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Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Constitition’

Comparing Two Controversial Executive Orders

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana

Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution requires that before U.S. presidents can assume their duties they are required to take the oath of office, affirming in part that they “will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. This post will review and compare two controversial presidential executive orders that were issued in the interest of national security, and that many believe violate various provisions and protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Among these are the First Amendment rule barring the establishment of religion, the Fifth Amendment’s right to due process of law, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order #9066

On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A total of 2,403 were killed, including 2,335 military personnel and 68 civilians. The United States entered World War II by declaring war on Japan the following day. A wave of anti-Japanese sentiment across the country was accompanied by widespread fear of a Japanese attack, especially on the vulnerable West Coast. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to declare certain areas of the United States military zones in order to prevent espionage and sabotage.

Residents of Japanese Ancestry Awaiting the Bus at the
Wartime Civil Control Station, San Francisco, Apr. 1942
By Dorothea Lange, U.S. War Relocation Authority via Library of Congress [public domain]

Within weeks, all persons of Japanese ancestry–whether citizens or enemy aliens, young or old, rich or poor–were ordered to assembly centers near their homes. Soon they were sent to permanent relocation centers outside the restricted military zones defined by the order. Around 120,000 people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were native-born citizens of the United States, were forced into remote and desolate internment camps with armed guards and barbed wire for the duration of the war. There were 10 different sites across the country, including Tule Lake, California; Minidoka, Idaho; Manzanar, California; Topaz, Utah; Jerome, Arkansas; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Poston, Arizona; Granada, Colorado; and Rohwer, Arkansas. Many lost their homes and businesses and were separated from loved ones for the duration of the war.

In 1942, 23-year-old Fred Korematsu, who was born in Oakland, California, to Japanese immigrants, refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that Congress, the President, and the military authorities did not have the power to issue the relocation orders and that he was being discriminated against based on his race. The government argued that the evacuation was necessary to protect the country. In Korematsu v. United States (1944), the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the need to protect the country in time of war was a greater priority than the individual rights of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans. One of the three dissenting opinions, written by the lone Republican-appointed Justice Owen Roberts, stated that “I think the indisputable facts exhibit a clear violation of Constitutional rights.”

Protest Against Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban
By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


2017: President Donald J. Trump ‘s Executive Order #13769

Skip to 75 years later. One week after taking office, on January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order #13769, ordering a halt on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries–Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Two days later, the president released a statement which read, “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion–this is about terror and keeping our country safe.” The order sparked immediate protests both across the country as well as internationally.

The next day, a federal judge in New York blocked part of the order. On March 6, Trump released a revised travel ban that excluded Iraq from the list of Muslim-majority countries whose citizens were temporarily blocked. A federal judge in Hawaii then issued a nationwide restraining order on the revised travel ban March 15, ruling that it still discriminated on the basis of nationality. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling on May 25. The Trump administration then appealed to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on the travel ban order in October 2017. Stay tuned.

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Our Founding Fathers Said That?

Constitutional Convention (Granger Collecton, NY/courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy of SIRS Discoverer)

The United States Constitution is considered to be “the supreme law of the land.” And it has been for more than two centuries. No small feat for a document uniting the ideas of nationhood, independence, defense, general welfare, and all sorts of liberties.

This document certainly was not created alone.

Many people contributed to the development, shaping, and writing of the U.S. Constitution. Those who had the most significant impact on its outcome are considered to be the U.S. Founding Fathers (remember that this was the 18th century–women, such as Abigail Adams, influenced the Constitution, but through their husbands…a blog post for another day).

With all of the hullabaloo around the upcoming presidential election, and with all of the recent discussions on and controversies around gun rights and women’s rights and immigrants’ rights and LGBTQ rights and criminal rights and voting rights…, let’s take a listen to what some of our Founding Fathers have said about the U.S. Constitution.

First U.S. President George Washington (Gilbert Stuart/U.S. Dept. of the Interior/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy SKS)

 

“The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.”–George Washington (1732-1799)

George Washington is considered by many to be the “father of the country.” He was, after all, the nation’s first President. He served that office from 1789 to 1797. Prior to that, he was a general in the Revolutionary War and is considered to have played a pivotal role in leading the American Army to victory.

Our first president was known as a man of few and select words, as embodied by the above quote. He thoughtfully deemed the U.S. Constitution a “guide” to be followed, not the zenith or the ultimate truth.

Third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson (Rembrandt Peale/U.S. Dept. of the Interior/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy SKS)

 

“Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”–Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States (1801-1809), was a terrible speaker but a terrific writer. He wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, and his input was invaluable to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

Jefferson was a lawyer, diplomat, naturalist, architect, educator, statesman, musician, inventor, scientist, geographer…he was fluent in many languages…he supported women’s rights, free public education, and a free library system. All in all, a brilliant and cultured man. He knew government had to be kept in check, and that the general population was essential to maintaining this stability: “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government–lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”–Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

Patrick Henry was never president, but he certainly made a name for himself as an orator, lawyer, and politician. He served as first and sixth governor of Virginia, and was instrumental in opposing the Stamp Act of 1765. In fact, he may be most famous for saying, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

This guy liked freedom.

Henry’s political priorities always aligned with affirming the general population’s rights and well-being. He was consistently against the idea of a strong central government. He initially opposed the idea of a U.S. Constitution, fearing it would jeopardize individual freedoms and state sovereignty. He only became an ardent supporter of the Constitution once the Bill of Rights was added.

Henry wanted the U.S. Constitution to serve as an “instrument” for the people, providing them with the means necessary to maintain their freedoms and hold their government accountable.

Fourth U.S. President James Madison (John Vanderlyn/U.S. Dept. of the Interior/PUBLIC DOMAIN) (courtesy SKS)

 

“Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”–James Madison (1751-1836)

James Madison, fourth president of the United States (1809-1817), is considered to be the “father of the Constitution.” He had helped write Virginia’s State Constitution, the model for the U.S. Constitution. Both are grounded in his belief that the United States’ potential would be “derived from the superior power of the people.”

Madison predicted a national crisis if no Constitution was drafted. His advocacy for creating a U.S. Constitution paved the way for the Constitutional Congress.

He understood the importance of understanding and interpreting the context in which the document was written. As the context of the living documents changes, should the Constitution?

“It is every American’s right and obligation to read and interpret the Constitution for himself.”–Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Benjamin Franklin’s words could not be more timely.

Franklin–statesman, writer, scientist, philosopher, inventor, political theorist, printer–understood that true freedom in this nation began with freedom to choose for oneself.

Franklin’s highest political office was Minister to France. But as the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, he had participated in significant events in American history, such as the signing of the peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War, and the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

As a participant in the signing of the Constitution, Franklin shared an observation that all hoped would be a symbol for the new country. Upon seeing the sun sitting atop George Washington’s chair at the closing of the Constitutional Convention, Franklin said: “I have the happiness to know it is a rising sun and not a setting sun.”

What are your students’ thoughts about the U.S. Constitution? Find resources in SKS and SIRS Discoverer and join us throughout the month of September as we celebrate National Constitution Month.