Rockefeller College Celebrates Constitution Day 2020
ALBANY, N.Y. (September 17, 2020) — On September 17, 1787, the Founding Fathers signed the most influential document in American history, the U.S. Constitution. In celebration of Constitution Day 2020, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy asked faculty and students the following question: What is the most pressing Constitutional issue facing our country today?
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What is the most pressing Constitutional issue facing our country today?
Bill Sisk, Public Administration PhD candidate
The most pressing Constitutional issue facing our nation today concerns the enduring legacy of its original purposes. Rife with contradictions, whatever affection we may accord its more aspirational passages and Bill of Rights, the document none-the-less represented a delicate and carefully crafted compromise on the institution of slavery. The unusually high fragmentation of power and multiple veto-points that the document constructed made evident both the founder’s hypersensitivity to the potential tyranny of centralized government power as well as their relative optimism that similar tyrannical power would note evolve from America’s private sphere. There was generally less anxiety about the development of private enterprises, with many assuming competition would keep them small and decentralized without need for much regulation or oversight. Even those who feared the creeping influence of money and large industry like Thomas Jefferson had their blind spots on this front. Jefferson ironically set out to build a country that was comprised of small, decentralized, agrarian societies with largely localized governance systems, a society that seemed remarkably similar to the Native American societies his own Louisiana purchase and other policy choices would rapidly begin eradicating to make way for the America we know today.
Today, with so much turmoil, much of the public discourse has revolved around the threats posed to our cherished and hollowed Democratic institutions. It seems each day that our basic rights of voting and free speech which some of us — particularly those of us who have never had to fight for them — have taken for granted, are under attack. Yet it is time to re-examine some of the cherished and even foundational principles inscribed in our Democratic system because many of these structures have contributed to our present political predicaments. We should consider if our beloved “checks and balances” are actually contributing to a society that seems to be increasingly checkered and unbalanced. We should rethink an Electoral College system, which is arcane and disenfranchises members of both major political parties as well as alternative party candidates. We should rethink our Senate, which affords absurdly disproportional representation to Rhode Island, and Wyoming compared to more populous states like Florida and California. We should consider the many ways in which our Constitution ignores the corrosive influence of money on government in a society where the accumulation of capital dominates, and where such capital is easily exchanged for all other sources of power, including government.
The most pressing Constitutional issue we face today is not the novel threats posed by present parties and circumstances — even if these should not be ignored — but rather some of the foundational elements of our Constitution. The government it created seems to be less and less representative of what many Americans actually need or desire. We need transformation, not protection or restoration. We need to move beyond merely defending the Constitution and reform it so that it truly defends all its citizens.
Julie Novkov, Professor of Political Science
On this Civics 101 Podcast, Professor Julie Novkov discusses the topic of birthright citizenship and the 1898 Supreme Court case that established it.
UAlbany Student Constitution Day Essay Contest
Current UAlbany students are invited to participate in a creative writing essay contest to commemorate Constitution Day. There are four different amendments to the Constitution that relate to the right to vote ‑ what is one action that could be taken to ensure all citizens can exercise their right to vote?
Eligibility: Any student who is enrolled at the University at Albany for the fall 2020 term is eligible to enter this essay contest. Only one submission is permitted per student.
Submissions: Submissions must be between 250 and 500 words. Be creative as you answer the questions posed: You are not required to consult outside references. However, all references consulted and relied on must be cited, and all language quoted must be acknowledged with appropriate attribution.
First Place: $250 Visa gift card
Honorable Mentions: $100 Visa gift card