Today is Constitution Day. It marks the day in 1787 that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document.
Last night, the Vermont Bar Association and the Vermont Judiciary held their 4th annual celebration of Constitution Day. This year’s event took place at Vermont Law School and featured presentations from Justice Eaton, Justice Robinson, Judge Tomasi, Judge Pearson and Professor Teachout. The theme was “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.” You can read more about the night on the VBA Blawg.
I have no doubt that the presentations were fantastic. But we need to do more.
More than once, I’ve blogged on disturbing statistics related to civic education. Last May, I posted this blog in which I linked to an ABA Journal piece that reported on “gaps in Americans’ civic knowledge.” The numbers are concerning.
Not as concerning as numbers I blogged about two years ago. Marking Constitution Day 2017, I wrote about a study that revealed that nearly 40% of Americans cannot name even one of the protections afforded by the First Amendment.
There are 6.
We must do more to promote civic education.
Bob Carlson is the immediate past president of the American Bar Association. He’s quoted in the ABA piece that I referenced above:
- “Democracy is not a spectator sport, but to participate, you need to know the rules. That’s too important to leave to chance. The ABA conducted the survey to determine how well the American public understands the law, the Constitution and their rights and responsibilities. The results clearly show that we have more work to do.”
- “American democracy does not function without a fully informed citizenry. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said: ‘The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens.’”
You can help. Many Vermont lawyers volunteer in schools and before community groups speaking about the Constitution, the separation of powers, and civics. If you’re interested in doing the same, contact Jennifer Emens-Butler. Jennifer is the VBA’s Director of Education & Communication.
Finally, keep an eye out for the Vermont Bar Foundation’s Access to Justice Campaign. Two years ago this month, I laid down a challenge. In my post The Constitution & Karaoke, I wrote:
“As I’ve mentioned at a few seminars, my initial exposure to the U.S. Constitution was during the Saturday morning cartoons I watched as a kid. Courtesy of the folks at Schoolhouse Rock!, that’s when, where, and how I first learned about the origins of the Constitution and the words to The Preamble.
Of course, if people are not able to access the legal services that they need to protect their rights, the Constitution might mean little to them. So, in honor of Constitution Day, if an attorney or firm donates $1,000 to the Vermont Bar Foundation’s Access to Justice Campaign by Friday, September 29, I’ll karaoke the Schoolhouse Rock! version of The Preamble at the VBA’s upcoming annual meeting.”
It worked. I held up my end of the bargain and, with my parents sitting front & center, sang like it’d be my last time ever on stage.
And it will be. As my friend and fellow attorney James Valente has suggested, I’d have raised more money for the A2J Campaign by soliciting donations not to sing.
He’s right. And I’ll be the first to say that any argument to the contrary would be frivolous and wholly without support in fact or law.
Still, my commitment to remaining a one-time wonder doesn’t change the fact that the Constitution will mean little if the people who need its protections most cannot access legal services. If it hasn’t already, the VBF A2J campaign will start soon. Be ready.
On Constitution Day, consider civics and giving.