Constitution Day (or Citizenship Day, as it was formerly known) is not one of the most widely celebrated national holidays; it typically gets less news attention than Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow. But at federally funded schools and universities, acknowledgement of the holiday is mandatory according to federal law.
This year, Case Western Reserve University will hold a forum on Sept. 17 about constitutional law as it applies to sexual misconduct cases on college campuses.
In 2004, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia added an amendment to a bill that was in the Senate at the time stipulating that all publicly funded educational institutions (and federal agencies) had to provide educational programming on the history of the Constitution on Sept. 17, the day of the Constitution’s signing, in order to receive federal funding.
The U.S. Department of Education announced that this law would apply to any school receiving federal funds of any kind. This includes CWRU, and every other school that receives federal scholarship money to give to students.
The law was actually embraced by schools across the country, each institution choosing to celebrate the signing of the Constitution in slightly different ways. Kent State University, for example, is holding a public reading of the Constitution followed by a cake reception. Cleveland State University is holding a discussion with three Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Professors who will be reviewing and discussing recent Supreme Court cases decided in the 2014-15 term. Other schools have hosted Constitution trivia contests, distributed free copies of the Constitution or held campus-wide fairs where professional constitutional scholars can share information with students.
Case Western Reserve University, however, celebrates Constitution Day somewhat differently. Originally given to Political Science professor and then-head of the department, Joseph White, the responsibility of organizing CWRU’s Constitution Day celebration was eventually handed off to Professor Laura Tartakoff, who has been organizing it for about 20 years.
Each year a board of CWRU students—volunteers, who make up the Constitution Day committee—meet to decide on a topic that has been a subject of debate among lawyers, legal scholars, constitutional law experts, and often, the general public. This includes topics like same-sex marriage or the affordable care act, which, at the time of the forum, have yet to be decided on by the Supreme Court.
These controversies—dilemmas that can be legally decided upon depending on your interpretation of the Constitution—eventually become the subject of debate for CWRU’s annual Constitution Day Forum.
Students and teachers organize to come up with the topic of conversation, bring in expert panelists, and moderate the debate so that both sides—and both opposing interpretations of the Constitution—can be represented.
Typically these forums do not draw a large crowd. Last year’s Constitution Day Forum, entitled “Executive Overreach: The President On His Own?” (about the Affordable Care Act), drew about 30-40 students.
This year’s topic was chosen in the hopes that it would be particularly relevant to students.
CWRU has invited Professor Cynthia Bowman of Cornell University Law School and Howard Kallem, Director of Title IX Compliance at Duke University to speak on the subject of sexual misconduct on college campuses, and how the due process clause of the Constitution has impacted, and might impact, universities’ handlings of sexual misconduct. The question being asked is: Are universities’ handlings of sexual misconduct—the procedures and protocols they use—constitutional?
The forum is being held in Moot Courtroom, Room A59 of CWRU’s Graduate Law School, on Sept. 16 from 4-5:30 p.m.