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The Importance of Constitution Day: Reflections for 2018

September 17 is Constitution Day, commemorating the signing and adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

At New England Law | Boston, our students spend hours learning the ins and outs of this important document and the impact it has on today’s legal world. In honor of Constitution Day 2018, we asked members of our faculty and student body to tell us what Constitution Day means to them. The response was fantastic (we even received a haiku from Professor Judi Greenberg!), a nod to the fact that what the framers accomplished 231 years ago is still relevant—and celebrated—today.

Here’s what members of our community had to say about the importance of Constitution Day in 2018.

The Constitution is the backbone our nation…

Pietro A. Conte
Class of 2020
The Constitution is the backbone our nation was founded upon. Its ability to adapt to our ever-changing society, while still protecting the fundamental ideals that we share as one people, is truly remarkable and deserves our recognition. The founding fathers gifted us a document that has withstood the test of time and ensured that our fundamental principles, such as the separation of powers and the importance of individual liberty, will be protected at all costs.

It is a product of its time but also timeless…

singer1200Jordan Singer
Professor of Law
On the morning of September 17, 1787, Benjamin Franklin rose to address the members of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. “I confess,” he began, “that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve.” Nevertheless, he urged its adoption. Franklin explained, “I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does.”

Even in 2018, Dr. Franklin’s assessment rings as true as ever. The United States Constitution, forged in the crucible of faction, self-interest, and errors of opinion, is nonetheless one of the most remarkable documents humanity has ever produced. It recognizes that government is necessary for a free people but not sufficient; it is hopeful about the “more perfect union” America might become but relentlessly cognizant of human flaws; it is detailed but flexible; it is a product of its time but also timeless. Like all great documents, it offers new insight and inspiration upon each rereading. The Constitution is a gift in perpetuity to the American people and to all humankind, and it is fitting that we celebrate its adoption this and every year.

Its durability shows the wisdom of the framers...

Dean John O'BrienJohn O'Brien
Dean and President

The durability of the Constitution shows the wisdom of the framers. It has been amended twenty-seven times through a process expressly described in Article 5 of the Constitution. This process provides a clear textual basis for recognizing when change is necessary, ensuring the rule of law and making it inappropriate under our system of separation of powers for unelected justices to effect that change by judicial fiat.

As Alexander Hamilton said…

Cooper_DavaleneDavalene Cooper
Professor of Law
In Federalist Paper No. 6, Alexander Hamilton (as “Publius”) defends the proposed Constitution as a check on the likely violence and disputes that would occur without the Constitution and its institutions. To think the Articles of Confederation would create a stable republic, Hamilton argues, is to “forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.” The true virtue of the Constitution is its insistence that we are governed by the rule of law, not by the rule of men and women. The institutions of government are designed to give primacy to this rule of law as we seek a “more perfect union.” The creation of our Republic is the attempt to minimize the vices of those who would seek to further their own interests over those of the people.

The Constitution depends on hard-working lawyers…

Tigran-Eldred3Tigran Eldred
Professor of Law
The Constitution, as remarkable and path-breaking as it is, is not self-executing. Instead, it depends on hard-working lawyers to fight for the rights of their clients. Whether in employment law, criminal law, immigration law, or numerous other areas, the law’s protections enshrined in the Constitution, which we justly celebrate, will continue to depend upon the legal profession’s tireless dedication.

Imagine a world with no order, no protections, no freedoms…

Brittany-ParzialeBrittany L. Parziale
Class of 2020
Imagine a world with no order, no protections, no freedoms. Imagine a world where people are unable to express themselves or practice the religion of their choice, a world where someone charged with a crime could be brutally punished with no safety precautions. Imagine a world with no legislature to enact laws, with no executive to enforce laws, with no judiciary to ensure justice. Imagine a world with no equal protection, with no due process, a world in which fundamental rights do not exist. That is not a world I would want to be a part of, and thanks to the Constitution, it is a world we do not have to fear.

It is one of the extraordinary achievements in human history…

friedman1200Lawrence Friedman
Professor of Law
The U.S. Constitution is one of the extraordinary achievements in human history. The framers devised a means by which to both contain democracy and promote democratic impulses. At the same time, they left innumerable questions unanswered. As the work of interpretation continues, we should hope that the judges and lawyers responsible for telling us what the Constitution means approach the task with the appropriate humility—particularly now, when we can no longer take for granted respect for constitutional norms that once seemed to be settled.

The Constitution is a blueprint for justice…

Haynes_DinaDina Francesca Haynes
Professor of Law
I like to think of the Constitution as a blueprint for justice and a bulwark against the tyranny of the majority. To paraphrase the inimitable Molly Ivins: I’d rather hang out with a person who burns the flag and then wraps themselves up in the Constitution than a person who burns the Constitution and then wraps themselves up in the flag.  

The Constitution is a living document…

Jasmyne Quinn
Class of 2020
I am a strong believer that the Constitution is a living document. As our world changes, the way we interpret the Constitution evolves. It is about the vast interpretation the words are given and how that interpretation adapts over time. The Constitution keeps the U.S. stable and grounded in core freedoms but allows the people to alter those interpretations as the nation progresses. For example, the Constitution was not written to provide freedoms for people of color and women. Read under today’s interpretations, the Constitution provides those freedoms for people of any race, religion, color, creed, gender, and more.

A document of foresight and subtlety...

manus1200Peter Manus
Professor of Law

As a practicing lawyer I paid no attention to the Constitution. If I considered it at all, it was in abstract terms: here was this short, aspirational document that offered a reasonably sound plan for concocting a government of dispersed powers but mostly served as a vague moral backdrop to a messy political system that favored cacophony and a lot of process. Cacophony and a lot of process seemed hugely superior to any form of authoritarianism, so that was comforting. Still, I was an environmental lawyer and I felt let down that the constitutional grounding for natural resource protection and species stewardship is the Commerce Clause. Once I became a professor and began writing and thinking about law as more than a means to an end, I grew to appreciate the foresight and subtlety of our Constitution. Its grounding in principles of liberty, privacy and equality, although historically subject to some seriously flawed interpretation, are ultimately inspired.

The Constitution: A Haiku

greenberg1200Judi Greenberg
Professor of Law
Protection, freedom / An old Constitution serves / Adapting to change

 

It represents the aspirations of the American people… 

Teixeira de Sousa_MonicaMonica Teixeira de Sousa
Professor of Law
At its core, the Constitution represents the collective aspirations of the American people. It reinforces my belief in humankind’s ability to transcend current time and place in order to “strive for a more perfect” future.  

About that Due Process Clause…

Amanda Taylor
Class of 2020
For me, the most interesting part of studying the Constitution was the areas of law not actually written but instead derived from the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. The Due Process Clause reads that "no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law.” It allowed the courts to determine what fundamental rights will be protected from government interference. Fundamental rights are not defined in the Constitution; rather, they are determined by courts. Substantive due process is a compelling field of study due to the historical significance of certain decisions. For example, the "right to marry” established in Loving v. Virginia was a monumental case at the time and has positively affected the United States since. It has been fascinating to watch contemporary courts progress and protect more fundamental rights for American citizens.

The Constitution generates discussion…

Amanda L. Gnau
Class of 2020
The United States Constitution is important to me because it generates discussion. Some will defend the Constitution as the building block of America and take it at face value while others will exhaust themselves arguing why it is flawed and can be interpreted in more ways than we can count. Whatever position you may hold on the Constitution and its many parts, you can guarantee that someone will disagree with you and challenge your belief when given the chance. The Constitution promotes national conversation, which is incredibly necessary at this point in our nation’s history.

It’s a reminder that great things can come from disagreements…

Robert-McGovernRobert McGovern
Assistant Director of Admissions 
The Constitution is a reminder that many great things come from civil—and sometimes raucous—disagreements. To this day, judges, lawyers and academics argue over our founding document: is it frozen in time and meaning, or can its mission change with the ebbs and flows of society? I think the answer is likely somewhere in the middle, and I hope the forces on either side will eventually pull us to a comfortable stalemate that benefits us all.   

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