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Saturday, December 10, 2022

December 10-11, 2022: Constitutional Contexts: 2022

[On December 7th, 1787, Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. So for the 235th anniversary of that historic moment, this week I’ve AmericanStudied a handful of Constitutional contexts, leading up to this special weekend post on present issues and debates!]

On one frustrating and one hopeful trend when it comes to the Constitution in 2022.

Just over three years ago, I ended a different series on the Constitution with a special weekend post on three types of current challenges and threats facing that document and our government and society alike. I’d say that the first and third remain particularly relevant today, so would ask you to check out that post and then come on back if you would.

Welcome back! On that first topic of originalism and evolution, I’ve grown only ever more frustrated with how our collective conversations have developed in recent years. When it comes to something as complex in its origins as the 2nd Amendment, we’re told that it’s almost impossible to challenge even an iota of current gun freedoms or expand reasonable gun laws, if not indeed that we seem to be further doing away with the latter in favor of a heavily, terrifyingly armed society that bears no resemblance to anything the Framers could have imagined. But when it comes to something much more overtly present and clear in the body of the Constitution, the separation of church and state and entire absence of religion from our government, we see nothing less than a Supreme Court Justice arguing that “religious freedom” means increasing the presence of religion in our governmental and public spaces, a reality that the Framers argued against consistently and passionately. I believe it’s important to see the Constitution as a living document that can and should continue to evolve, and that means I’m willing to have debates about every part of our Constitutional government and identity—but the level of hypocrisy in those who profess “originalism” makes it very hard to even begin such arguments in good faith.

That frustration affects debates at the highest Constitutional level, in cases and arguments before the Supreme Court, which can make it seem particularly influential to be sure. But at the same time, the Constitution created a system of government that truly depends on countless individuals participating at the much more local level, both by running for offices of all types and by voting in those elections of all types. That certainly means that the engaged and passionate young voters about whom I wrote in my Thanksgiving series are a very hopeful sign when it comes to the survival and strengthening of our Constitutional democracy. But I’d also note how many historic candidates ran in and won elections during this cycle, including the first Gen Z member of Congress, a new transgender state senator in New Hampshire, Maryland’s first Black governor, and many more. That aforementioned “no religious test” clause in the Constitution wasn’t just about separating church and state (although yes)—it was also about insuring that our officeholders would be as diverse as our community. There’s nothing more Constitutional than continuing to diversity our government, although as many people as possible voting for all those diverse candidates is pretty close.

Semester Recaps start Monday,


PS. What do you think?

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