We typically celebrate our Declaration of Independence this week, but given all that's going on, another document deserves some credit this July 4th. Sure, the Constitution has a special day in September, but setting off bottle rockets with all those dry leaves around is a bad idea -- so take a minute at this week's barbecue to appreciate what the Constitution has done for us lately:
• The consistency shown in the Supreme Court's decision to send Fisher v. Texas back to the lower court. SCOTUS decided the lower court didn't apply a long-standing principle of law to this affirmative action case. Rather than use the opportunity to plant an ideological flag in the sand, they asked the lower court to tidy up their own mess. The rule of law wins.
• The First Amendment right of NBC News to completely botch the Fisher decision, in announcing the Court had established a higher standard for affirmative action cases. The Court didn't do this, but thanks to the right of the press to get things wrong as long as they don't mean any harm, no one was pilloried.
• The Court's willingness to let the Constitution speak for itself with the two same sex marriage cases. In one, the Court said the Constitution gives states the right to define marriage, and the US government can't impact that right, as long as the states do so in a way that protects everyone equally. In the second, the Court said anyone going to court must have a personal stake in the question they ask the court to answer -- a reminder that if you don't have such a stake, you're just a legal nerd, and should consider getting a job with NBC News.
• A reminder from Justice Antonin Scalia that defaming a vanquished opponent impairs everyone's pursuit of happiness. "It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race." It is hard to stay calm in the midst of vigorous opposition, but that is what democracy requires; it also requires a certain degree of grace in the midst of victory, something our culture has lost sight of by watching too many episodes of Jerry Springer.
• Amendments 15, 17, 19, 23, 24, and 26. The recent decision on the Voting Rights Act takes away some of the protections from roadblocks to voting, but if you're a law-abiding US citizen over 20, you still get to vote, thanks to the Constitution. If someone prevents you from doing that, the Voting Rights Act still gives you the right to have that blockage removed and remedied. If you want the original VRA protections restored, tell Congress to get busy -- either way, you still get to vote.
• The right to tell Congress to get busy. These folks don't get to serve in Washington just because they want to -- and if you don't think a little pressure on your part can have a huge impact in a short amount of time, meet the Chicago Blackhawks.
It's vital that the Declaration of Independence outlines our lofty goals, but the Constitution is the GPS that helps us negotiate the rocky terrain we often encounter to get to those goals. Our country isn't perfect because we aren't -- but it has the opportunity to get better, as we let the Constitution shape us and take us in new directions.
Think about that as you light your sparklers this week -- provided, of course, sparklers are allowed in your town by local law.
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