It’s something we use every day yet rarely take the time to celebrate. It’s as solid as the ground beneath our feet and still extremely flexible. It provides the foundation for what it means to be an American because it enshrines much of what we value as Americans. Of course, I’m referring to the United States Constitution.
This remarkable document is as relevant today as it was on its signing 225 years ago. It provides for the general structure of our government and the rights and protections we hold as invaluable. Court cases test it regularly, and case law changes its interpretations, yet it remains as firm an underpinning for our republic as we can imagine.
In fact, it’s difficult to imagine American life without it. Spend a few minutes with international headlines, and the consequences of poor constitutional protections are clear. The Chinese government censors Facebook and Twitter. Young women are imprisoned in Russia for criticizing their president. A Pakistani girl of diminished mental capacity is arrested for supposedly destroying the Koran.
This isn’t to say the United States is perfect. But our citizens are fortunate to be governed by a near-perfect document. From early on, we understand our rights – to speak freely, to practice the religion of our choice, to have recourse when authority figures abuse their power.
Those rights are great equalizing forces in our society. Americans choose their elected representatives. Thanks to the Constitution, voters draw accountability from those representatives with free, fair, predictable elections. No elected official is so powerful that he or she cannot be recalled through the ballot box. Each of the three branches of government is co-equal. The legislative branch exerts oversight over the executive branch. The voters exert oversight over the legislative branch. The bicameral legislature ensures checks and balances on each chamber from the other. All of these structures have their basis in the Constitution.
Much credit is given to the Founding Fathers for their foresight in drafting such a profoundly useful governing document. That credit is correct. The drafters’ accomplishment was tremendous. However, the Constitution achieves its full worth when its principles and rights are exercised every day by the American people. When we say whatever we want on Twitter, when we vote on Election Day, when we decide to run for office, when we voice dissent to our elected representatives, we are sustaining constitutional precepts. The Constitution might be 225 years old, but it’s more relevant than ever in the lives of the American people.