We learn about the U.S. Constitution back in grade school, with teachers covering such historical subjects as the founders, the Bill of Rights, and fun facts about the times. As we go through life though, we often lose sight of the cornerstone document of our country in the pressures of daily life.
Each September comes a reminder of our heritage in the form of a celebration called Constitution Day where schools across the country, from elementary classrooms on up through high schools and universities, take some time to reflect on the Constitution, citizenship, and other related topics. Law schools, with their obvious connection to the topic, are happy to get in on the celebration.
At Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, speakers brought history alive at all four campuses and touched on a variety of aspects of the Constitution.
In Lansing, the Cooley Center lobby was filled with people who came to hear Jonathan Sacks, the first executive director of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. The commission was created as a result of efforts to improve legal representation for indigent criminal defendants. Sacks said the commission has been working to propose minimum standards for attorneys representing indigent defendants in Michigan.
In Tampa, students, faculty and staff learned about the role of courts in society in the context of landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. A panel consisting of campus Associate Dean Jeff Martlew, and professors Jeffrey Swartz, Paul Carrier, and Brendan Beery, brought the concepts of constitutionalism clearly into focus for over 60 attendees.
“What too many people don’t understand,” Beery said, “is that the Constitution is law. So it won’t do to say that a person has done something unconstitutional, but not illegal. If it’s unconstitutional, it’s illegal. When the Supreme Court issues a judgment on a federal question, there is not a state employee in the United States who is not bound by that judgment.”
In Grand Rapids, the relevance of the U.S. Constitution in today’s political and social climate was brought to life by Warner Norcross & Judd LLP attorney Matt Nelson. Nelson made the argument that the majority of political decisions should be made by the people acting through their representatives, and not by a non-elected court. He suggested that the Court’s role should be limited to striking down laws that are contrary to the plain dictates of the Constitution.
In Auburn Hills, the 800th anniversary of England’s Magna Carta prompted a discussion of that document, and how it compares to the U.S. Bill of Rights, by speaker Ronald J. Rychlak, a professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He also gave an overview of the Bill of Rights and how it was was interpreted during the Civil Rights era.
According to We the People, “Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution by thirty-nine brave men on September 17, 1787, recognizing all who, are born in the U.S. or by naturalization, have become citizens.” Take time to read the The United States Constitution today.