In one of my previous posts I touched briefly on the tension between groups backing different approaches to constitutional interpretation. Unsurprisingly, there are several school of thought that scholars can follow – strict constructionism, originalism, textualism, living constitution, living tree doctrine, moral constitution, and original intent are the main ones.*
What we haven’t discuss much here is what Americans in general think of the U.S. Constitution and its interpretation. As part of an article written by Richard Stengel, TIME conducted a survey of over 1,000 Americans back in June to see where they fell on the issues. They relayed some of their results in graphic formats for easy viewing and it’s an intriguing little peak into current attitudes. You can find the full page of graphs here.
Snippet from the Stengel article:
Americans have debated the Constitution since the day it was signed, but seldom have so many disagreed so fiercely about so much. Would it be unconstitutional to default on our debt? Should we have a balanced-budget amendment? Is it constitutional to ask illegal immigrants to carry documents? The past decade, beginning with the disputed election of 2000, has been a long national civics class about what the Constitution means — and how much it still matters.
* according to Wikipedia. So take from that what you will…
How well do you think you know The Declaration of Independence, one of the most (if not the most) significant historical documents in US history???? To figure out, answers the questions below…
- How many individuals signed the Declaration of Independence?
- Who was the oldest signer?
- Who was the youngest signer?
- Which signer had a son and grandson who became President of the United States?
- Name the delegate from Virginia who introduced the resolution for independence to the Second Continental Congress.
- Who was the President of the Continental Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted? Continue reading
Over at constitutionfacts.com, there’s an interesting and fun little list of facts about the U.S. Constitution. Among some of my favorites are:
The U.S. Constitution has 4,400 words. It is the oldest and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world.
Patrick Henry was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, but declined, because he “smelt a rat.”
A proclamation by President George Washington and a congressional resolution established the first national Thanksgiving Day on November 26, 1789. The reason for the holiday was to give “thanks” for the new Constitution.
There was initially a question as to how to address the President. The Senate proposed that he be addressed as “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties.” Both the House of Representatives and the Senate compromised on the use of “President of the United States.”
Can you imagine the nightly news reporters using that title every time they mentioned President Obama? It might double the length of your average national politics news cycle…
For Constitution Day the Public Policy Institute is conducting its annual essay contest! This year’s prompt/topic will be, “Is/Should there be a constitutional right to a minimum level of subsistence?” – Basic support needed to live on.
For example, does the constitution guarantee a right to food, water, shelter, and other basic but necessary needs to live on (e.g. by way of: food stamps, public housing, homeless shelters, ect). There are no rigid guidelines but please keep your essay under approximately 5 pages, 12 font, double-spaced.
The essays will be judged by a committee formed by the Public Policy Institute & the THREE winnings essays will receive hefty gift certificates from Cullowhee/ Sylva’s favorite businesses!
Please email your essay, by September 20th, to: PurdyJoshua@aol.com .
If you have any questions email me (Joshua Purdy) or call the Public Policy Institute at 828-227-2086.
Thank you for your participation!
There’s a lot of study surrounding what’s IN the Constitution, and rightfully so. But there are far less resources out there that attempt to detail what’s absent. From the site usconstitution.net:
Have you ever heard someone say, “That’s unconstitutional!” or “That’s my constitutional right!” and wondered if they were right? You might be surprised how often people get it wrong. You might also be surprised how often people get it right. Your best defense against misconception is reading and knowing your Constitution.
A lot of people presume a lot of things about the Constitution. Some are true, some are not. This page will detail some of the things that people think are in the Constitution, but are not.
You can find their list here. The site looks like it may well have been created in the Angelfire era of the Internet (for all you young ones, we’re talking 1996 era here), but it does have some useful articles plus full text versions of the Constitution.
A printed copy of The Constitution Annotated (image credit: The Sunlight Foundation)
One of the more fiery debates over the U.S. constitution has been that of a living constitution (the concept that the document has a dynamic meaning that takes into account contemporary societal contexts) versus textualism (the idea that the ordinary language of the Constitution’s text text should guide its interpretation). Regardless of where you might stand on the issue, we all know that the Constitution does not exist alone in a statutory vacuum: the fact is that it does get interpreted and analyzed, there are laws that relate to it, and there are literally thousands of U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with it.
So who keeps tabs on all this? To solve the problem, the Library of Congress has published ”The Constitution of the United States, Analysis and Interpretation” (otherwise known as The Constitution Annotated or CONAN) for nearly 100 years. It’s an incredibly useful resource for legal scholars and laypersons alike. The problem is that it’s not exactly in the most accessible format. It’s generally published in print form, PDFs, or if you’re lucky you can find tolerably navigable versions with hypertext links through sources like Cornell Law’s Legal Information Institute. Many claim this relative inaccessibility poses serious problems for government transparency and a healthy democracy in general. That’s why the Sunlight Foundation has been working since Constitution Day (September 17th) 2009 to get the Government Printing Office (GPO) to publish CONAN online in XML. Continue reading
Debra Jean Dean, a voiceover artist and singer, has done an excellent professionally recorded reading of the U.S. Constitution. It serves as not only a great way to get kids interested in the document but it also adds to the accessibility of the document for those who might be visually or otherwise impaired. The reading is available in mp3 format so once you’ve got it on your iPod, it could be a nice little portable civics lesson. As an added bonus, the file is free, non-DRM (digital rights management) and released under a Creative Commons License – meaning it’s even more accessible to those who want it!
Creative Commons “About” Page
Wikipedia page on DRM