FOR THE WEEK OF SEP. 12, 2005
Supreme Court focuses on the Constitution
Have your students follow newspaper coverage of the confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts and ask them to write a report about what they learned. Ask them to evaluate the fairness of the hearings based on their study of the newspaper stories. And ask them to evaluate the objectivity of the newspaper stories.
Have your students study the editorial and Op Ed pages of their newspapers and discuss in class the opinions about the hearings expressed by columnists, editorial writers and letter writers. Then ask them to write letters to the editor stating their own views of the hearings as well as their opinions of the fairness of the newspaper coverage.
Have your students search their newspapers for advertisements placed by supporters and opponents of Judge Roberts and discuss in class whether the advertisements are appropriate freedom of speech activities. Ask them to rate the accuracy of the advertisements. And ask them to debate whether newspapers should publish such advertisements.
A special Constitution Day program sponsored by National Public Radio, the national Archives and Records Administration and the New York Times Knowledge Network. Justices Sandra Day O,Connor and Stephen Breyer will discuss the Constitution with high school students at the Supreme Court, including such topics as why we have and need a Constitution, what federalism is and how separation of powers ensures that no branch of government gains too much power. Click here for details about classroom-ready video.
Public schools across the United States are required to teach students about the nation's fundamental document on Constitution Day Sept. 16. The proposed Constitution was unanimously approved Sept. 17, 1787, by 55 delegates who wrote the document during the summer of that year in Philadelphia. It was ratified by the required nine states the following year. In 1791, the first 10 amendments to the constitution were adopted as one unit and became known as the Bill of Rights. Over the years, 17 additional amendments were approved. One amendment, the 18th, was adopted in 1919, and repealed in 1933, ending Prohibition.
This week's classroom study of the importance of the Constitution happens to coincide with congressional confirmation hearings of Judge John G. Roberts Jr., nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, which decides the constitutionality of the nation's laws. There is no appeal of Supreme Court decisions.
Life terms? Custom has established that Supreme Court justices are appointed for life. But, in fact, the Constitution does not call for that term of service. Article III, authorizing the judicial system of the nation, stipulates only that the justices shall "hold their Offices during good Behavior." What could be regarded by the public as bad behavior that would justify removal from the court?
Politics? Political action groups, both conservative and liberal, are campaigning in television and newspaper advertisements either for or against Judge Roberts. Estimates are that the activists are spending millions of dollars in their attempt to influence the confirmation vote. Is it proper for Supreme Court nominations to be politicized?
Posse? Constitution Day also is being observed as an 1878 law known as Posse Comitatus is receiving new attention and debate in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the federal response to the emergency. Federal officials have cited the law as the reason they did not immediately intervene to assist victims and restore order along the devastated Gulf Coast. Critics say the law should have been waived so Americans could have been helped immediately. The law generally prohibits federal military forces from acting in law enforcement within the country, except as expressly authorized by the Constitution or the Congress. The president may also waive the law in an emergency. Such action was taken, for example, in response to the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Was the Katrina emergency an instance in which that law justifiably could have been waived.
Constitutional? Gen. Russel Honore, the military officer in charge of the recovery, has ordered troops not to comply with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's order to force people to evacuate from their homes, saying it is a law enforcement issue. Holdout residents of New Orleans and some legal experts question the constitutionality of forced evacuations. Is it constitutional for government to force Americans from their homes?
Interpretation? U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, himself rumored to be the president's choice to fill the second vacancy on the Supreme Court, urged Justice Department lawyers to interpret the law creatively so active duty troops could assist in recovery efforts -- even if local officials refused to consent.
Consequences? Americans want to see their government rescue countrymen in an emergency and remove citizens from harm's way. But what are the long-term dangers to the Constitution of waiving laws and using the military to force citizens to act against their will, as in the case of those New Orleans residents who do not want to leave their homes?
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