The United States Constitution was signed and adopted as the fundamental law of the United States of America by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia 233 years ago today on September 17, 1787. In so doing, our nation came into being.
Congress has called on each state legislature to send delegates to a convention “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation in ways that, when approved by Congress and the states, would render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.”
To amend the Articles into a workable government, 74 delegates from the twelve states were named by their state legislatures; 55 delegates showed up, and 39 delegates eventually signed.
James McHenry, a Maryland delegate to the Constitutional Convention, wrote in his dairy that after the meeting on that day, a woman asked Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Franklin “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” to which Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
In fact, the Preamble of this history-changing document makes clear that this was to be a government of the people: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
As United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, explained, “What makes the Constitution worthy of our commitment? First and foremost, the answer is our freedom. It is, quite simply, the most powerful vision of freedom ever expressed. It’s also the world’s shortest and oldest national constitution, neither so rigid as to be stifling, nor so malleable as to be devoid of meaning. Our Constitution has been an inspiration that changed the trajectory of world history for the perpetual benefit of mankind. In 1787, no country in the world had ever allowed its citizens to select their own form of government, much less to select a democratic government. What was revolutionary when it was written, and what continues to inspire the world today, is that the Constitution put governance in the hands of the people.”
It is of the nature of constitutions that their meaning evolves over time and in newly encountered situtions. As founding UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky wrote in the University of Chicago Law Review, “[t]he Constitution inevitably must be interpreted. There are countless issues — such as whether the president can fire cabinet officials or rescind treaties or assert executive privilege — where the document is silent, but a constitutional answer is necessary. So much of the Constitution is written in broad language that must be given meaning and applied to specific situations. . .”
It is my hope that one day soon the Supreme Court will recognize that in order to ensure and protect our democracy, we must get unlimited and unaccountable money out of politics, and that there must be limits on the amount of money that individuals, corporations, or other organizations can spend to support or attack political candidates or to influence government policies.
It is my hope, too, that one day soon the Equal Rights Amendment will be adopted so that women will at long last be accorded full and equal rights in the United States.
In fact, our Constitution provides the means to make these changes and improvements in our government and our political process.
Our Constitution remains our best hope of “We the People” forming an even “more perfect Union.”