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Blogging The Constitution: What's Your Favorite Passage?

The IAFC All-Stars Pick Their Favorite Passage

Thursday, January 06, 2011 - 08:22 AM

The US Constitution was read on the floor of the House Thursday, as part of the Republican majority's efforts to renew focus on the founding document. We asked our It's A Free Country team to write about their favorite passage of the constitution, and also want you to tell us about yours. Fill out the form at the bottom of the page, and Brian Lehrer will follow up on-air next week with two constitutional scholars.

Jami Floyd is a legal analyst and former advisor to the Clinton administration on legal and domestic policy issues.

The IAFC staff has asked me to name my favorite part of the United States Constitution. I am tempted to wax on about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Or, I could – in this hyperbolic age – write a missive about the sections I find most problematic (Article I, Section 6, Paragraph 2, for example, The Incompatibility Clause which applies to military reservists serving in Congress.) Or, I could reflect on the “general welfare” (see, Preamble) and what those words might mean for the Tea Party agenda in 2012, assuming they have a single agenda. But instead, I’m going to offer an honest, straightforward and personal answer to the question. 

For me, the most meaningful part of the U.S. Constitution is what is commonly known as the Civil War Amendments — Amendments Thirteen, Fourteen, and Fifteen.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

The 13th Amendment freed all slaves in the United States (1865); the 14th Amendment made all freed slaves U.S. citizens (1868); and the 15th Amendment gave all freed slaves the right to vote in the United States (1870). 

Of course, I am also partial to the Nineteenth Amendment (not ratified until August 18, 1920!), which says: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Together, all of the above give me, as an African American woman, full realization of the rights and privileges afforded to citizens of the United States. They ensure a government that is, as Abraham Lincoln said, truly "of the people, by the people, for the people."

I have long been a devoted student of the Constitution. Even before law school, I was fascinated by constitutional text and history, the amendment process and constitutional jurisprudence. It is not easy to select one part more intellectually meaningful than the rest. But on a personal level, the sections that I cite resonate most deeply.

Born in the Soviet Union and raised in Brooklyn, Karol Markowicz is a public relations consultant in NYC and a veteran of Republican campaigns in four states.

It's hard to pick one part of the Constitution to call "favorite" when, hokey as it may sound, the whole document was so far ahead of its time and is so magnificent in its entirety. As I've written previously for It's A Free Country, I consider the Second Amendment above all when voting for candidates, but ultimately I'm a purist and it's the First Amendment which matters most to me.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I was born in the Soviet Union where freedom of speech, freedom of press and freedom of religion were simply nonexistent. I'm grateful to live in a free country where criticism of government is not only a commonplace activity but actually a protected right.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."

Congress prepares to read the Constitution, and for many members it seems to be the first time. I'm happy that our representatives will read aloud our Constitutional prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" (the 8th Amendment), the guarantee of speedy trials (6th) and trials by jury (7th), all of which have been victims in the "War on Terror." They'll be reminded of the separation of church and state (1st) and birthright citizenship (14th), which came under attack by Tea Party candidates this cycle.  And of course they'll speak of the right to not bear witness against oneself (5th), which some number of them will take when indicted for various forms of fraud and corruption down the road.

But the one passage I always excited to hear is the 21st Amendment.

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

You might know it better as the repeal of prohibition, and I'll pop a cork to that.

Nearly eight years ago, a few friends and I got together to talk politics in the backyard of a dive bar in Hell's Kitchen. In the spirit of the founders, who often met in taverns, we wanted to mix our political lives and social lives — and Drinking Liberally was born.  Now in 250 chapters all across the country and increasingly around the world, Drinking Liberally happy hours have given local progressives an avenue for building social communities around their values. At times they drown their sorrows together, at times they toast successes, and always they share ideas while sharing a few pints.

Take note, Tea Partiers: the founders threw tea in the harbor. It's beer they drank when it was time to scheme and dream.

There's something else about the 21st Amendment, of course — it is an example of America fixing a mistake. The Constitution has many other passages where we righted a wrong, such as the 13th Amendment which ended slavery at last. The founders were smart enough to know that this country would evolve, would face new challenges and need new laws.

The Constitution should change over time. America is not perfect, but what makes us strong is our ability to improve ourselves, to make our union more perfect. As trivial as the right to drink may seem compared with rights to vote, to worship and to be free from unwarranted searches and seizures, it is still an important example of our capacity — and our responsibility — to keep making this a better nation for all.

Cheers to that.

We'll be gathering more perspectives on the constitution from other It's A Free Country contributors. For now, tell us what you think!

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