It’s almost September 17th, and you know what that means – Constitution Day! Do you have your festivities all planned out yet? No? Don’t you remember there’s a federal law mandating that all schools which receive federal funds have got to put on a program about the constitution for their students on September 17 every year? And federal employees in the executive branch have to receive some training on the constitution on Constitution Day? I suppose Dick Cheney would naturally be exempt, not being part of the executive branch of government and all.
Which brings me to this handy article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
For the second year in a row, Lawrence Douglas (professor of jurisprudence and social thought at Amherst College) and Alexander George (professor of philosophy at Amherst) have brought us a handy quiz that we can all use to satisfy our Constitution Day program requirements. I regret that this article is behind a paywall so those of you without subscriptions will have to scrounge up a print copy to get the whole thing. But I quote here two questions from the quiz to give you the flavor of the program your university could be presenting to its students this September 17th. Think how much they will learn about the constitution and its relevance (or lack thereof) to our modern times!
2. Last spring (April 2007), in upholding Congress’s ban on partial-birth abortions, the Supreme Court reversed course from its decision in 2000 that struck down a virtually identical Nebraska law. From this we can infer that:
a. Constitutional doctrine organically develops over time.
b. “Constitutional doctrine” is a fancy term we give to the idiosyncratic preferences of nine unelected, unaccountable, politically appointed jurists.
c. John Roberts and Samuel Alito were less than candid in their confirmation hearings.
d. Between 2000 and 2007, the Constitution was relevantly amended in a move that passed unnoticed by everyone except the Supreme Court.
e. Between 2000 and 2007, the nature of partial-birth abortions changed in constitutionally significant ways that passed unnoticed by everyone except the Supreme Court.
4. The Bush administration’s capacious understanding of its powers is based on a controversial idea known as the theory of the unitary executive. According to this theory, the executive enjoys the power to:
a. Order all 3.2 million members of the executive branch to treat Congressional subpoenas as an unconstitutional violation of executive privilege and so to ignore them.
b. Order the Justice Department to quash contempt proceedings brought against any of the 3.2 million members of the executive branch who cite executive privilege as reason to ignore Congressional subpoenas.
c. Ignore indictments of members of the Justice Department who quash contempt proceedings against those members of the executive branch who ignore Congressional subpoenas.
d. Wear a crown, carry a mace, and dress in ermine.
e. All of the above.
No fair peeking for the answers till you really try…oh, okay. 2 is c and 4 is e. But you knew that.
Now get busy and plan your Constitution Day celebration – while we still have one.
p.s. if you are in Philly, you might want to visit the National Constitution Center.