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Happy Constitution Day!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 17, 2010 in The 2L Life

Happy Constitution Day everybody! :D

I didn’t realize there even was such as a thing as Constitution Day until I came to law school. But I also didn’t realize so many aspiring attorneys knew so little about the Constitution’s history1 — probably explains why so many of my colleagues dislike Constitutional Law ;)

My morning started with a drive out to Greenville, to sit in on a Continuing Legal Education course on detecting deception from the good folks at QVerity, Inc. The seminar included watching 5 suspects interviewed in a corporate fraud case, and evaluating (both before and after the class) whether their body language indicated deceptiveness.

The whole thing was definitely more interesting than your typical lecture-style CLE, and included solid information on strategic behavioral analysis. I was also glad to be one of the handful of attendees who picked the right suspect in the beginning2 :)

After the CLE wrapped, I sped back to NCCU Law for the various festivities taking place for Constitution Day.

I got there in the middle of a panel discussion on due process and the impact of North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation. That would be the crime lab prosecutors turn to for analysis of forensic evidence. The crime lab they rely on for testimony in court.

And the crime lab which last month was discovered to have essentially been fabricating evidence wholesale for a few decades now.

The whole discussion left me speechless, not because I agreed with all the proposals being suggested (I didn’t) but because I didn’t think this level of incompetence was possible. Yes I’m an aspiring prosecutor, but I have a hard time thinking of any greater breach of the public’s trust than basically faking forensics just to secure a conviction…

There was a second panel on the economic cost of North Carolina’s “4-strike” habitual felon law, that honestly I didn’t pay much attention to due to my own political biases. My $.02 is that if you’ve already gotten 3 separate shots in the criminal justice system and you’re still committing crimes, you deserve to go away for life without parole3 — and the economic cost of your imprisonment is paid for by the economic growth enabled by removing a source of destruction and instability from the marketplace ;)

Following the second panel we all trekked upstairs for the day’s highlight, an unveiling of a hand-painted mural of portions of the Constitution now adorning one of the walls in the law school.

The unveiling was prefaced with a keynote address by Professor Randall Kennedy, a gentleman I know very little about beyond the fact he’s clearly smarter than I am: a graduate of Princeton University, Oxford University, and Yale Law School; a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; and now a professor at Harvard Law School.

His address focused on the “failures” and “shortcomings” of the Constitution — a discordant theme that was kinda disappointing to me. I’d never claim that the Constitution in its current form is absolute perfection but I also don’t see that many flaws in it.

For example, one of the complaints noted by Professor Kennedy was the disproportionate amount of political influence sparsely-populated states have in the Senate. The criticism itself is fair — I’m sure a similar complaint was made at the Constitutional Convention itself. But what’s the alternative?

  • Increase the number of Senators to enable more proportional representation? More politicians to me translates to more corruption.
  • Have the current 100 Senators represent equally-sized districts? I can only imagine the fights that would result from Senator representation crossing state lines (the old Virginia-North Carolina dispute over Lake Gaston comes to mind). And that’s not even getting into deciphering which Legislature would draw the district lines.
  • Abolish the Senate entirely? Do so and you fundamentally alter the nature of the legislative process, completely upending the Founders’ (brilliant) idea to limit how quickly federal legislation can be adopted by requiring the concurrence of two separate chambers.

Maybe there are other options I’ve missed, but for all the criticism of the Senate’s quirks I don’t see any alternatives that bring more good than harm.

My new favorite wall at school :)

My misgivings about the speech aside, the mural unveiling that followed was fun — this is now my favorite wall of the law school :)

It features an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution’s Preamble, Article III (creating the Judiciary), the Bill of Rights, the Civil War amendments, and the 19th Amendment. These were all hand-painted by local muralist Michael Brown, and the whole thing just looks really snazzy :D

It also brought something to my attention I never noticed before: turns out each line in the original 13th Amendment is written in a different person’s handwriting. I’m guessing there were a bunch of Congressional scriveners excited about the historic ending of slavery, and each wanted to make the mark on history? Very cool stuff.

Anyhow, that’s how I spent my Constitution Day at NCCU Law — now getting the apartment set up for my bi-weekly poker nights :)

I hope all of you enjoyed it as well, and have a great weekend! :D

  1. I actually had a conversation with a student at a neighboring law school about Constitution Day, who went “Why is it in September? Wasn’t the Constitution signed on July 4th back in 1770-something?” :beatup: []
  2. Some of the training dove-tailed with stuff I’ve learned professionally in politics and other arenas. []
  3. I’m willing to consider a few narrow exceptions to this general rule, like the (exceptionally small) number of poor folks who get hooked on drugs through no fault of their own and can’t afford any kind of drug treatment, then turn to theft and related crimes to finance their addiction. These people need treatment instead of jail. But I’m not convinced there are that many of them… []

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