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Mythbuster: UB Law prof takes on the tea party

A University of Baltimore School of Law professor is tackling what he calls the biggest myths being spread about the Constitution today.

In his latest book, “Wrong and Dangerous: Ten Right Wing Myths about Our Constitution,” Garrett Epps dissects what he said are misinterpretations of the country’s founding document by tea party conservatives.

“They are taking ideas that 10 years ago would have been laughed out of any court in the land,” Epps said.

The 232-page book is no law textbook, though. Epps said he wanted to write a book that people could read during the course of a plane flight or in an afternoon.

“You can sit down and read it in a couple hours,” Epps said. “It’s pretty funny. It’s not the kind of solemn book with a lot of quotations. It’s a book about current politics and the current political debate.”

Epps, who is also a contributing writer for The Atlantic news magazine, said the book started during the 2010 election season.

“I began to hear all this tea party stuff,” Epps said. “It seemed so unconstitutional and I just thought, ‘What is this?’”

Epps, who teaches constitutional law, the First Amendment and nonfiction and feature writing for law students, enrolled in a day-long tea party seminar in Virginia to investigate the party’s teachings and wrote an article on the experience for The Atlantic.

“As a result, I started reading up on their stuff and I found there is a lot of crazy stuff out there and a lot of it is mainstream,” Epps said.

After the article was published in May 2011, the Democratic Party in Arizona asked Epps to speak about to them about the topic. Preparing for the talk, Epps said he came up with his 10 conservative myths.

“I thought, ‘Now’s the time to get this out,’” Epps said. “‘Now is the time to let people know.’ That is where the book came from.”

The myths turned into a series of essays Epps published in The Atlantic during the summer of 2011. In September 2011, Epps was offered a book contract. He worked on the book for about a year, writing on weekends, and handed in the final manuscript in March 2012. The book was published in September.

“I had to flesh it out to make sure what it was saying is true,” Epps said. “I had to make each little essay twice as long as it was on the web. It wasn’t a lot of words. It was a lot of work to feel really comfortable with what I was saying.”

Epps, who has been teaching at UB Law since 2008, says the book delves into the tea party’s misunderstanding of the Second Amendment and original intent.

According to Epps, other falsehoods being told about the Constitution include that the Founding Fathers wrote the document to limit Congress’ powers; that the Constitution does not dictate the separation of church and state; and that companies have the same First Amendment rights as individual people.

“You reach a point where you have people seriously arguing this,” Epps said. “We’ve left reality behind. We are living in Crazytown.”

Epps has published several other books, including two novels and two other nonfiction works. Before coming to Baltimore, he taught for 16 years at the University of Oregon.

Epps plans to publish another book called, “American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution,” in June.