Civic learning, engagement essential to ‘we, the people’

The Constitution provided the framework for our government and serves as the foundation for its legal authority. By carefully crafting limitations on governmental power and by separating those powers into three co-equal branches, the Framers created an enduring model for constitutional rule and liberty under law.

This Constitution Day, Sept. 17, we commemorate the 225th anniversary of Congress’s approval of the Bill of Rights. Just two short years later, having been ratified by the states, these rights were incorporated into the fledgling U.S. Constitution as its first 10 amendments. It would be difficult to overstate the contributions of the Bill of Rights to our liberty, laws and government. Enshrined in these amendments are guarantees of fundamental liberties, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, due process of law, protection from warrantless searches, the right to representation by counsel and trial by jury, just to name a few. The freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights are so pervasive in our society that it would be difficult to go through a single day without experiencing at least one of them, whether we spent that day associating with our friends, walking around the town square, searching the Internet or simply residing in the safety and privacy of our own home.

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As we reflect on the many ways that the guarantees contained in the Bill of Rights affect our lives, let us also renew our commitment to the importance of civic education in our nation’s schools. While it’s great to have a day set aside to discuss the Constitution and its significance, such conversations cannot and must not be so limited in scope and duration. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free ... it expects what never was and never will be.” An informed and engaged citizenry is the cornerstone of democratic government.  

Constitution Day is celebrated on Sept. 17 because that was the day in 1787 when the Constitution was signed. This Constitution Day, let’s rededicate ourselves to learning about constitutional principles, educating others and engaging the public. As Benjamin Franklin sagely pointed out: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Enhancing public understanding of individual rights and increasing civic involvement is the key to ensuring our government always remains of the people, by the people, for the people.

From William C. Hubbard, American Bar Association president, Washington, D.C.


Congress should give small donors more say

Although the Federal Election Commission’s recent rule revisions may have been mostly symbolic, they drive home the urgent need for meaningful campaign finance reform (“FEC strikes deal to revise campaign finance regs,” Sept. 11). Citizens United is now being codified in our nation’s electoral regulations, a formality that drives home the fact that we have been dealing with the repercussions of that terrible decision for four years now.

Despite the recent defeat of the Democracy for All amendment in the Senate, there are still strong, immediate solutions available. Small-donor empowerment programs are popping up all over the country, from New York City to Los Angeles. These programs provide matching funds for city electoral campaigns and encourage local candidates to seek support from a wide array of their constituents, rather than relying on a few massive contributions from a few wealthy donors. These programs are allowable in the current campaign finance framework because candidates can join them voluntarily.

The flood of special interest money into our elections is not a Democrat vs. Republican or liberal vs. conservative issue. This is an issue the vast majority of the public agrees needs to be fixed, with only a select few benefiting from the current system of unlimited, untraceable spending. It will take a constitutional amendment to put this debate to end once and for all, but in the meantime Congress can still do the right thing by passing policies that amplify the voices of ordinary citizens and reduce the dominance of megadonors.

From Zach Weinstein, Oakland, Calif.


Democracy distorted

Reclaiming our democracy from megadonors and corporations should not be a partisan issue. I applaud the bipartisan effort of the co-authored op-ed by Democratic Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallFCC chair: Trump hasn't tried to intervene on Time Warner merger Overnight Finance: GOP divided over welfare cuts in budget | Lawmaker loses M on pharma stock he pitched | Yellen says another financial crisis unlikely in our lifetimes Overnight Regulation: EPA moves to repeal Obama water rule | Labor chief to review overtime rule | Record fine for Google MORE (N.M.) and Republican former Sen. Alan Simpson (Wyo.) (“Bipartisan case for a constitutional amendment on campaign finance,” Sept. 8). Our democracy is being distorted by big money and megadonations. I am glad to see that the Senate is discussing this issue, even though the amendment did not pass.

I was particularly glad to see Udall and Simpson address the First Amendment in their op-ed. I agree with them that reversing Citizens United and reinstituting campaign contribution limits will make the First Amendment stronger, not weaker. In our democracy, the size of your wallet should not determine the strength of our voice. Everyone deserves an equal chance to be heard during elections. In the current system, the voices of a few wealthy individuals and corporations are drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans. 

This is an issue many Americans care about, regardless of party affiliation. Yesterday, over a dozen public interest organizations delivered 3 million petitions to Congress, urging members on both sides of the aisle to stand up for the public and pass this amendment. Hopefully in the future, members in Congress on both sides of the aisle will listen to the American people on this issue.

From Faith Deis, Seattle