Constitution Day

Today is Constitution Day. Today we celebrate a group of racist, white, male landowners finalizing a brilliant document that could be changed to overcome their parochial limitations.

I’m not the kind of guy to chestily proclaim that America is the greatest country on Earth, but I’ll put our organizing legal document up there with anyone’s. I’ve read a lot of constitutions (3L Comparative Constitutional Law finally paying off), and I’m always impressed by our document’s ability to allow for so many different and fractious opinions on how the country should operate. Whether or not you believe in a “living” constitution in the Brandies sense of the word, that our constitution is still alive is damn impressive. As written, our president and our presidential front-runner couldn’t even vote. Half the country went to WAR to get out of the constitution, and when they lost, we didn’t even say, “Okay, let’s start over so this never happens again.” We fixed the constitution after the Civil War, but we didn’t bother to fix the South. Amazingballs.

One of the main strengths of our constitution lies in its amendment process. The thing can be changed, quite easily actually, so long as everybody agrees. And it turns out that we don’t agree very much.

To honor this document, some of us at Above the Law wanted to look at the surprising instances since 1787 when we all agreed. The Bill of Rights doesn’t count. And the Civil War amendments don’t count because, well, we didn’t really all “agree” so much as half of us got their asses kicked and had to eat it. So let’s go with any amendment after the first 15. You could make a compelling case that American political thought can be explained by which of those first 15 Amendments are the most important to you or to your life (and if you read that and thought “the 8th,” I feel so goddamn sorry for you).

But while the latter amendments aren’t likely to show up on a 1L’s list of “amendments I know by number,” they define our modern polity almost as much as the first ten. Let’s talk about them. Let’s talk about our moddable constitution…

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It’s Constitution Day, or technically Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, because it’s a holiday so nice Congress named it twice. And Congress doesn’t mess around with this event: by law, all publicly funded educational institutions and all federal agencies must provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution today. So if you see someone dressed up as a Founder today, they’re probably a teacher. Or an incompetent lawyer.

In the spirit of teaching constitutional law, and generally making learning fun, I wanted to focus on the professorial stylings of Professor Josh Blackman. A couple weeks ago, I noticed Professor Josh Blackman tweeting out memes he’d created to describe Youngstown v. Sawyer. If you can inspire a chuckle (or frankly anything) over seizing steel mills, then you’ve accomplished something. He told me that he often employs memes to hammer home his lessons. And when you think about it, memes are the perfect medium for teaching constitutional jurisprudence: you take something established and scribble new stuff all over it.

Let’s look at some of his work. Maybe readers can come up with some other clever entries….

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As an American with First Amendment rights, you’d probably assume that a “Free Speech Zone” would look something like this:

The blue on that map should represent areas where you can exercise your right to free speech. Unfortunately, for many college students, their “Free Speech Zone” shrinks considerably when on campus. One out of every six major colleges have designated “Free Speech Zones” where students are “permitted” to “enjoy” this Constitutional right, and even then there are restrictions. In these colleges, exercising your right to free speech means asking permission at least a couple of days in advance as well as having the administration “approve” your speech.

The latest example of confined and controlled speech comes to us courtesy of Modesto Junior College. As FIRE.org reports, a student found his exercise of free speech shut down on one of the worst days of the year for a college to assert its negative attitude towards the First Amendment.

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* The death toll of the latest mass shooting at the Navy Yard is 13 (including the gunman, military contractor Aaron Alexis), and people are rallying for stricter gun control laws before we’ve even had time to mourn. When will we ever learn? [New York Times]

* Today is Constitution Day, and Justice Antonin Scalia would like to remind you to celebrate — except if you think it’s a living document. If that’s the case, you can just “[f]ugget about the Constitution,” because that thing is dead, baby. [Blog of Legal Times]

* Please sir, we want some more! The Judiciary Conference has been forced to plea poverty to President Barack Obama due to its teeny tiny itsy bitsy post-sequestration budget. [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* Congrats to Kimberley Leach Johnson, the first woman to climb to the very top of the ladder at Quarles & Brady. That makes her the only eighth woman currently leading a Biglaw firm. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* And congrats to Matt Johnson, outgoing chief counsel to Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), on his return to the private sector. He’ll be taking his talents to the lobbying firm, McBee Strategic Consulting. [The Hill]

* From second career choices to no career choices: if you want to go to law school after working in another field, you should consider if it will help or hinder your applications. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

I’m always amazed by the ability of the American public to contradict themselves. People hate Congress, but consistently reelect their Congressmen. People want more government services, but don’t support tax increases. The say they hate negative ads, but allow them to be incredibly effective.

Today is Constitution Day, and the Associated Press has a new poll that’s giving Americans a chance to express their contradictory views about our beloved organizing document.

One “headline” from the poll: nearly 70% of Americans believe the Constitution is an “enduring” document that doesn’t need to be “modernized.” Although that number is going down.

So it’s perfect the way it is, except for the parts that people don’t like….

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