The Constitution serves as his guide to 'our way of life'

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

He’s a man who loves the Constitution – that document of 1787 which has been amended 27 times and has been brandished by left and right to justify their hold on the shifting political sands of the day.
Joel Collins, now in the 53rd year of a distinguished legal career, no longer does the heavy lifting at the Columbia, S.C. law firm that he co-founded, Collins & Lacy. The days of “seven-hour depositions” are nowhere to be found on his legal calendar, a fact that he is particularly grateful for after spending the bulk of his career in the high-stakes world of professional liability law, white-collar criminal defense work, and complex civil litigation.

Now, he relishes another important duty – teaching undergraduate students at the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College all about the makings and the scope of the U.S. Constitution. Those students are among the cream of the crop at USC and Collins said that as a whole they are “brilliant.”

Yet, many of the students who are not part of the Honors College enter at a serious disadvantage when it comes to basic legal knowledge, he said.

“They all know who the three judges are on ‘American Idol’ or other shows of that type, but hardly any of them can name even one of the justices on the nine-member Supreme Court,” Collins lamented. “That in itself is a real indictment of our educational system and the need for us to make an understanding of basic civics a priority.”

According to Collins, there is a federal statute that requires schools to “teach the U.S. Constitution” as a way to promote a greater understanding and appreciation for the document that is at the heart of the American system of government.

“Plenty of schools don’t comply with the law for reasons spoken and unspoken, but that doesn’t excuse them from failing to educate students about a document that is critical to our way of life,” Collins indicated. “We need to re-double our efforts to teach the Constitution.”

The Constitution and our Capitol, of course, have been in the news a bit lately, thanks in large part to a disgraced president who did his best to bend that document to serve his own purposes – at the expense of the country that he swore to defend and uphold.

It was just one of his many shameful acts that marked a presidency that came to a merciful end January 20 when Joseph R. Biden was sworn in as our 46th Commander-in-Chief, pledging to restore a sense of civility and stability to how we are governed.

It will be a refreshing change, one that President Biden can best achieve if he draws inspiration from the man who first guided our nation.

That president, of course, was George Washington, the so-called “Father of Our Country,” whom Collins ranks as the finest president this country has had to offer. Collins proclaims as much in a recent “The Legal Bench” podcast interview posted on his firm’s website, noting that Washington was eulogized by Henry Lee as “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” perhaps the ultimate compliment.

“He set a great precedent of being a president of class, restraint, excellent judgment, and tolerance for the opinion of others . . .” said Collins of Washington, who served two terms in office and “in affairs of government . . . tried to be above reproach.”

Such qualities, regrettably, have been sorely missing over the past four years, by any standard of political measure.

The opportunity for a corresponding sea change is rooted in the Constitution, said Collins, who still marvels at the elasticity and durability of the age-old document.

Collins, who has a well-deserved reputation as one of the top trial lawyers in the nation, knows good writing. He recently took his turn at it by writing an autobiography, a book that sports a tongue-in-cheek title of “The First 50 Years Are the Toughest.”

“As the title suggests, I’ve got some miles on me,” Collins said in poking fun at himself.

It’s a book that offers a retrospective on his 50-plus-year career, highlighting wins and losses, while also featuring friends made and timeless lessons learned. As a belated holiday gift, Collins has given each member of his firm an autographed copy, and plans to do the same for his children, grandchildren, neighbors, and an ever-growing circle of friends.

It comes with a caveat, however, he said with a wink.

“As I said in my intro, it’s one of those books that once you put it down, you probably can’t pick it back up.”

Unlike his beloved Constitution.


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