While the Constitution is a source of our most cherished and unifying political ideals, it also provokes some of our sharpest quarrels as its principles and protections are debated. At a time when corrosive partisanship distorts political dialogue, the Constitutional Spotlight Series provides a forum for civil debate. It is dedicated to the idea that robust and open dialogue is fundamental to America’s constitutional legacy.
Each issue of the Constitutional Spotlight Series offers a variety of perspectives and insights and a clear, straightforward overview of important issues in the news. Plus, use the discussion questions included with each issue to spark conversation in your classroom, in your community, or around the kitchen table.
To learn more about the Constitution and current issues, visit the Center’s blog, Constitution Daily.
For more than a decade, the question of whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry has divided Americans and sparked a sharp debate about the purpose of marriage and the claims of equality. The debate continues to play out in the courts and at the ballot box.
Charles J. Cooper, a partner at Cooper & Kirk, PLLC, makes the constitutional case for the traditional, gendered definition of marriage. William N. Eskridge Jr., the John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School, argues for marriage equality.
Following bitter partisan dispute, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 to overhaul the nation’s health care system and extend medical insurance coverage to more than 30 million people. Legal challenges to the law focus on whether Congress has the constitutional authority to compel citizens to buy health insurance in the interest of regulating an interstate economic market.
Does the decision to commit American troops to combat require authorization by Congress, or may the president act alone? This question, debated throughout American history and especially over the last 50 years, took on renewed urgency in spring 2011 when President Barack Obama—acting without authorization by Congress—committed American warplanes to military action in Libya. After more than two centuries of constitutional history, the respective war powers of the president and Congress are still disputed.
It sounds straight-forward: Simply count heads and use a mathematical formula to insure that each state is represented fairly. But the subject of congressional representation, and how political power should be divided, was born in conflict at the Constitutional Convention and has been a matter of intense political controversy ever since.
The release of formerly classified documents and government cables by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks in 2010 posed a dilemma: The government often has exclusive possession of information that would be of value to informed public debate. But government officials often insist that such information must be kept secret, for reasons such as national security.
The task of selecting a Supreme Court justice or federal judge is challenging, but it is also coveted—because a selection can stretch the influence of that presidency for a generation or more. Through most of American history, presidents have frequently succeeded in this constitutional assignment only after waiting out or overcoming a struggle with the political forces that have developed around the process of Senate confirmation of presidential appointments.
Do the children of illegal immigrants automatically become U.S. citizens when born on American soil? Under current interpretations of American law, the answer is yes. Since the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, all persons who are born in the United States become citizens if they are “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” However, the exact meaning of that phrase has become controversial with the rising tide of illegal immigration during the past 20 years. And in Arizona and other states, legislators are proposing to deny state-issued birth certificates to children of illegal immigrants, which may spark a Supreme Court challenge.
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