Robert F. Jakubowicz: Constitutional duty to govern
The 4th of July holiday, which commemorates the Declaration of Inde-
pendence, has become, what John Adams in 1776 hoped its celebration would be, namely, "the most memorable day in the History of AmericaŠsolemnized with Pomp and Parade with Š Games, Sports Š and illuminations." But, Sept. 17, 1787, the other equally memorable day in this nation’s history when the delegates at the constitutional convention adopted the Cons-
titution, draws little public attention and hardly any
In my opinion, that day deserves to be a holiday on a par with the Fourth of July. Independence from Britain was memorable and deserves to be celebrated because it enabled the former colonies to become a new nation, but the adoption of the Constitution actually created that nation and the supreme law under which Americans live today.
There have been some attempts to annually commemorate the Constitution on Sept. 17. Congress in 1956 established Constitutional Week to begin each year on that date. The late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who took pride in always having a copy of the Constitution in his pocket, successfully attached a provision to a congressional appropriation law for fiscal 2005 which designated Sept. 17 each year as Constitution Day. It requires public schools and government offices on that day to provide educational programs to give students and federal employees a better understanding of the Constitution. According to an NBC news story at the time, Byrd was frustrated by what he called the "huge ignorance" of many Americans about the nation’s history and its Constitution.
Ironically. The Republican Party leaders in the House of Representatives celebrated the Constitution by having the GOP members read that document on the House floor at the opening of the current session, but then they went on as a legislative body to be the least productive and noncooperative Congress in the nation’s history. The House leadership led by Speaker John Boehner has utterly refused to take action on just about every legislative measure passed by the Senate that was sent to them and every legislative action requested by the president.
Legislative inaction is not what the drafters of the Constitution intended. The government they created is supposed to function together for the common good of the United States and not for the good of a political party bent on winning upcoming mid-term and presidential elections. The stonewalling by House Republicans on any legislative initiative from a Democratic-led Senate and a Democratic president has nothing to do with either the spirit of independence celebrated on this day or with the intent of the drafters of the Constitution.
Instead it has everything to do with petty political party politics. Anyone who thinks otherwise is one of those ignorant Americans Sen. Byrd was frustrated with.
Those signs that appear at political rallies with the message "What don’t you understand about the Constitution?" are intended to send a message to lawmakers to stop passing laws on subjects the sign holders disagree with. These signs should be directed against the sign-holders and the lawmakers they are urging not to compromise or take any legislative action on any matter they disagree with.
The main goal of the Constitution was to create a government by the rule of law. Laws that were supposed to be passed by the elected representatives of the people to deal with such matters as unemployment, climate change, health care, safety regulations, the use of military force in foreign countries, and the like.
The constitutional convention delegates in their deliberations over the drafting of the Constitution set an example for how the government they created should operate. The document they adopted is, as described by American historian Charles Beard, a "bundle of compromises" and "second choices’’ accepted by the constitutional delegates to make the union of states work for the benefit of the new nation.
Following this lead of the convention delegates, the first House of Representatives that met after the adoption of the Constitution successfully conducted the people’s legislative business despite differing views by the members because they understood the need for compromise and legislative action to make American government work.
There is no reason other than petty-minded politics for the current behavior of the Republicans in Congress. In addition to the inaction by the House, the GOP minority in the Senate set a record in using the filibuster to stifle legislative action in that body. Such congressional antics fuel a growing divide between Americans over its government, which is the direct opposite of what we celebrate today. This celebration is about the independence of the colonists enabling them to form their own nation with a government that is to represent their interests and work, and I emphasis the word "work," as stated in the Constitution: "For a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty Š"
This is a good day to also celebrate the Constitution and to call out the congressional Republicans for refusing to exercise their constitutional duty to legislate.
Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz, a Pittsfield lawyer, is a regular contributor to The Eagle.
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