I trust you had an enjoyable and productive Constitution Day on Tuesday. Mine was nice, thanks for asking.
As you know, an act of Congress made Constitution Day a holiday, though not one when you get to take the day off. There also, best I can tell, were no mattress sales. (And remember, if you don’t buy a new mattress every couple of weeks you will be eaten by vermin while you sleep.)
Federal law requires all publicly funded schools to observe Constitution Day, commemorating its signing Sept. 17, 1787, by teaching something about our nation’s guiding document. The Texas chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates takes it to an impressive level with its James Otis Lecture Series, which brings high-achieving high school kids to the Capitol for activities.
FYI, Otis was a colonial-era lawyer credited with popularizing the concept of “A man’s home is his castle” as he railed against the Brits’ warrantless searches. Otis also said, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” He also said, “I hope when God Almighty in his righteous providence shall take me out of time into eternity that it will be by a flash of lightning.”
Otis, 58, died in 1783, struck by lightning.
This year’s lecturer was H.W. Brands, the celebrated author and University of Texas professor.
“It was just the work of a bunch of guys,” Brands said of the Constitution, which remains an amazing guiding document, even as we argue about whether the founders had the Internet and automatic weapons in mind when they endorsed free speech and the right to bear arms.
The students got copies of the U.S. Constitution, which Brands told them is a “slim little pamphlet,” while the Texas Constitution is “a big fat book.”
“It’s one of the secrets of success of the United States Constitution,” Brands said of its relative brevity.
State constitutions tend to be longer than the federal document and Texas’ is among the longest, with 474 amendments and nine more pending on the Nov. 5 ballot. You’re doing your homework on those, aren’t you?
There are some important items on that ballot — including a water plan for the state. And then there’s stuff like Proposition 2, stuff that results from a too-long, overly-detailed Constitution that includes stuff that should be in statute, not a constitution.
Prop 2 on the Nov. 5 ballot says: “The constitutional amendment eliminating an obsolete requirement for a State Medical Education Board and a State Medical Education Fund, neither of which is operational.”
The ever-vigilant League of Women Voters of Texas tells us that state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, sponsor of the proposed amendment, has said the board “was ineffective in its time and, as a result, has been idle since 1988.” The amendment, he said, “will trim our sprawling Constitution and finally eliminate an agency that the Sunset Commission advised us to abolish 25 years ago.”
And then there’s Prop 8: “The constitutional amendment repealing Section 7, Article IX, Texas Constitution, which relates to the creation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County.”
I sense some indecision on this one. I hear a collective “Huh?” out there in that magic place we call voterland. Prop 8 actually is an unamendment, not an amendment, because it would remove an amendment voters added in 1960. It’s up to you to decide the future of the Hidalgo County hospital district, even though some of you have no idea where Hidalgo County is.
This is a great process, isn’t it?
Here’s an early warning: If you’re not already registered to vote, you have until Oct. 7 to do so to qualify to cast your ballot Nov. 5.
Alabama’s got the longest state constitution. We’ve got another chance coming up to add to ours.