September 16, 2021
Sept. 17 is Constitution Day – marking the 234th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Schools that receive federal funding across the nation are required, by federal law and regulation, to offer a presentation or program about the Constitution to their students.
How better to commemorate and honor the signing of the Constitution than by reading it?
The original text of the Constitution is just over 4,500 words – less than 10 pages – and requires 15 minutes for the average person to read. It isn’t written in complicated legal language, but language intended for the common man or woman. In other words, it is meant to be understandable and accessible so all Americans can gain a basic understanding of how their government should operate and what its purposes are.
In fact, the Constitution details its purposes in its introduction: the preamble. Those purposes include establishing justice, ensuring domestic peace, providing national defense, promoting general welfare and securing the liberty of Americans present and future. The remainder of the Constitution details the structure of government and the political and policymaking processes designed to accomplish those purposes.
If you want a brief introduction to the Constitution that aids in a deeper understanding of it, followed by the Constitution’s full text, see Sutherland’s blog post on the Constitution. For those desiring a deeper understanding and appreciation of the American Constitution, Sutherland has brief discussions on other documents and events foundational to the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers, and one of the Supreme Court’s most significant early rulings, Marbury v. Madison, including links to online copies of those documents so you can read them for yourself.
In other words, perhaps the best way for us to commemorate Constitution Day this year is to read the Constitution, deepen our understanding and appreciation of it, and share what we learn with our families and friends. So many policy debates and disagreements – from debates about race to education to foreign policy and everything in between – would be better informed and properly grounded through increased understanding of our Constitution.
Knowing the Constitution better doesn’t mean we will magically agree on everything. However, it would likely lead us to disagree better: to disagree in ways that eventually lead to shared understanding and eventual consensus through principled compromise. That may be bad for those politicians whose voting base is motivated by division and for those advocacy groups who fundraise off fighting (but never resolving) political and ideological battles. But it would be good for America.
So this Constitution Day, read the Constitution. Through civics education, we can make America what the framers dreamed it would become: a more perfect union.
Even though the Supreme Court does not resolve a large proportion of the cases that are presented to it, the decisions it does issue reverberate to affect many other disputes through the principle of precedent. Its decisions on a handful of cases can, over time, expand and contract the rights of the entire nation.
For many voters, 2020 may have been their first experience with voting by mail. However, VBM in both the United States and Utah specifically is not new. In America, VBM has a history that spans centuries.
The judiciary branch is designed as a responsive, not proactive, branch of government. The court can’t tell Congress not to pass an unconstitutional law or tell the president not to issue a legally invalid order. It must wait until after those actions take effect and someone challenges them.