Americans have argued about the proper interpretation of the United States Constitution since its ratification in 1787. The debate is as robust as ever today.
Despite historical bickering over how the Constitution should actually apply to various aspects of human existence, it’s worth remembering that that there are propositions contained within it that everyone accepts, regardless of political outlook.
It was the Constitution’s common ground that formed the basis for a Sept. 21 lecture by Catholic University law school professor Mark Rienzi, “Celebrating the Constitution We Can All Agree On.”
Sponsored by the Office of Campus Activities and the Columbus School of Law, Constitution Day has become a fixture on American campuses since 2004, when Congress mandated that all publicly funded educational institutions provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution. The law was expanded a year later to apply to any school receiving federal funds of any kind.
After his introduction by Catholic University President John Garvey (left) Rienzi described the three basic tenets of the Constitution that are universally accepted by every citizen:
- Power comes from the people
- The Constitution exists to protect the people
- The Constitution must protect the people equally
Professor Rienzi was quick to note that society has not always lived up to the Constitution’s lofty ideals. He mentioned the notorious Dred Scott v Sanford decision from1857, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves, as well as their descendants, were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S. citizens
But the Constitution provides mechanisms for correction and adjustment, according to the people’s will. It has legitimacy, said Rienzi, because it is agreed to by the people.
Rienzi's litigation and research interests focus on the Fourteenth Amendment, free speech, and the free exercise of religion. He noted that one of the Constitution’s most precious and enduring gifts to Americans—providing for the orderly transfer of power—is taken for granted here, whereas in many countries power is wrested by bloody struggle.
“There is more violence in the transfer of the Stanley Cup than in the transfer in of a new president,” Rienzi remarked.
The constitutional law professor reminded his audience in the Pryzbyla Student Center that while all Americans benefit from the rights of the Constitution; no one has to qualify for them.
He concluded with the hope that the remarkable nature of the Constitution, a document that derives its power from the support of the people, will never fail to be appreciated by all Americans.