The Cato Constitution

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On World News Tonight on August 8, ABC News reported that its late anchor, Peter Jennings, always carried a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket and had ordered 100 copies to hand out. out. His copy, displayed on screen, was Cato's pocket edition of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, with a preface by senior fellow Roger Pilon.

That was no surprise to the Cato Institute. A few years earlier executive vice president David Boaz read in a newspaper article that Jennings had pulled out his pocket Constitution at a commencement address, so he sent Jennings a few copies of the Cato edition. Jennings called Boaz and told him that he always carried the Cato edition and was delighted to have extra copies.

Jennings isn't the only prominent American to rely on the Cato Constitution. Members of the U.S. Senate have often been seen on C-SPAN and other television shows reading from their pocket Constitutions — as unlikely as that may seem to observers of Congress's actions. For example, Sen. Robert F. Byrd (D-WV) was recently seen waving the Cato Constitution throughout an hour-long floor speech on C-SPAN and also in an interview on Meet the Press. As Boaz once told a New York Times reporter in an e-mail interview: "Unlike most senators, Sen. Byrd remembers that the Constitution delegates the power to make law and the power to make war to Congress, not the president. But if he really took the Constitution seriously, he'd realize that the limited powers it gives the federal government wouldn't include many of the New Deal and Great Society programs that have opened up whole new vistas for pork in West Virginia."

It even shows up in fiction: the Showtime movie DC 9/11 showed a White House aide waving a copy of the little burgundy book in the Oval Office.

Since its first publication in 1998, Cato has distributed more than four million copies of the pocket Constitution. Copies have been distributed to all members of Congress, all state legislators, all federal judges, many student groups, and a group of 2,000 Russian political leaders visiting the United States through the auspices of the Library of Congress.

Last fall Cato published a bilingual Spanish-English edition of the pocket Constitution. Launched as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, the bilingual pocket Constitution brings the founding documents of the United States to new citizens who don't yet read English, or who want to use the English and Spanish texts on facing pages to improve their understanding of English.

The pocket Constitution can be purchased at major bookstores and online booksellers. It's also available at some National Park Service stores and has been a big seller at Restoration Hardware. Many people have bought copies in bulk to give to friends, family, customers, schools, and others. Earlier this year, a bilingual Arabic-English edition was prepared and distributed in Iraq.

Copies of both the original edition and the Spanish-English edition can be purchased at bookstores or from www. cato.org/constitution. Or call 800-767-1241 for prices on bulk orders.

This article originally appeared in Cato Policy Report on September 1, 2005.