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Public Statements

Proposed Amendments to the Constitution

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. JACKSON of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, I recently have given several Special Order speeches about my view of the Constitution and making my argument for why I think it should be amended to include certain basic rights that the American people currently lack, such as the right to a high-quality education, the right to health care, and equal rights for women.

I believe these rights should be given to the American people as a matter of moral and social justice. However, even more than that, I believe that there's a strong economic case for why these rights should be granted by this Congress. If we guarantee the right to an education of equal high quality to every American, and give the Congress the power to implement that right by appropriate legislation, then, Mr. Speaker, we will set off a true race to the top as States, cities, and the Federal Government are compelled to meet under the standard.

The nature of the problem: in 50 States there are 95,000 schools. There are 15,000 school districts; 3,141 counties; 19,000 municipal governments, and 30,000 incorporated cities. In all of that government there are 60 million children who are being asked to be the very best that they can be.

With my amendment, that means more teachers and teachers' aides and tutors for our kids. It means the construction companies and roofers and architects will be engaged to build new schools and improve old ones. It means technology companies benefit as computers and laptops are purchased; and, yes, iPads, Kindles, and Nooks replace textbooks.

I realize that there will be a cost to all of this, but I believe that if we can find the resources for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and military action in Libya, then we can find the resources to educate our children and the American people. Most importantly, for 308 million Americans, we can't afford not to.

But, Mr. Speaker, I want to put my proposal tonight in some historical context, if I can. I want to suggest that through the course of human history, law is actually going somewhere. I want to suggest that at points in time from the earliest civilizations, progress has been made incrementally towards freedom, towards justice, and towards human rights.

I want to put our own Constitution and the Bill of Rights into the context at vital points in time. These documents are not the end all and the be all of democracy and freedom. No, Mr. Speaker. The very ability to amend our Constitution suggests that the Founders of our country see things the way I do--that the document they crafted was a landmark in human history, but not a perfect, final draft.

So, tonight, Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a walk through history to talk a little bit about where law and human rights have been, where they are, and where they're going. A couple of themes are going to emerge that as history shows that law is heading in a certain direction, we're going to see an action by a majority in this Congress heading in the opposite direction of human law through human history.

Like all civilizations, the roots of democracy and human rights lie in what is known as the Middle East--the Mesopotamian Empire. Although those early civilizations were decidedly not democratic and not inclusive of human rights, the evolution of law as we know it started there. Around 2350 B.C., Before Christ, Mesopotamia was ruled by Urukagina's Code, the oldest known set of laws. They are referenced in documents from the period as the consolidation of ``ordinances'' that claimed that kings were appointed by the gods, and affirmed the rights of citizens to know why certain actions were being punished.

Some 300 years later, around 2050 B.C., Ur-Nammu's Code was the earliest known written law. Only a handful of articles can be deciphered, but evidence suggests an advanced legal system with specialized judges, testimony under oath, and the ability for judges to assess damages to be paid to victims by the guilty party.

In 1850 B.C., we saw the first known legal decision involving murder of a temple employee by three other men. Nine witnesses testified against them, and three were sentenced to death. In 1700 B.C., Hammurabi's Code was carved into rock columns in Babylon. The underlying principle was ``an eye for an eye.'' Some 282 clauses regulated an array of obligations, professions, and rights, including commerce, slavery, marriage, theft, and debts. Punishment by modern standards was barbaric, including cutting off hands or fingers as a punishment for theft.

In 1300 B.C., the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament say that the Ten Commandments were received by Moses directly from God. Contained in the book of Exodus, those Commandments became the basis of modern laws against murder, adultery, and stealing. Around 1280 B.C., in India, rules passed down orally through generations were formally written down as the Laws of Manu. They were the basis of India's caste system, and punishment was used sparingly and only as a last resort. Interestingly, members of the higher castes were punished more severely than those in the lower castes.

In 621 B.C., Draco's Law was written for the Athenians. The punishment was so severe--often

death--that we derived the word ``Draconian'' from it. However, Draco's Law introduced the concept that the state, not private parties or vigilantes, had the exclusive role in trying and punishing a person for a crime. Shortly after Draco's Law, the Spartan King Lycurgus give his oral law to the world. Lycurgus' Law held that women had a duty to have children. But if the children were deformed, they would be killed. Those who lived became wards of Sparta at age 7 when they began preparation for military duty.

In 550 B.C., Solon, an Athenian statesman and lawmaker, redefined and refined Draco's Law by ``democratizing'' it, making it more accessible to the citizens of Athens. Around the same time, in 536 B.C., China created the Book of Punishments, which limited the ways in which somebody could be punished after being convicted of a very serious crime, but still allowed for tattooing, manipulation, the amputation of feet, and death as legal punishments.

In 450 B.C., the Twelve Tables in Rome were created. These formed the basis of all modern law. Under these laws, a system of public justice was developed whereby injured parties could seek compensation from guilty defendants. The lower classes--the plebes--were given greater protection from abuses by the ruling classes--the patricians--especially with regard to debts. The Twelve Tables also prohibited marriages between classes, severely punished death, and gave fathers the right of life or death over their sons. The Tables survived for nearly a thousand years until they were destroyed by the invading Gauls in 390 A.D.

One hundred years later, in 350 B.C., the first Chinese Imperial Code of Law, the Code of Li k'vei, dealt with the issues of theft, robbery, arrest, and other general subjects. It served as a model for the Chinese T'ang Code, which came about a thousand years later. In 339 B.C., the trial of Socrates played a role in the development of law. Accused of corrupting the minds of youth with his logic and of not believing in the gods, Socrates was a scapegoat for the loss of the Peloponnesian Wars. He was sentenced to death by a vote of 361-140, but his trial advanced the idea of the role of ``conscience'' in legal proceedings. Socrates was afforded the opportunity to speak to the jury and engage them in a dialogue. And, instead, he chose to give the jury a speech, criticizing them for their lack of sensitivity.

While it may not be contemplated as part of the traditional legal history, the life of Jesus Christ informs my personal understanding of the law. Under Jesus' law, pure motives, a mature love and grace unmerited, as well as nominal justice, good behavior, and honorable ends became important. Jesus was not replacing Moses' Law, but was seen as fulfilling and perfecting it. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus says, ``Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, until heaven and Earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished.''

In Galatians, Paul writes, ``For the whole law of Moses is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'' In Romans he writes, ``Love is fulfilling the law.'' Thus, this Judeo-Christian understanding of the law is both a commitment to justice and the application of a knowledgeable understanding of love is important to the spiritual framework that underlies and undergirds much of my understanding and this Nation's philosophy towards the law as well as the purpose and the function of the law in society.

All law after the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ is profoundly impacted. We make a transition from Before Christ to Anno Domini. Jumping ahead to 529 Anno Domini, Justinian's Code organized Roman Law into a series of books called ``Corpus Juris Civilis.'' This legal collection was guided by Greek and English common law, the two main influences on contemporary Western jurisprudence. Many legal principles in use today, including the very spelling of the modern word ``justice,'' emanate from Justinian, the Emperor of the Byzantium.

The 17-article Constitution of Japan, written in 604 A.D., shaped that country's morality and law. Paternalistic in orientation, it espoused such legalisms as ``peace and harmony,'' that they ``should be respected because they are very important for intergroup relations'' and ``equality, speediness, and integrity should be maintained in court procedures.''

One distinction that characterizes two different legal traditions is that much of traditional Asian law seeks to prevent disputes; whereas Western law seeks to resolve disputes. It is very important, Mr. Speaker. A distinction between Asian law is that it seeks to prevent disputes; whereas Western law seeks to resolve disputes.

In 653 A.D., the kingdoms that make up modern-day China were consolidated, and the T'ang Code, revising earlier existing Chinese laws and standardized procedures, was created. It listed crimes and their punishments in 501 articles. One of those allowed just two forms of capital punishment for a convicted criminal: beheading or hanging.

Shortly thereafter, in 700 A.D., China invented the use of fingerprinting as a means of identifying people.

In 1100 A.D., the first law school came into existence.

The basis of English common law in 1215 A.D., the Magna Carta, was signed by King John. It forced the King, for the first time, to concede a number of rights to the barons and to the people. Its 61 clauses included freedom of the church; fair taxation; controls over imprisonment, habeas corpus; and the right of all merchants to come and go freely except in time of war. Its most important clause was No. 39, stating that no freeman shall be captured or imprisoned except by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. Now even the King was restrained from merely exercising his will against another person.

In 1689, the English Bill of Rights was enacted, the precursor of our American Bill of Rights. It prohibited the arbitrary suspension of Parliament's laws, and more importantly, limited Parliament to the right to raise money through taxation.

In 1692, the Salem witch trials captivated Salem, Massachusetts. The fervor resulted in more than 300 accusations of witchcraft, with 23 executions as a result. It thrust the justice system into the popular mind in a way never seen before.

In 1740, the infamous South Carolina Slave Code, which regulated the use of slaves, became the model for slavery in other States. It said: ``All Negroes, Indians ..... and their offspring ..... shall be and are hereby declared to be and remain forever hereafter slaves; and shall be deemed ..... to be chattels personal in the hands of their owners.''

Then in 1765, law became more accessible to the common man when a British barrister named Blackstone wrote down the entire English law system in an easy-to-read, four-volume ``Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England.'' Blackstone's work was easily exported to the new British colonies and was the basis for the governments there according to many legal scholars.

In 1772, the Somersett case captured the world's attention. James Somersett, a slave in Massachusetts, escaped from his master while on a trip abroad in England. He was recaptured and imprisoned, to be sent to Jamaica, then a British colony; but three English citizens claimed to be his godparents. Three white citizens claimed to be the godparents of an African American slave, and they filed a suit, alleging that slavery was not legal under British law. They won their case. Somersett was freed, and slavery was finished in Great Britain.

The reaction in the colonies was profound. Partly in response to the Somersett case, the colonies in America revolted. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence by the American colonists from Great Britain created a new day for human rights. It asserted ``all men are created equal'' and have ``certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed.'' But we know that the writers of the Declaration did not intend those words to apply to all men and certainly not to women or to the American slave.

The Constitution of the United States of America was signed in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, and was ratified by nine States on June 21, 1788. It formed the legal basis for the first republican form of government in the history of the world. It defined the institutions of government and the powers of the executive, the judicial, and legislative branches. Its shortcomings with respect to slavery, along with the power struggles between the Federal Government and the States, are well documented. Nevertheless, the Constitution and its

inherent ability to be amended have been the model for many other nations in attaining their independence, and represent one of the most important steps in the development of law and human rights.

The American Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, was approved and ratified in 1791. These 10 amendments, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, declared rights in the areas of free speech, free press, free religion, the right to trial by jury, protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and unreasonable searches and seizures. The Bill of Rights has influenced many modern charters and bills of rights around the world, and stands as one of the bedrocks of not just our democracy but of human rights history.

In 1803, in Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court upheld the supremacy of the Constitution and stated unequivocally that the Court had the power to strike down actions taken by American State and Federal bodies that, in its judgment, were unconstitutional. This principle of ``judicial review'' represents, in my opinion and in the opinion of many legal scholars, the biggest advance in American law since the Constitution was ratified. It serves as a model for the balance of powers that many other nations have adopted.

One year after Marbury, France adopted the Napoleonic Code, which canonized many of the victories of the French Revolution, including individual liberty, equality before the law, and the ``consent of the governed'' character of the state. It had great influence beyond France, with Quebec, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, California, and Louisiana adopting parts of it.

The Geneva Convention of 1864 set forth basic human rights standards during times of war, including protection of military medical personnel and humane treatment of the wounded. It was later supplemented by a Prisoner of War Convention. Though it has been violated and ignored on numerous occasions, the Geneva Convention remains an important legal document and a milestone on the march of law and human rights.

In 1865, following the Civil War, the U.S. Congress passed, and the States ratified, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, officially ending legal slavery.

Prior to that, the 10th Amendment was the turning point in the Constitution of the United States. Those rights not written in the Constitution are in the purview of the States.

The addition of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution established a new paradigm. If slavery, as conservatives and Southerners argued, is a State right, then States' rights can never be human rights.

The Constitution, with the addition of the 13th Amendment, changed the present order and the divided time.

I'm in Congress today, and Barack Obama is President of the United States because of the Constitution and its capacity to change time and space.

In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which puts forth a legal code of internationally recognized human rights. It serves as a basic guide to the fundamental rights of all people.

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we've seen many, many more landmarks in human rights that have been reached. We're even watching the Middle East now seek even greater human rights against monarchies and kings and other leaders who are despots and not believing in the basic rights of people.

While we've failed to ensure full equality for all women in this country, we are making progress towards pay equality. I believe we need to amend the Constitution to ensure that women have fully equal standing with men.

We've enacted hate crimes legislation, and many States have moved towards marriage equality for gays and lesbians. We have much more work to do on that front.

And as I began my remarks tonight, I began, Mr. Speaker, by saying that we need to amend our Constitution to include certain rights that the American people should have but don't. As I just said, we need to include equal rights for women; we need to include the right to a public education of equal high quality; we need to include health care as a right for all Americans.

Mr. Speaker, it might surprise some Americans to know, which we learned in Bush v. Gore, that we don't even have a fundamental right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, only a right to not be discriminated against in the States while voting.

So, from the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, through the development of Europe, Asia, North America, and the rest of the modern world, we have seen greater democracy; we've seen more inclusion; we've seen more freedom; we've gone from vigilante justice, to ``an eye for an eye,'' to the modern criminal justice system. The death penalty was a common response to crime in many of the earliest civilizations, and it persists to this day in many places around the world, including here in the United States. My home State of Illinois, thanks to Governor Pat Quinn, recently banned the death penalty. I personally support that, but I know many of my colleagues would not.

There is an element in this Congress that is heading in the opposite direction of human law and human history, but the arc of history continues. The development of law and human rights did not stop with the writing of our Constitution, and it did not stop with the writing of our Bill of Rights.

The Constitution is not a static, set in stone, take it as it is and only as it is document. It, like the overall development of human rights and law through time, is organic. It's dynamic. It's living. It's forward-looking. It is adaptable to the challenges of a new day and a new world.

In fact, in their infinite wisdom, the Framers of the Constitution set up the very mechanism by which the march of justice and human rights could continue: an amendment process. It's not an easy one, and it's not one that should be taken lightly, but I believe we should, indeed, revisit our sacred document and amend it to include fundamental freedoms for the American people.

Thus, human law and political rights have evolved through history to ever higher forms and the granting of more rights. This has also meant that responsibilities and obligations have moved away from external sources and appointed governmental power to the voice of the majority of the democratically elected representatives of the people.

The word ``democracy'' is comprised of two Greek words: demos and kratos--people, strength or power--people power. It means we the people have the strength and the power in the end to elect people to make our laws and rules. We the people have the right to declare what rights we have and what rights we don't have, what rules we will live and play by, and under which laws we will be governed. A representative democratic government is a political structure and arrangement whereby the supreme governmental authority is accepted, and the rules are made with the consent of a majority of the common people.

Thus, the contrast between organic, evolutionary, and political nature of the law versus the static, strict constructionist, and natural view of the law should be clear in terms of the creation and preservation of political rights in human development.

The approach of conservatives to play down or advocate an antipolitical, antilegislative, and anti-Federal Government philosophy of social change is, therefore, certainly not a strategy designed to advance the public interests or real economic interests of the majority of the American people. These conservatives and tea party activists who will descend upon Washington tomorrow are acting on behalf of the special interests of the few who do not want mass democratic participation and action. This antigovernment and undemocratic conservative approach is a strategy to undermine progressive and economic change intended to benefit the public good.

In a living democracy, we must continually criticize and reform our politics, our government and policies to keep them relevant, effective, efficient, accessible, accountable, and responsive to real people's needs. This is very different, however, from criticizing politics and the government, per se, as irrelevant and ineffective as instruments of change or protecting old rights as opposed to advancing new ones.

It is quite clear that the strict constructionist constitutional approach of conservatives like Mr. Quayle and Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Meese, Mr. Bork and George W. Bush seem to be frozen in time, backward-looking and fearful philosophical views of government, history, and the Constitution.

Strict constructionism, Mr. Speaker, runs contrary to the whole legal development of rights in human history. Strict constructionists look back to the Founders' original document only, before the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and other progressive amendments to the Constitution were added, before nonlandowners could vote, before Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Strict constructionists, as former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said at an event celebrating the 200th anniversary of the writing of the Constitution, ``believe that the meaning of the Constitution was 'fixed' at the Philadelphia Convention.'' That would require us to know their original intent and rigidly preserve the Founding Fathers' philosophy, even though they were all men, most were slaveholders, and they allowed slavery in the Constitution. A strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution also means a reaffirmation of States' rights as the preeminent guiding legal principle.

A broad interpretation, on the other hand, sees the Constitution as forward-looking, as living, as positive, and a hopeful document. We respect the past and the positive contribution that the Founders made. We seek to understand their intent and the full context in which the Constitution was written, and we seek to understand to the fullest its original meaning. But we also know that it has been changed and improved along the way in order to be more inclusive of all the American people. Therefore, we also know that we have an obligation today to improve it even further.

The more people are made aware of their rights to which they are entitled, the rights which have already been written in national and international law, the more politically educated and conscious people become of these rights, the more politically active and organized the common people become in the struggle to achieve these rights, and the more accessible and responsive our democratic institutions of politics and government become to the democratic will of the people, the faster and more nonviolently we as a society will be able to achieve a new and higher set of human rights.

Mr. Speaker, since this Congress has begun, I've been coming to this floor talking about one issue, and that's high unemployment. And in order to wipe out unemployment, which we've been recording from 1890 to 2011, we need a massive jobs program in this country. I recommend a jobs program that benefits all Americans: the rebuilding of 95,000 schools in this Nation to an equal high-quality standard; putting roofers, brick masons, electricians, teachers, carpenters to work; providing unprecedented technological access to the Internet and modern forms of communication to 60 million children across our country.

Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, tea party activists and conservatives in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, many of them don't see it that way. But I see something different. I see an America that can build runways for airplanes in States all across this country and build an interstate transportation system by one national Federal standard.

We simply can't build schools and provide an equal high-quality education for 60 million children in 50 different States in 15,000 locally controlled school districts in 3,100 counties in 19,000 cities across this country one school at a time. If there's enough money to fight the war in Iraq, if there's enough money which this Congress keeps writing the check for to fight the war in Afghanistan, if there's enough money to spend $550 million in 1 week bombing Libya, then, Mr. Speaker, we can find the money in this Congress to rebuild these schools, reduce unemployment, put 15 million unemployed Americans to work, and change the course of our country. If we can put 15 million Americans to work, we can wipe out the Nation's debt, its deficit, and provide a long future for the American people.

With that said, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


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