UC Berkeley News


Constitution Day the Berkeley way
Supreme Court vacancies lend new observance added gravitas

| 08 September 2005

Constitution Day at Cal
At Berkeley, Constitution Day observances will be spread over a week and a half. Click here for more information on planned events.
A host of happenings with a decidedly Berkeley bent are scheduled for the campus's initial commemoration of Constitution Day, mandated by a new federal law. Gay marriage, the PATRIOT Act, and the effectiveness of the 218-year-old U.S. Constitution will be the topics of conversation at events taking place at Berkeley between Monday, Sept. 12, and Tuesday, Sept. 20 (see "Constitution Day at Cal").

When President Bush signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 into law last December, he also - thanks to a provision introduced by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) - directed that every Sept. 17 be observed as Constitution and Citizenship Day. The law requires that all schools receiving federal funds observe the day by - at a minimum - distributing information to students about the signing of the nation's charter by delegates to the Constitutional convention on Sept. 17, 1787.

Compliance by individual campuses is on the "honor system" rather than being monitored by the Department of Education. Although Berkeley could have satisfied the letter of the law by linking either to the official national website or to a webpage developed by UC's Office of the President (universityofcalifornia.edu/constitutionday/), the campus is going above and beyond by using the occasion to explore several timely, hot-button issues.

Most noteworthy among the campus events is a panel discussion, titled "The Path of Constitutional Law: Continuity, Crossroads, or Crises?" that Boalt Hall School of Law is convening to appraise the Constitution's past and current health. "The Constitution is supposed to endure for the ages," says Goodwin Liu, assistant professor of law, who will moderate the discussion. "We'll talk about how well it will hold up in the face of new challenges arising from globalization, diversity, technology, and terrorism."

Liu characterizes the Constitution's current condition as "contested. It's always being disputed, and the disputes are happening at an especially interesting moment, because the composition of the Supreme Court is about to change." With the recent death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, there are, for the first time in more than 30 years, two openings on the nation's highest court.

Liu hopes the Boalt panel will provide attendees with an opportunity to reconsider the national charter. "Many of us don't pause to think about what the Constitution is about," he says. "I hope that Constitution Day is a useful moment for reflecting on the most fundamental values we are dedicated to."

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