u.s. constitution

The courts have been crystal clear on this matter. You have a right, under the First Amendment of the Constitution, to take photographs or video of anything in public. … the police certainly don’t have the right to look at your camera or seize your phone without a warrant.
—  Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. Watch his interview on Democracy Now! today.

September 17, 1787: The U.S. Constitution is Signed

On this day in  1787, the U.S. Constitution was signed and adopted. Constitution Day recognized all U.S. citizens, and every September 17th, schools across the country focus on teaching the history of the Constitution.

Did you know that only 38 percent of Americans can name all three branches of the U.S. government? Test your knowledge of the U.S. Constitution. Play iCivics’ Power Play, Branches of Power and Do I Have a Right? games, and take the citizenship quiz to find out if you could pass a U.S. citizenship test.

Play the Constitution USA & iCivics’ Constitution games!

Images: The U.S. Constitution, pages 1-4 (National Archives).

The House Republicans' Dangerous New Constitutional Doctrine: Repealing Laws by De-Funding Them

Yesterday morning on ABC’s “This Week,” Newt Gingrich and I debated whether House Republicans in should be able to repeal a law – in this case, the Affordable Care Act – by de-funding it. Here’s the essence:

GINGRICH: Under our constitutional system, going all the way back to Magna Carta in 1215, the people’s house is allowed to say to the king we ain’t giving you money.

REICH: Sorry, under our constitutional system you’re not allowed to risk the entire system of government to get your way.

Had we had more time I would have explained to the former Speaker something he surely already knows: The Affordable Care Act was duly enacted by a majority of both houses of Congress, signed into law by the President, and even upheld by the Supreme Court. 

The Constitution of the United States does not allow a majority of the House of Representatives to repeal the law of the land by de-funding it (and threatening to close the entire government, or default on the nation’s full faith and credit, if the Senate and the President don’t come around).

If that were permissible, no law on the books would be safe. A majority of the House could get rid of unemployment insurance, federal aid to education, Social Security, Medicare, or any other law they didn’t like merely by deciding not to fund them. 

I believe the Affordable Care Act will prove to be enormously popular with the American public once it’s fully implemented – which is exactly why the Republicans are so intent on bulldozing it before then. If they were sincere about their objections, they’d let Americans try it out – and then, if it didn’t work, decide to repeal it. 

The constitutional process for repealing a law – such as Congress and President Clinton did with the old Glass-Steagall Act – is for both houses to enact a new bill that repeals the old, which must then be signed by the President. If the President vetoes it, then the repeal can only go into effect if the veto is overridden by two-thirds of the House and the Senate. 

The Republicans who are now running the House of Representatives are pushing a dangerous new constitutional doctrine. They must be stopped. There should be no compromising with fanatics.

I’m not a sixth-grader. I’m not a lawyer, but after 20 years, I’ve been up close and personal to the Constitution. I have great respect for it. … It’s fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve passed on a number of bills. I’ve studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well-educated, and I thank you for the lecture.
—  Sen. Dianne Feinstein • Responding to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who Sen. Feinstein believed was giving her an unrequested/undesired lecture on the U.S. Constitution and the wording used in its creation. The conflict arose during a heated debate between the two on a gun control bill (sponsored by Sen. Feinstein) which would ban the sale and manufacture of more than 150 types of military weapons, and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. source

[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.

- Thomas Jefferson, 1787.

December 15, 1791: The U.S. Bill of Rights goes into effect.

The first twelve amendments to the U.S. Constitution were introduced on September 25, 1789, and ten of them (collectively referred to as the Bill of Rights) were eventually ratified and went into effect on December 15, 1791. The basic rights granted in the Bill of Rights were based on or influenced heavily by the English Bill of Rights (1689), American Revolution ideals, and the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776). The latter was drafted by George Mason, who refused to sign the Constitution without the addition of amendments protecting the rights of individual Americans (in the context of the Bill of Rights, this included only white males and excluded minorities and women). 

Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists argued against the addition of a Bill of Rights; one of their arguments was that they feared that a stated list of rights would imply that rights left unstated would not be protected at all (a fear addressed in the Ninth Amendment). But desire for a bill of rights was felt almost universally, and among the Founding Fathers the most vocal support came from George Mason and Patrick Henry. Although James Madison authored the amendments, he was doubtful of the effectiveness of this “parchment barrier”. The Bill of Rights went into effect after its ratification by Virginia, although two proposed amendments were rejected by several states, one regarding apportionment and the other regarding congressional pay raises. Specifics regarding race or gender were not explicitly mentioned, but it was tacitly accepted that the provisions of the Bill of Rights did not extend to blacks (enslaved and free alike), women, Native Americans, and land-less white men. Firmly ingrained in the culture of the United States, its people, and its government, the Bill of Rights is currently located in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom alongside the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. 

July 9, 1868: The 14th Amendment is Adopted

On this day in 1868, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.  It extended citizenship and its benefits to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” regardless of their race or gender, although it took nearly 100 years for this principle to be enforced.

Revisit a revolutionary period in American history with a special collection on “Emancipation, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow South” from PBS Black Culture Connection. 


Rare Printing: United States Constitution

This month, rare printing of the United States Constitution underwent conservation treatment in the lab at Archives I. The record, consisting of two sheets of paper, was printed by New York printer John McLean on September 29, 1787 and shortly thereafter was attached to the RG 360 Resolve Book of the Continental Congress. At some point, the record was removed from the volume and joined as a folio with adhesives that, over time, stained the left edge of each sheet.

Conservation treatment focused on removing these adhesives to the extent possible with solvents on a vacuum suction table. The solvents were applied to the affected areas in order to solubilize the old adhesives which were then pulled through the paper into a blotter below. Once the adhesives were removed, the sheets were washed in purified water, sized with gelatin, and then dried and flattened. After digital imaging, the record will be returned to the Resolve Book.

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the first time the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced in Congress. The proposed constitutional amendment asserted that, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

The ERA was drafted in 1923 by well-known women’s rights activist Alice Paul. It was first introduced in Congress on December 13 by Representative Daniel Anthony (R-KS), who was suffragette Susan B. Anthony’s nephew. The debate over the ERA continued for decades, and was reintroduced in every Congress until 1972.

While the ERA ultimately failed, it remains the most popular proposed amendment to the Constitution. About ten percent—over 1,100—of all the amendments introduced in Congress have been for the ERA.

Read more about the ERA debate on Education Updates.

H.J. Res. 75, Proposing an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution (7452156), 12/13/1923, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives

U.S. House members urge President to get approval before using force in Syria
  • 82 U.S. Representatives, including thirteen Democrats, have signed a letter to President Obama, urging him to seek Congressional approval before ordering any sort of military offensive against the Syrian government. The letter reminds the President that to strike any country which doesn’t pose a direct threat to the U.S., like Syria, without Congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution. source

August 26, 1920: The 19th Amendment goes into effect.

The 19th Amendment of the Constitution was ratified early that month, finally granting women the right to vote. In some states, mainly in the West, many women were already enfranchised (Wyoming in 1869 and later Washington, California, Oregon, and Montana); before 1920, a woman had served in Congress (Jeannette Rankin) and two women had already attempted to run for the presidency. But, for the time-being, none of these women had the Constitutional right to vote. For four decades following 1878, the issue of a Constitutional amendment providing for women’s suffrage was introduced at each session of Congress, only to be defeated each time. The exact version first introduced in 1878 was the same one that passed in 1919, forty-one years later. 

In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” Progressive Party became the first national political party to adopt women’s suffrage as part of its platform. In 1918, Democrat Woodrow Wilson also appealed heavily to the House in favor of a Constitutional amendment. Finally, in May 1919, the President called a special session of Congress to consider the proposal again; this time, the House approved the amendment, as did the Senate (after much deliberation).

Thirty-six states were needed to complete the ratification of the amendment. Thirty-five ratified relatively quickly between June 1919 and March 1920, but after the thirty-fifth (Washington), five long months passed before Tennessee, the last state needed, approved the amendment on August 18, 1920 by a narrow margin. The last state to ratify was Mississippi, which did not do so until 1984, sixty-four years after it went into effect.

The document itself was actually very brief, reading only:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The adoption of these two simple sentences was the culmination of over seventy years of activism and campaigning.


The 26th Amendment Lowers the Voting Age to 18

Today in history, July 5, 1971, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was officially certified.  President Nixon had signed the Act, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 years of age, on January 1, 1971. 

When the Founding Fathers set the voting age at twenty-one, they were following a common law tradition that went relatively unchallenged in the United States until 1942. In October of that year, as Americans fought in World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation to lower the military draft age from 21 to 18. For many, this raised the question, “if a man is old enough to serve, is he old enough to vote?”

From 1942 until 1965, members of Congress introduced over sixty resolutions to grant young people the right to vote, and in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first President to voice his support for the youth vote.

Image: Certification of the 26th Amendment, 7/5/71. From the Nixon Library.

More – The 26th Amendment on the Presidential Timeline

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
—  Thomas Jefferson on the U.S. Constitution (including the Second Amendment)
The war on terror, invented by the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney regime, destroyed the U.S. Constitution and the civil liberties that the Constitution embodies. The Obama regime has institutionalized the Bush/Cheney assault on American liberty. Today, no American has any rights if he or she is accused of “terrorist” activity. The Obama regime has expanded the vague definition of “terrorist activity” to include “domestic extremist,” another undefined and vague category subject to the government’s discretion. In short, a “terrorist” or a “domestic extremist” is anyone who dissents from a policy or a practice that the U.S. government regards as necessary for its agenda of world hegemony. The “war on terror” completed the constitutional/legal failure of the U.S.
—  Paul Craig Roberts, The U.S. is a “failed state - June 2, 2010.