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The Constitution This Week: Gay marriage, treason, and Facebook "likes"

May 11, 2012 by Holly Munson


News headlines, politicians, and hot-button issues come and go, but one 225-year-old document continues to emerge in our conversations about our nation’s most important questions and challenges: the Constitution. The Constitution is a big buzzword for Election 2012, and more than ever, citizens, pundits, and politicians are turning to the Constitution for answers–and sometimes ammunition, as they try to prove the Constitution is on their side.

Here’s a brief look at the top constitutional news stories and commentaries from this week.

The Constitution and... gay marriage

In an interview with ABC News, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to affirm his support of gay marriage. The announcement came shortly after Vice President Joe Biden said he supported gay marriage. Plus, North Carolina became the latest state to amend its state constitution to ban gay marriage--as well as civil unions.

The Constitution and... Facebook "likes"

According to U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson, "liking" something on Facebook does not qualify as speech and is not protected by the First Amendment.

In the case presented in the Eastern Virginia district court, six people working as employees of the Hampton, Virginia, Sheriff B.J. Roberts say Roberts fired them for supporting his opponent. This included clicking the "like" button on the opponent's Facebook page. The workers argue that being fired for this action is a violation of their free-speech rights.

Some scholars, such as Eugene Volokh of UCLA, speculated that the ruling could be appealed--and overturned--in a higher court. Volokh told the Associated Press, “It is conveying a message to others. It may just involve just a couple of mouse clicks, or maybe just one mouse click, but the point of that mouse click ... is to inform others that you like whatever that means.”

The Constitution and... treason

At a gathering in Ohio, Mitt Romney did not attempt to correct a woman who said that President Obama "should be tried for treason."

The woman commented: “We have a president right now who is operating outside the construction of our Constitution. And I do agree he should be tried for treason. But I want to know what you are going to be able to do to help restore balance between the three branches of government and what you’re going to be able to do to restore our Constitution in this country?”

Romney replied, "As I'm sure you do, I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired."

Romney later clarified that he does not believe President Obama should be tried for treason.

The definition and punishment for treason is outlined in Article III, Section 3, of the Constitution:

"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted."

The Constitution and... drones

This week Wired magazine detailed an Air Force policy that raises questions about the "incidental" surveillance of U.S. citizens. Essentially, Wired explains, "if an Air Force drone accidentally spies on an American citizen, the Air Force will have three months to figure out if it was legally allowed to put that person under surveillance in the first place."

The Constitution and... immigration

On Monday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in U.S. v. Huitron-Guizar that illegal immigrants do not have the right to own guns because they have only limited protection under the Constitution.

In other immigration news, the Department of Justice is suing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known as the "toughest sheriff in America," for discrimination against Latinos.

Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil-rights division of the Department of Justice, told the Daily Beast, "This is about public safety. It's about the Constitution."

But wait, there's more

Check out the curated links to news and commentary on constitutional issues around the web at or on the sidebar of Constitution Daily. (Note: Links are not endorsements.)

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Holly Munson is a programs coordinator at the National Constitution Center and the assistant editor of Constitution Daily.

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