This is Constitution Week, a time to admire and marvel at the greatest political document ever created by the minds of mortal men.
The Constitution, which replaced the worthless and powerless Articles of Confederation, was adopted on Sept.17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and subsequently ratified by conventions in 11 states. It went into effect on March 4, 1789.
The first ten amendments ratified, by three-fourths of the states in 1791, are known as the Bill of Rights. There have been 17 additional amendments since that time. Some merely adjusted some of the procedures and limitations set in the original Constitution (such as essentially limiting presidents to two terms in office). Some, such as the 14th Amendment, resulted in massive changes in society and the philosophy of government. Only one of the amendments, the 18th (Prohibition) ever reduced the freedoms of Americans (it was repealed by the 21st Amendment). All others have, in some way, expanded or clarified our liberties, which are unlike any in the world.
We are, by law, the freest people on the planet.
That doesn't mean our freedom is absolute, or that it can't be threatened. We lost some freedoms at the hands of Congress (not the terrorists) following the 9/11 attacks. Our current governor was then a congressmen and was one of the few to recognize that and have the courage to overcome the emotions of the moment and vote against the Patriot Act, which among other things, suspends the right of habeas corpus in some instances and allows the government to "disappear" people off the street without having to charge them, bring them to trial or even let their families know they've been arrested.
It's not the first time the Constitution has been "bent" during time of war. Lincoln did it in the Civil War, Wilson in WWI and FDR in WWII (the internment camps for Americans of Japanese ancestry). Nixon tried to burglarize his way around the Constitution during the Vietnam War.
Those "abridged" rights were restored when the wars ended, but we've never faced such an open-ended war as Bush's War on Terror.
It's why every American can never feel completely safe about the freedoms guaranteed under our Constitution. They work only when we continually fight to make sure they work. In our country, the framework of law gives us the battleground for those fights, rather than the streets.
It's why the courts are always filled with challenges, the important ones rising to the level of the Supreme Court, which rules on how to interpret the Constitution. It has no power to enforce its rulings, but Americans agree to abide by them, even if they don't like them -- one of our great strengths as a people that the Founding Fathers recognized and reinforced.
The Constitution works because we want it to. If we ever give that up, both it and our nation, will fade into history.
This week, read the Constitution. It's not that long. If you can, read some of the major case law, or summaries of that law, that explains how the Constitution has come to be interpreted. There are some good websites that will send you to those links. (Look up Constitutional Law --the Cornell University site is particularly good, although it can be a little overwhelming).
It's Constitution Week. Learn more about it.
-- Kelly Everitt