Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

A Message from the Director of the Peter Jennings Project to all of this year’s fellows:

March 7, 2011 by NCC Staff


First, thank you again for your commitment and enthusiasm. What a great weekend we all had!

In preparation for your follow-on, I would like to emphasize some of the points that Vic Walczak made in his remarks to the group at yesterday’s concluding lunch: the Constitution is out there everywhere, if you just take the time to look.

One general piece of advice: give a call to the local law school and take a professor out to lunch. Do not wait for there to be an article where you need the professor for a quote or as a source. Work proactively: find out what issues he or she sees as central to the constitutional dialogue in your community,

Now, some territory to consider:

1) The basic rule of thumb is to always ask, is the government involved here? The Constitution is fundamentally a document that limits government power. If there is no government action present, then there is no constitutional issue. Government, however, is a broad term. A public school teacher is “the government” as much as a policeman is the government. If the acting authority is paid with tax money, it is a government action that he or she is undertaking.

2) Technology – issues involving privacy of home computers (particularly for students), cell phones, and harmful postings (remember the example he gave of the teacher whose picture at a rowdy party was posted by someone else, yet led to her firing).

3) First Amendment issue – speech includes all forms of “expression,” not only the literal act of speaking. Religion occupies a tow-way street with the First Amendment: there can be no forced religious practice but there must also be space for free exercise.

4) Fourth amendment search and seizure issues involve information—medical records, library records, cell phone contents (including pictures) and computer contents – as well as bodily integrity, which includes, of course, abortion but also DNA, and body-imaging.

5) Equal protection: LGBT and Immigrants are hot issues but discrimination of African-Americans and gender discrimination are still widespread.

6) Due process: Difficult concept - government taking something important away or denying something important to criminal procedure.

Examine these issues in your local community to search for stories that will include constitutional content.

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