Monday, November 5, 2007

It's not JUST Brett's Constitution!

Hello. I'm Brett and this is a blog about the United States Constitution. I had to choose a name for this endeavor, so "Brett's Constitution" it was, but of course, the Constitution belongs to EVERYBODY. That's what I hope to emphasize here. Our constitution does not belong to left wing professors from Ivy League universities OR to conservative farmers in Kansas. It belongs to BOTH liberal professors AND right leaning farmers, and to everyone in between. I think the great U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. put it quite well when he wrote:

"A constitution... is made for people of fundamentally differing views..." Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, 75 (1905).

If you are wondering what those odd words and numbers mean right after the quote, "Lochner v. New York" is the name of the case in which Holmes wrote those words (in dissent, by the way, of the majority opinion) and "198 U.S. 45, 75" tells you that this can be found in volume 198 of the U.S. Reports--that is, the official register of United States Supreme Court opinions--and the Lochner opinion begins on page 45 of volume 198, with the quote found specifically on page 75. Of course, 1905 is the year the case was ruled on.

Why am I dwelling on this, when I know you might not care about the source of the Holmes quote? It's simple: I know that one must be sceptical about what one reads online. Scores of professors admonish their students not to cite wikipedia because their standard for scholarly review to insure the accuracy of the information presented is slim compared to the careful scrutiny a published book or article receives. Well, I'm going to cite my sources on this blog, and even tell you how to easily access them online, if that can be done. This policy will keep both the author and the readers of this blog honest! Also this will help students--if they wish to use information they read here in a report for a class, they can go to the original source and cite it instead of my blog. (For example, to read Lochner, you can get up and head for the nearest law library. Or you can remain seated and just go here:

And yes, I will give my own opinions on the Constitution. When I do this, however, it should be clear that you are reading my thoughts.

"Okay, Brett," you might be thinking, "Who are you? Are you an attorney or a legal scholar?"

The answer is no. I'm not a lawyer; I do have a paralegal certificate but that does not make me an expert on legal matters.

That admission may cause you to think, "Then why should I pay attention to what you write here, seeing as you have not gone to law school?"

I have two answers. First, I'm not giving legal advice; I don't need to be an attorney. And second, the United States Constitution is our basic law, and as such, it is not strictly the province of the legal profession. Consider what two influential Americans said:

"I hold that every American citizen has a right to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propogate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one."

--Frederick Douglass, speech of July 5, 1852, in Philip S. Foner, ed., The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass (New York: International Publishers, 1950-1955), vol. 2 at 202; cited in Wayne D. Moore, Constitutional Rights and Powers of the People (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996) at 54-55.

"The Constitution of the United States (is) a layman's document, not a lawyer's contract."

--Franlin Delano Roosevelt, Address on Constitution Day, Sep. 17, 1937, in Samuel I Rosenman, ed., The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 1941) vol. 6 at 359, 362-363, 365; cited in Larry D. Kramer, The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review (New York: Oxford Press, 2004) at 217.

I shall take the advice of Douglass and FDR and think of the Constitution as mine, even though I'm no lawyer or legal scholar. I hope you will do the same and I invite you to join me for regular installments of this blog.

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