Good evening, and a very warm welcome to everyone — for an evening on the US Constitution. We are gathered here on Super Tuesday. As we speak, Democrats in 14 states are casting their votes for the preferred Democratic candidate of their choice, which will eventually lead to a Democratic candidate running against Donald Trump. Now, the primary process is not prescribed in the Constitution – each party can decide that process for itself. The procedure for the general election is described in the Constitution and since this is Election Night – I may try to squeeze this exciting primary season into the discussion this evening.
But most of all, we are gathered here to discuss the US Constitution.
It’s up to the American voters to decide if Donald Trump made America great again, but I do know that Donald Trump made the US Constitution relevant again. And that is why we are so glad to have Kim Wehle here tonight, who just wrote a wonderful and very insightful book about it.
The US Constitution is 231 years old and it has always been relevant. But, as Kim Wehle states in the introduction to her book How To Read The Constitution – And Why, it is a relatively terse document that leaves much of its meaning unwritten. A standard pocket Constitution these days only takes up 17 pages with another 17 pages of Amendments, and that is that. And even though there has always been discussion on how to interpret the Constitution and on whether or not the Constitution is a living document, the Constitution always pretty much held strong, because there were certain norms and conventions that people abided by — presidents as well. A presidential candidate would make public their personal finances, the people in the executive branch would hold the experience needed to fulfill their tasks, and the loser of a presidential election would concede to the victor and cooperate to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power.
Now – the latter – the peaceful transfer of power after losing the election – has not in modern times been tested. And if the current president, Donald Trump, would lose the election – there is so far no reason to believe that there won’t be a peaceful transfer of power. However, the fact that the scenario has been discussed over the past year – in Op-Eds and during events like this – underlines the extraordinary circumstances American politics is in right now. The fact that during the recent impeachment trial we’ve seen hundreds of references to the Founding Fathers and how they feared exactly the kind of behavior President Trump – according to the Democrats – was executing, shows that the US Constitution is not an ancient relic belonging in a museum. Even though it is – you can see the US constitution in the National Archives in Washington.
It is impossible to have a proper discussion about the Constitution without bringing up the current occupant of the White House, just as – if you want to give a proper analysis of the Trump Presidency, you cannot do that without bringing up the Constitution.
But: Kim Wehle did not write a book about Trump. She did definitely not write a book against Trump. She wrote a book explaining the Constitution, why it was written, what freedoms Americans have because of it, what is not in the Constitution, why certain things are not in the Constitution, how the Founding Fathers looked at the role of government in the daily lives of Americans, why the checks and balances as the Constitution describes them are so important – but the reader will also understand more of the distrust many Americans have of their government.
Kim Wehle is a professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law, she is a regular commentator and a legal expert for CBS and in the past she worked in the Whitewater investigation under independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the Clinton years, and she has practiced law for more than 25 years. She is the author of How To Read The Constitution – And Why, and I hope you will give her a warm welcome.