On Monday, Sept. 17, Lyon College observed Constitution Day by inviting Attorney Casey Castleberry to speak. His speech, entitled “How a Governing Document Drafted 231 Years Ago Continues to Apply to our Modern World,” focused on the adaptability of the Constitution.
Attorney Castleberry remarked he does run into “constitutional issues in [his] practice on a very frequent, possibly even daily, basis.” He described two such cases regarding the “due process” clause of the Constitution, demonstrating how constitutional issues manifest themselves even in a small-town practice of law.
He went on to give a brief history of the Constitution, which was signed on Sept. 17, 1787. The document was written during a convention to attempt to amend the Articles of Confederation; during the revision process, the Founding Fathers elected to start from scratch, and thus the Constitution was born. Castleberry called the Constitution an “imperfect but brilliant document.”
According to Castleberry, the Constitution’s “imperfections” can be seen as its greatest strengths: he believes that our Founding Fathers intentionally “didn’t set the rules very specifically,” but set them “very loosely to set the stage for debate for hundreds of years to come.” The document’s “ambiguity in the language” and lack of strict rules sparks the debates that keep lawmakers busy making sure that the Constitution functions effectively.
“I believe that the founders recognized that out of good, vigorous debate, came better ideas, came better ways of doing things, came better ways of governance,” said Castleberry.
It is extremely difficult to pass an amendment to the Constitution: a two-thirds majority must approve amendments in both the House of Representatives and Congress, or a Constitutional Convention must be called for by two-thirds of state legislatures. More often, instead of changing the wording of the laws, the interpretation of existing phrasing will occur.
“Ultimately,” Castleberry said, “the courts interpret the rules in the Constitution.” The Supreme Court will weigh in on important cases and, after considering precedent and the facts before them, make a decision that sets new precedent for the lower courts to follow.
Observing precedent constitutes a significant amount of our current understanding of the Constitution; the compilation of two-hundred years of precedent and tradition comprises Common Law doctrines, which Castleberry notes have “guided the court’s” interpretation of the Constitution in the centuries since it was drafted.”
After his lecture, Castleberry opened the floor for questions, comments, and possible debate.
Lyon’s Academic Operations Manager, Markeita Williams, shared her excitement in regards to student participation: “I was glad to see students that were there that were interacting and asking questions that they were genuinely concerned about; not just about his speech or what he talked about, but just genuine concern with our political atmosphere and what’s going on today in our modern time.”
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