Hi, I’m the Constitution, Remember Me?


The 4th of July means BBQs, fireworks, and hopefully a couple of days off work.

For attorneys, given our unique role interacting with it, the 4th of July is an ideal time to reflect on that piece of parchment that has a profound effect on our lives.

Yep, it’s time to talk about the Constitution. You swore an oath to uphold it, so what exactly do you know about it?

You swore to uphold the Constitution

Remember when you found out you passed the bar? Then a few weeks later you sat in an auditorium and had ten seconds of glory when your name was called?

At some point during that ceremony, you were sworn as an attorney licensed to practice in your state. Somewhere in that oath you said something like “I swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the state of ______.” If you practice in federal court, you were required to make a similar oath when you were sworn into federal court.

That actually means something. At least I hope it does. It doesn’t mean you have to carry around a pocket copy of the constitution, or interrupt every traffic stop to inform an individual of their rights (that could easily land you in serious hot water). But it does mean you should actually think about what that oath means. If that oath means nothing to you, please go ahead and turn in your license and move on to something else.

You probably interact with it more than you realize

The first thing that comes to mind is criminal defense attorneys. I spent over a year clerking at a public defender’s office here in Minnesota, so I’m slightly biased. That is, biased in believing that public defenders might take that duty/oath more seriously than any other type of attorney that I’ve encountered. I consider that a good thing. On the flip side, I saw plenty of prosecutors that threw out evidence (or cases) for improper searches.

Constitutional issues are not limited to criminal law. How about First Amendment issues (religion, free speech, etc.) or civil rights issues under the Equal Protection Clause? Some of the issues I deal with in consumer law related to improper garnishment are arguments rooted in due process arguments.

The bottom line is that even though it always seems like the juiciest cases are strictly constitutional issues, there are plenty of practice areas that regularly deal with constitutional issues. With that in mind, there’s no time like the present to  . . .

Read it again (it’s a good week for it)

You swore to uphold the Constitution and you probably handle at least some cases that involve Constitutional issues—but when was the last time you read part or all of it?

I’m pretty sure it was first year ConLaw when I sat down and read the whole thing. Yes, I actually read  it prior to finishing this post. Yes, it took more than one sitting.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I learned—not about the “big” things, but some of the details. For example, the age and term limits for senators and congressional representatives are in the actual text. I’m sure I knew that at some point, but I had forgotten that.

Or reading the 4th Amendment over and over again, and trying to extrapolate how it applies the current situation with the NSA. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you my opinion. But do yourself a favor, read it over and come up with your own. It’s pretty hard to uphold something unless you know what it says.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/comlibrary/3025513532/)


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