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As of October 1, 2011 the Jennings Project blog has moved and joined forces with Constitution Daily, the Center’s daily digest of smart conversation on the Constitution. All new posts will be published there, so be sure to subscribe and follow Constitution Daily on Twitter. If you are interested in submitting a post to Constitution Daily, please email Stefan Frank at

The Constitution in "Quotes"

"Which pledge is most important... the pledge to uphold your oath to the Constitution of the United States or a pledge from a special interest group who claims to speak for all American conservatives when, in fact, they really don't? The fact is we have enormous urgent problems in front of us that have to be addressed and have to be addressed in a way that will get 60 votes in the Senate... and something that the president will sign... Where's the compromise that will save our country?"

Senator Tom Coburn, Oklahoma (R), speaking back in April on the debate over raising the debt limit. Ever since, Coburn has been chastised by editorial writers back in his home state who point to his signature on the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," the work of a conservative activist organization (Americans for Tax Reform). The Pledge commits signers to opposing "any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” It has been joined by 236 Congressmen (all but two of them Republicans) and 41 senators (all, except Sen. Ben Nelson of Colorado, Republican).

"It’s very sad when government officials misinterpret the Constitution and attempt to kick such groups out...That is clearly not at all what the authors of the Constitution intended.”

Jordan Lorence, attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented the Bronx Household of Faith in a case heard before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals this term. The case was brought by the New York City Department of Education which sought to ban the church from holding "regular worship services" on public school property. Yesterday, the Second Circuit ruled against the church, arguing that while religious groups cannot be banned from meeting on school property, neither can they be allowed to conduct religious services there. Judge Pierre N. Leval, part of a three-judge panel, wrote that when services are conducted on school property “the place has, at least for a time, become the church,” adding that the city’s policy against services in the schools imposed “no restraint on the free expression of any point of view.” Rather, it applied only to “a certain type of activity — the conduct of worship services — and not to the free expression of religious views associated with it.” Judge John Walker dissented, arguing that the ban violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

"We are presented here with the question of what happens when the political branches fail to act in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution. The Constitution affirms that the People have rights that are enforceable against the government. One such right is to be free from unjustified governmental deprivation of property "including the health care and benefits that our laws guarantee veterans upon completion of their service. Absent constitutionally sufficient procedural protections, the promise we make to veterans becomes worthless. When the government harms its veterans by the deprivations at issue here, they are entitled to turn to the courts for relief. Indeed, our Constitution established an independent Judiciary precisely for situations like this, in which a vulnerable group, that is being denied its rights by an unresponsive government, has nowhere else to turn. No more critical example exists than when the government fails to afford its injured or wounded veterans their constitutional rights. Wars, including wars of choice, have many costs. Affording our veterans their constitutional rights is a primary one.”

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, writing the majority opinion in Veterans for Common Sense v Shinseki, a case brought to challenge the quality of care being afforded veterans, specifically in the area of mental health. The opinion cited grim statistics showing that eighteen veterans commit suicide each day and one thousand attempt suicide each month due largely to untreated or undertreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"The Court receives higher confidence ratings in public opinion polls than the president or Congress, and it faces no challenges to its independence. A public that knew more than it does about the Supreme Court might wonder why this group of people is empowered to make decisions that (when they are based, however tenuously, on the Constitution) other branches of government cannot veto. That was the constitutional plan, but it was controversial from the first—and not surprisingly: Congress and the president can plausibly pretend that their actions are in the interest of the nation as a whole, but a judicial decision always has a loser. For this reason, the Supreme Court decisions in cases that engage the public’s attention will often stir a polemical response."

Seventh Circuit Federal Appeals Judge Richard Posner, writing in The New Republic this week in a review of Justices and Journalists: The U.S. Supreme Court and the Media By Richard Davis. You can read the review here.

"After the Constitution was ratified, foreigners and even monarchs from other nations believed the president was a king under the title of president. The president had many of the powers monarchs had — he was commander-in-chief, had the power to make treaties and judicial appointments, and could grant pardons. The U.S. Electoral College recalled the systems used to elect the Polish and Papal monarchies. Even Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, published in 1755, included “president” as a synonym for 'monarch.'"

Sai Prakash, in a lecture marking his appointment as the David Lurton Massee, Jr. Professor of Law at the University of Virginia Law School. Prakash's lecture, which can be read and/or watched here was titled, "No More Kings?"

“What they’re asking cannot be done,” one senior Egyptian official said, citing clauses in the Egyptian Constitution that bar the vice president from assuming power. Under the Constitution, the speaker of Parliament would succeed the president. “That’s my technical answer,” the official added. “My political answer is they should mind their own business.”

The New York Times, February 3, 2011, on reports that the Obama administration is pushing Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak (left) to relinquish the presidency to Vice President Omar Suleiman (right).

“If the court’s ruling is correct, the government has unreviewable authority to carry out the targeted killing of any American, anywhere, whom the president deems to be a threat to the nation...It would be difficult to conceive of a proposition more inconsistent with the Constitution, or more dangerous to American liberty.”

Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, on the decision this week by federal judge John D. Bates allowing the Obama administration to pursue the death of Anwar-al-Awlaki (in picture at left), an American citizen and Muslim cleric who is believed to have been involved with violent Al Qaeda activities in Yemen. Awlaki is now in hiding. While acknowledging that the thought of the president ordering the assassination of a U.S. citizen "without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever, based the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization” raised "stark" and "perplexing" questions, Bates saw the decision to target Awlaki for killing as a "political" question. Only the executive branch, he concluded, has the tools to determine whether someone in hiding "presents such a threat to national security that the United States may authorize the use of lethal force against him."

"Citizens United has been unjustly maligned as radically departing from settled free speech tradition. In fact, the clashing opinions in the case simply illustrate that free speech tradition has different strands. The libertarian strand from which the majority draws support emphasizes that freedom of speech is a negative command that protects a system of speech, not individual speakers, and thus invalidates government interference with the background system of expression no matter whether a speaker is individual or collective, for-profit or nonprofit, powerful or marginal. The egalitarian strand on which the dissent relies, in contrast, views speech rights as belonging to individual speakers and speech restrictions as subject to a one-way ratchet: impermissible when they create or entrench the subordination of political or cultural minorities, but permissible when aimed at redistributing speaking power to reduce some speakers’ disproportionate influence."

Stanford Law School Professor Kathleen Sullivan, on Citizen's United, the Supreme Court decision announced earlier this year barring Congress, under the First Amendment, from limiting corporate contributions to independent political broadcasts. Sullivan's comments appeared in the Harvard Law Review.

"I wish I didn't get nervous seeing black men behind me on the street. I wish there was no correlation between race and crime. I wish 100 percent of the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 had not been members of one religion. I wish we didn't hear diatribes on a daily basis threatening our children and us in the name of Allah. I wish I didn't get nervous seeing Muslims on a plane. But firing Juan Williams won't make it so"

Former PJP Faculty Member Susan Estrich opining the firing of NPR commentator Juan Williams for comments he made on Fox News. Williams was canned for saying that he gets nervous when he gets on a plane and "sees people in Muslim garb." Estrich's entire piece can be read here.

“Nothing in the Constitution or any other law requires the U.S. government to defend a law in court or to appeal an adverse ruling. Executive officials at all levels of government have discretion as to how, if at all, to proceed in court. All government officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and it would be inconsistent with that oath to require them to defend a law that they believe is unconstitutional..."

Former PJP Faculty Member Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law, in a piece in The Los Angeles Times, in which he asks why the Obama administration feels it necessary to defend “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Pentagon’s policy on gays in the military, after a federal judge ruled it an unconstitutional restriction on freedom of speech. To read Dean Chemerinsky’s entire piece, follow this link.

“The Tea Partiers would be well advised to devote their efforts to achieving significant limits on the federal government — such as limiting federal spending, cutting taxes, and reversing Obamacare — that don’t demand an amendment to the Constitution. They will have a limited political window to apply their political capital; constitutional amendments will only waste it..."

Former PJP faculty member John Yoo, writing in the National Review Online, on a movement among Tea Party members to repeal the 17th amendment to the Constitution, which required popular election of US senators. Prior to the 17th amendment, senators were elected by state legislatures. Many Tea Partiers believe that popular election undermines federalism, since the people are more likely to encourage federal involvement in state business than state legislatures would.To read the entire piece, follow this link.

“The issue is not one of Thomas's First Amendment rights. She has them just like every other American. The question is one of civility and respect for the very powerful office her husband holds..."

-From PJP Board member Sherrilyn Ifill's piece in ARENA, reacting to the news that Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, had left a telephone message on Anita Hill's answering machine, looking to send "an olive branch" to her husband's accuser. Hill's accusations of sexual harassment dominated Thomas's 1991 senate confirmation hearings. To read the entire piece by Ifill, follow this link.

“They always say that I must abide by laws and constitutions...I know what is in laws and in constitutions, but what we have here in Egypt is neither laws nor constitution."

-Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate, on the political situation in his homeland where 82 year old President Hosni Mubarak, who has been president since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, is widely believed to be readying his son, Gamal, to soon become his successor.

“If you’re going to seek capital punishment, you’re going to have to pay for it...If we’re going to have harsh laws, at least we should fulfill our constitutional obligations."

Norman S. Fletcher, Former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, upon hearing that his state had told the defendant in a capital case that it could no longer afford to pay for his lawyer and that, instead, he would have to switch to an overworked public defender unfamiliar with the case.

The defendant has appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which is considering whether to take the case as a potential affront to the principle of right to counsel granted in the landmark case, Gideon v. Wainwright.

In a brief supporting the defendant, Fletcher alludes to a sad state of affairs in Georgia's public defenders' office. “lawyers referring to their own clients by racial slurs, counsel distancing themselves from their clients by making it clear to the jury they were court-appointed and representing the client only because they had to, and counsel cross-examining a witness whose direct testimony counsel had missed because he was parking his car.”

“If there is one basic element in our Constitution, it is civilian control of the military...If I allowed him to defy the civil authorities in this manner, I myself would be violating my oath to uphold and defend the Constitution."

-President Harry Truman on the decision to fire GEN Douglas MacArthur as commander of UN forces in the Korean War, 1951

Ambassadorial Side Benefits?
“The idea that an oil company was participating in the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution leaves me speechless...[In effect, the company] has a representative in the room, drafting."

-Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, an Iraqi official, in a story in The New York Times, November 12, 2009. He is speaking about reports that Peter Galbraith, a former United States Ambassador who was serving as an unpaid advisor to the Kurdish regional government, helped forge language in the Iraqi constitution that provided for significant autonomy for the Kurds, including claim to all oil revenues tapped in their region. At the time, Mr. Galbraith was being paid by DNO, a Norwegian oil company, from which he stands now to earn hundreds of millions of dollars.

"This Ain't No Thinkin' Thing"
"What makes Armey an effective advocate is how he uses his status as a learned professor and a plain-spoken man to deliver the message his audiences want to believe: that various Democratic initiatives are not just wrongheaded policy but also flagrant violations of the Constitution and affronts to traditional American values. In his telling, the Constitution is elevated to something like a sacred religious text, written by Christian believers, possibly divinely inspired and intended to be read in the most literal way. It contains solutions to any civic problem faced by modern Americans, including those brought about by the tangled health care system. To Armey, the Constitution is not a “living document” — a phrase he mocks at rallies, to laughs and great applause — and is in fact so straightforward and speaks so directly to this era that it’s reasonable to wonder why we need the nine justices of the Supreme Court to interpret it.

At the Harley dealership [where he was speaking to a large crowd of conservative activists], he emphasized that everyone must stay focused on the polestar, the nation’s essential document. “What should be your guide?” he said, pausing for a beat before shouting out the answer. “The Constitution. This ain’t no thinkin’ thing.”

-From "Dick Armey is Back on the Attack", New York Times Magazine, Sunday, November 8, 2009