Constitution Daily

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Top 10 constitutional news stories of 2010

December 21, 2010 by Dr. Steve Frank


As the year draws rapidly to a close, Constitution Daily invites you to pick the top constitutional news story of 2010. To help jog your memory, here, in roughly chronological order, are the 10 most significant stories of the year, as selected by the staff of the National Constitution Center. After you’ve read them, please leave a comment and let us know which story you think topped the news.

1. Citizens United

The Supreme Court’s decision January 21 in the Citizens United campaign-finance case unleashed a torrent of controversy and a flood of campaign cash throughout the midterm-election season. By a 5-4 vote, the justices ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in elections. Supporters of the decision said it vindicated the First Amendment’s most basic free-speech principle – that the government has no business regulating political speech. Opponents, including President Obama, said that allowing anonymous corporate money to flood the political marketplace corrupted democracy.

2.  Health Care Reform

The debate over health care that divided the nation for more than a year before President Obama’s sweeping reform law was enacted in March, showed no signs of abating at year’s end. Following the midterm elections, newly empowered congressional Republicans threatened to repeal the law, and federal courts across the country began weighing in on its constitutionality. At issue was the “individual mandate,” a provision of law that would require everyone to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.

Immigration protest sign
A protester against Arizona's strict immigration policy

3.  Immigration Reform

In April Arizona enacted the nation’s toughest law on illegal immigration, reigniting the bitter national debate over immigration reform. The law makes failure to carry immigration documents a crime and gives the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Acting on a lawsuit brought by the Obama administration, a federal judge in July blocked the law’s key provisions from going into effect. At year’s end an appeals court was hearing Arizona’s challenge to that ruling.

4.  Ground Zero Mosque

Beginning in May and gaining momentum throughout the summer and fall, the controversy surrounding the so-called Ground Zero Mosque became fertile ground for political debate. Opponents of the project to build a mosque and Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, two blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center, said it would be an inappropriate desecration of hallowed ground. Supporters maintained that the First Amendment protected the right of developers to build the mosque and that its construction at that site would affirm American values of religious tolerance.

5. McDonald v. Chicago

In McDonald v. Chicago, a landmark decision handed down in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right to own guns is an individual right that applies against all levels of government – in legal lingo, that the Second Amendment is “incorporated” against the states via the 14th Amendment. In the aftermath of the decision, state and local governments and the courts were left to determine what laws regulating firearms might apply to a citizen’s right to have weapons in the home for self defense.

6.  Elena Kagan

When Elena Kagan took her seat on the U.S. Supreme Court bench on the first Monday in October, it marked the first time in history that three women – justices Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – were serving together on the Court. Kagan, who was appointed in May by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate in August, became the fourth woman to serve on the Court.

7.  Tea Party Movement

The influence of the Tea Party movement helped shape the outcome of November midterm elections, in which Republicans captured control of the House and narrowed the Democratic margin in the Senate. The movement, the most visible and energized political phenomenon of 2010, became a lightning rod for popular anger with the huge bail out of Wall Street in 2008 and soaring budget deficits. On constitutional issues, Tea Partiers called for limited government, with many arguing that during the Progressive and New Deal eras America abandoned its founding principles.

8.  WikiLeaks

The whistleblower website WikiLeaks began publishing classified U.S. State Department cables in November, igniting a storm of controversy over government secrecy and freedom of the press. The release of some 250,000 cables followed the leak of classified Afghan War documents in July and Iraq War documents in October. By year’s end the Obama Administration was weighing whether to prosecute WikiLeaks under the 1917 Espionage Act.

9.  Gay Rights

As the lame-duck session of Congress drew to a close, the Senate struck down the ban on gay men and lesbians.

As the lame-duck session of Congress drew to a close, the Senate struck down the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military. The House had earlier passed the bill, which ends a 17-year-old policy that forced thousands of Americans from the ranks and forced others to keep secret their sexual identities. On the marriage front, the protracted legal battle over Proposition 8, the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in California, reached the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in December. A final decision on the ban appeared headed ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court.

10.  Reapportionment

The U.S. Census bureau’s 2010 count of state populations was scheduled to be released December 21, an announcement with far-reaching consequences for how your state will be represented in Congress for the next 10 years. The Constitution requires that seats in the House of Representatives be adjusted following the decennial census to reflect population changes.The 2010 winners will come from the South and West: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington. Texas, with as many as four new seats, was expected to be the biggest winner of all. The predicted losers: Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

That was the year that was. Leave your comment: Pick the top constitutional news story of 2010.


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