like it's very long. The worst part about this article is apparently neither of the candidates for the Senate from Delaware know what's in the document that forms the foundation of our system of government. Unreal.

    October 19, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  16. RC

    The Seperation of church and state is nowhere in the constitution. Both Coons and the liberal media are fools.

    October 19, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  17. GaryB

    I have the same problem with the Tea Partiers in my neighborhood (of which there are many). They claim to be strict Constitutionalists, yet they have no idea that the Constitution calls for a census, they don't believe me when I tell them that the Constitution never once mentions God, they love the 2nd amendment and don't believe that Congress can place any limitations on it, but they think the 14th amendment could be repealed by a simple vote of Congress. Still, they love to wave their little printed copies of the Constitution around as if this act somehow educates them on what's inside.

    October 19, 2010 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  18. Rob

    I am sorry. Regardless of what people personally believe in terms of Government, can we all agree that it is a good idea for our elected officials to at least have SOME understanding of the constitution they are sworn to defend. Why are we playing to lowest common denominator, we should be playing to the best.

    October 19, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  19. Laverne

    This woman is Sarah Palin's twin sister, Sarah is the mean dumb one and Christine is the nice dumb one!

    October 19, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  20. Dan

    She's not getting away with her claim that she's right because the phrase 'separation of church and state' does not appear in the Constitution. That provision of the First Amendment is universally know as the SOCAS. That's post-facto Clintonian word wringing. She was clearly stating that she didn't believe the concept was in the Constitution but was created in the courts. Wrong.

    I also wonder how her Tea Party cronies feel about the fact that she was completely unfamiliar with two of their main proposals....? It's telling that her preparation for this debate did not lead her the believe someone might ask about them. And childish a la Palin to say 'senators don't have to memorize the Constitution'. Just childish.

    October 19, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  21. carlos

    ignorant is no longer to be used on the odone witch..........completely oblivious and, well, witchy...........voters remorse in VA, MASS, NJ which will come back to haunt those voters.......it is being said that the blimp in NJ is the republiCONServatives rising star......actually, it is more like a falling boulder.

    October 19, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  22. Lucullus

    Good lord the only thing more dangerously stupid than this woman are the no nothing yahoos who support her position.

    October 19, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  23. DrD

    I hope the people who helped her win the party nomination are reading this. OR they simply don't care. OR they can't read at all.

    October 19, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  24. bdm

    oh my... i'm with megan mccain. it is terrifying to think that a woman so woefully unprepared/uneducated could become a senator and make decisions about the future of our country. can anyone say: in over her head? dear God help us.

    October 19, 2010 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  25. No Tea For Me

    Tea party people have no idea what the Constitution is. What a joke the tea party has become. They may win a few seats if enough ignorant voters vote for them. The tea party will never be allowed to lead our country. There are just too many in this country that will vote against them.

    October 19, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
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