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Stateside: Justice Breyer on the US Constitution

Stateside With Rosalea Barker

Justice Breyer on the US Constitution

Since last year, the federally funded US education system has observed something called Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. It commemorates the September 17, 1787, signing in Philadelphia of the Constitution of the United States of America. The 2005 federal law declares that on 9/17, every educational body receiving federal funding must hold an educational program pertaining to the United States Constitution. This year, that obligation will be fulfilled on September 18 since the 17th is a Sunday.

The Annenberg Classroom is the top (sponsored) return on a Google search on the subject of Constitution Day by virtue of the resources it has made available for teachers. One of those resources is a video of a Q&A session between high school students and Supreme Court Justices Kennedy, O'Connor and Breyer. You can access the video as a whole or in segments.

Here is a partial transcript of Justice Breyer talking about the Supreme Court's relationship to the Constitution.

"What's at the heart of [the Constitution]? At the heart of it, we [the Justices] think, are institutions through which the ordinary citizen of the United States can express his will: What does he or she want in his community? It's called a law, a statute, a rule for living together, and we have a system in that Constitution where people do that democratically.

"There are boundaries. And at those boundaries, some of them have to do with protecting individual rights. We can't go too far--even democratically--because we're trying to protect those basic rights from tyranny. We insist on a degree of equality. We insist in this Constitution upon a rule of law: people have to follow it. And the Constitution insists on a division of power -- between state governments and federal government, and among three branches of the federal government.

"Those things in a sense, are qualifications: they describe those boundaries of a democratic process. But I think, when you go into it, you'll say basically, That's what this Constitution basically does. And what do we [the Supremes] do? I think of us basically as the boundary patrol. We're patrolling the boundary. When we patrol the boundary, we say whether someone else like the President, or Congress, or others--in the state, so forth--when they went too far.

"But it's one thing to patrol the boundary, and it's another thing to fill up the middle. And filling up the middle is the job of the democratic process. That's the job of you. That's the job of your parents. That's the job of your citizen, every citizen--your friends, and so forth. And that's what the Constitution sets up."

From: and other video at that site.

National Archive resources are at:

The push to celebrate Constitution Day celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, and you can read about that here:



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