The work of Thurgood Marshall laid the legal foundation for the modern Civil Rights movement. With this in mind, how do you respond to the following question (s)?
Can we all say as Americans, the Constitution and its guarantees apply to all citizens? In the pursuit of equal rights of all citizens have we left anyone behind?
Please join the discussion by posting at the bottom of the page.
The Honorable Larry Eger
This seems a simple enough question. But then I find myself asking, “What is this document we call a constitution and what are its guarantees?”
I know that our Constitution, along with its Bill of Rights, established a set of principles to guide a new nation in one of mankind’s greatest social experiments. It set out a series of inalienable rights that shall not be abridged by our newly formed government—a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
But upon reflection, I see that our Constitution is only a piece of paper. Its guarantees come from the very people it is meant to protect. I like to think that as a criminal defense attorney, my life’s work has been in the protection and application of these rights.
But from this vantage point, I can also see who we have left behind. It can be argued that we do not want everyone to share in the same rights and guarantees. The authors of our Constitution did not feel it necessary to include women, or blacks, or even Native Americans. With time, this has changed. We now debate the equality of the LGBT population. And what about the mentally ill, convicted felons, even children, are they and should they be included?
I met a man last week who spends much of his legal career defending detainees in Guantanamo. Dostoyevsky argued, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Without question, these men have been denied almost every privilege guaranteed in our Constitution.
What our Constitution is and what it guarantees and who it applies to are and always will be a subject of debate, which is our nation’s greatest strength. Through this debate we can guarantee that our Constitution is not just a piece of paper, and that the guarantees contained inside it are not just words, but can become a reality.
Mark St. Germain
The Constitution’s promises should apply to all citizens or we haven’t accomplished the goal they were established to achieve. That’s not saying they always do, we’re dealing with human beings here. We quarrel about semantics, which can be as fruitless as trying to agree on the intent of a biblical passage, but that’s what we’re here for. Citizens who love their country and care if the right decision was made. Citizens who insist on interpreting our founding principals though criteria that are morally, not monetarily or politically based.
Have we left anyone behind? Of course we have. Progress has been made. And I hope I’ll live to see a time when I hear a man entering an office described as a “big guy”, not a big/black/indian/mexican guy. Unless they start adding, “white guy”.
Dr. Lisa Merritt
Executive Director of the Multicultural Health Institute Sarasota
In many ways, we still contend with modern versions of issues that challenged our society during the Civil Rights Movement. An Institute of Medicine report (May 2002) determined that better outcomes in health care were thwarted by less aggressive or effective care for certain groups based solely on race and ethnicity resulting in significant health care disparities.
At the Multicultural Health Institute (MHI), we see such disparities as a continuing challenge to citizens’ ability to realize their full constitutional guarantees, including health care as a right. Our mission assumes that it is difficult for people who suffer poor health and lack the ability to access adequate health care to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We note the stubbornly persistent high rates of HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and infant mortality that affect various racial, ethnic, economically disadvantaged, and under-represented communities across the U.S. and seek to reduce the gap in diagnosis and treatment.
Americans must admit that poverty remains the veil that separates Americans from their Constitutional guarantees. Poverty makes living such a challenge that poor citizens – no matter their personal determination and resiliency and commitment to community – lack the array of resources needed to participate fully in society. We invite you to help continue our work to empower communities and resolve health inequities. We are reminded of the words of the great Nelson Mandela, whose commitment to truth and reconciliation helped unify post- Apartheid South Africa, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Director of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee
While not perfect, and as it applies to American citizens, the Constitution and its guarantees apply to all citizens. However, the Constitution is not a stagnant document. It is an evolving document. Look no farther than issues of slavery, voting rights, women’s rights, rights of workers, rights of children, and now, gay rights. When this question is asked 10, 25, or 50 years from now, it will be interesting to see what answers time and perspective provide.
In regards to leaving anyone behind, Ben Stein has an interesting quote about this: “We are not supposed to be all equal. Let’s just forget that. We are supposed to have equal rights under law. If we do that, we have done enough.”
The Honorable Judge Charles E. Williams
A literal reading of the Constitution tells us that the Constitution and its guarantees applies to all its citizens. However the Constitution is an evolving document. Certainly when it was written the world was a very different place, and the issues created by technology were not as challenging as they are today. The question is not so much whether it applies to all citizens, clearly it does, but we still must decude who qualifies for a citizen under the Constitution. The original document applied to mostly land owning white males. A significant portion of the country was left out or marginalized for years. Certainly an argument can be made that true citizenship to women, immigrants, and former slaves took hundreds of years after the original document was written. It is still being defined today in terms of who can marry, when a person is considered a human for protection under the Constitution, and whether businesses and corporations are also “citizens” entitled to Constitutional protections. The beauty of the Constitution is its ability to adapt to an ever changing and diverse world.
As an analogy, if the Constitution can be considered a train that picks up people at different destinations along its route, and as people board the train they become citizens of this country, then truly the train can be considered late coming for some, and a distant whistle for others. The whistle analogy though is important, for is it a whistle in the distance being listened by those who have been left at the station or a whistle of the train on its way to the station to pick up those final passengers in this document’s long and historic journey?
That is the answer we must strive to find.