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Constitution Week is super serious

BY WILL MATTESSICH | SEPTEMBER 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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Apparently, Constitution Week isn't serious enough. According to some in Iowa City, the tone of the mass email sent from Associate Provost Tom Rice's office to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution was too lighthearted. It talked about Constitution-theme coffee and free pocket copies of James Madison's opus.

Come on, Iowa City, get serious and stop making light of the Constitution. It's getting offended. It definitely has feelings; it's a living document, after all.

The scope of disagreement and discussion driven by the Constitution underscores the importance of having events commemorating the Constitution in our community. Especially a vibrant community such as Iowa City, with profane professors, frequent protests, recurrent searching and seizing.

Notorious originalist and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has a few things to say about the amount of life in our founding document. He feels that it should be interpreted by determining what the words meant to the framers when they wrote it.

In 2008, Scalia said, "A Constitution is not meant to facilitate change. It is meant to impede change, to make it difficult to change." So don't be surprised if the cashier is slow when you pay for your Bill Of Rights Coffee this week.

To be honest, thinking that the framers of the Constitution put the pen down and left a document completely defining a free society seems like a bit of a stretch. The framers drafted articles and amendments about searches and seizures in an era before wiretaps, cyber-surveillance, and Transportation Security Administration security groping. They even punted on some issues, such as defining presidential power.

The fact is, it's a 224-year-old document that no one can definitively interpret. Except maybe U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, according to many of his ardent supporters. (I just mentioned Ron Paul, meaning the online readership of this column today will at least double.)

Ron Paul.

Ron Paul.

(Our online readership just passed the New York Times.)

Anyway, it's that ambiguity that makes the document so remarkable. The Constitution allows society to change with the times while setting guidelines to ensure essential liberties. It's up to the American people to elect leaders that will uphold the values the Constitution espouses, and they can only do that if they know what's in it. It's a work that should be understood by every citizen, not just the academic and political elite.

Barack Obama was a Constitutional-law professor, but that doesn't mean we have to accept his definition of his authority to use military force. We can't dispute his Constitutional interpretation at the ballot box if we're unable to form our own opinion. Not everyone is going to take a course on Constitutional law or history, but maybe seeing star-spangled gelato scooped will induce some Iowa City residents to learn something about it before they go out to exercise their 21st Amendment rights. (Or the 18th if they're a city councilor.)

Ron Paul?

There is one point on which I must object to the "Constitution Day" mass email. The email says the Constitution is "… the source of rights, freedoms, and responsibilities of citizens," but that's not quite right. The framers believed that the rights, freedoms, and responsibilities of the citizens come from the will of those citizens, not from the government or any piece of paper. They even started the first line with "We the People …"

The Constitution Week events make our founding document more accessible and thus make our union more perfect. Lighthearted events that get students and residents thinking about their Constitutional protections and the role of their government can do nothing but good. One might even say that such events are necessary and proper (am I interpreting that correctly?).

Ron Paul.

Let's all take this opportunity to reflect on our country's founding and the unique role of our Constitution. The further our Constitution moves from the hearts and minds of the people, the further our society moves from the ideal republic. Seriously.


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