Constitution Evolving to Embrace All ; COMMUNITY COMMENT
Evansville Courier & Press, Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)
Today we celebrate the 226th birthday of our Constitution. But what precisely should we celebrate? In the summer of 1787, the founders created a remarkable framework for our democracy - but their document was deeply flawed.
Since individual liberty was not protected from the power of government in the original Constitution that was submitted for ratification, a Bill of Rights was added. The Bill of Rights reflected a broader vision of freedom.
Even with the Bill of Rights, the Constitution remained flawed - it protected slavery.
The Constitution we celebrate today, a document guaranteeing equality before the law, required a bloody civil war before amendments brought African Americans within the Constitution.
But it would take another century before African Americans began to redeem the promise of the Civil War amendments. During that time, race discrimination became deeply embedded in our laws, our political institutions and our culture. Until 1954, it was even legitimized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It took more than 175 years after the Constitution was written before civil rights laws outlawed discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and voting.
And what is true for the struggle for racial equality is also true about the struggle for other liberties.
The Constitution tolerated the subjugation of women. It was not until 1920 that the 19th amendment gave women the elementary right to vote. This was not due to the wisdom of the founders and the original Constitution, but to the struggle in the streets that followed.
If the framers knowingly left out blacks and women, they didn't even consider the rights of immigrants, gays and lesbians, children, students, prisoners, the mentally ill and the disabled. For nearly all of our history, these groups were largely unprotected by the Constitution. But one by one, they and their advocates fought to have the Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to them.
But what happens when the government violates the Constitution - when it makes a law restricting free speech or religious liberty, or denying a group due process or equal protection of the laws?
The conventional answer is that the courts will step in. But courts don't act on their own. They are powerless to fulfill their function unless an aggrieved person challenges the constitutional violation.
In 1910 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was established, followed in 1920 by the American Civil Liberties Union. …