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‘We the People’ Weigh In on Constitution Day on Campus

Does our country’s 228-year-old Constitution need some fixing? That was the question that drove a thought-provoking workshop with students, faculty and staff to observe Constitution Day.

The Sept. 17 discussion was led by Professor of Politics Gerard Fitzpatrick, who noted at the start of the hour that it was a tribute to Professor of History Dallett Hemphill, who was “the heart and soul of the program.” Hemphill, who died July 3, was “ a long-time force in organizing the recognition of Constitution Day on campus,” said Michael Mackintosh ’96,  a lecturer in the History department and one of Hemphill’s former students, who organized this year’s event.

Explaining that one of Hemphill’s dreams was to have been a delegate at the Continental Convention in 1787, Fitzpatrick then addressed attendees as “delegates” and invited them to share ideas on possible amendments that could improve the Constitution. Participants debated both sides of a variety of issues, including:

  • Should hate speech be protected under free speech or should it be limited?
  • Would proportional representation be a more democratic method? Is Pennsylvania, as a larger state, underrepresented in the Senate with only two representatives?
  • Should there be term limits for Supreme Court Justices? Should they be appointed or elected?
  • Is it okay for the Supreme Court to decide public policy issues? Was the recent same-sex marriage ruling one that the Supreme Court should have ruled on?

The group also discussed whether the electoral college is obsolete. “No system is perfect,” said Fitzpatrick, “but would a national primary system be more fair? More democratic?”

As the workshop concluded, Fitzpatrick posed an option that had not been addressed: “Anyone say to leave the Constitution alone?” It was a measure that none of the delegates supported.