By Cait Kemp
Springfield College’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences presented a virtual lecture titled “The Meaning Behind the Constitution 2021.” The event discussed the U.S. Constitution and its impact on American society when the country was first being created, and its impact on the evolved nation today.
The discussion was moderated by Thomas Carty, professor of history and pre-law advisor, who presented the guest speakers with questions from the audience and from himself.
Speaking to the crowd of Springfield faculty and students was R. Kent Newmyer, Professor of Law and History at UCONN School of Law, Hon. Barry F. Armata, Connecticut Superior Court Judge, and Jose A. Santos, Consultant at Pratt & Whitney and at Collins Aerospace.
The United States Constitution was written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and operating since 1789. It is the world’s longest surviving written document in government. The first three words, “We the People”, have become synonymous with America and the freedoms citizens have living in the nation.
Under the Constitution, the Supreme Court has the ability to interpret the laws. This can be both beneficial and negative, depending on the situation. It allows for people to earn the justice they deserve, seeing that situations can be vastly different and may not always fall into a category. Sometimes, the misconduct of this authority occurs when judges take advantage of the power, but the system is set in order to allow for some flexibility.
The Constitution has dictated America’s rights since the beginning. It has the most basic outline and understanding of what people can do in this country, and what is acceptable. There have been Amendments made along the way to continue to evolve with the changing times, but this elusivity allows for the Constitution to remain an everlasting document for the country to live by.
“Here’s a document drawn for an agrarian republic of 4 million people, and it still basically is our governing document today,” said Newmyer.
Without the ability to change and alter what the document says, and interpret it ourselves, it probably would not have lasted over 200 years. Armata noted how other countries have revolutions, create new documents, and 20 or so years later, repeat the process again because those documents are too specific to the time and don’t allow for growth or change within them.
“We have looked at many, many other countries who have [made new documents], and inevitably what happens is well, 20 years later they get a new constitution, and 10 years later there’s a revolution and there’s a new constitution, and the one thing that I see in those repeated new subsequent constitutions is that they are long and detailed and specific,” said Armata. “The problem with that is society changes and culture changes and then you have the need for yet another constitution, and that undermines the whole purpose…”
A governing document is needed in order to help maintain a civil environment for all parties involved in the group. Whether this is something as simple as a club or team, or as large and serious as a country, all of these groups have a list of rules that need to be followed.
“Law, of course, is needed for us to organize a society, to organize a civilization because without it, we would be at each other’s throats, we need to try to avoid a ‘Lord of the Flies’ type situation in which the biggest bully gets to rule,” Santos said.
Understanding the constitution is half the battle, and that is something that the speakers acknowledged the importance of. It is a goal to create a system in which people understand the purpose of the laws, like morality and character formation, so that there is not so much question and uncertainty surrounding the law.
Newmyer, Armata and Santos are all optimistic for the future of the Constitution. With today’s generation, they see not only a better understanding, but the yearning to understand the rights and laws that people have as United States citizens. Young people are opening up conversations about it, asking questions, and discussing these topics, which is allowing for a new generation to be passionate about their country and what it means to them in culture today.