Michigan Lawyers celebrate Constitution Day

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By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine men signed the United States Constitution, a document that changed the course of history. Now September 17th is celebrated annually as Constitution Day. To commemorate this important date in our nations' democratic history, Michigan lawyers actively participated in seminars, talks, and presentations in schools and other public places to educate students and foster greater public understanding of one of our nation's most precious documents.

One such event, a panel discussion on "Immigration Issues in the 21st Century was held on September 15th at Lansing Community College (LCC). LCC Professor Mark Guerrieri led the panel consisting of Michigan State University School of Law Professors David Thronson, Frank S. Ravitch, Thomas M. Cooley Professor John Brennan and LCC Professors Mary Kay Scullion and Jerry Roe.

The first question, announced Guerrieri, is whether the fourteenth amendment should be changed to eliminate the provision that individuals born in the United States are automatically citizens regardless of their parentage.

Mary Kay Scullion-- No, the only estimate I've heard of women coming here (United States) to have children is about 7000 a year. I find that a pretty weak rationale for amending the United States Constitution.

Jerry Roe, supporting a change, said, "Because we have almost open boundaries in our country, the concern is that those born here will stay and take jobs from U S citizens."

Frank Ravitch--No. The reason for the citizenship provision goes back to slavery. The 14th was enacted right after the re-construction amendments and gave rights to the slaves born here. The other problem is that the 14th amendment is the core of many of our values and while the advocates for changing the amendment are concentrating on the birth right citizenship provision, many would want to open the discussion to amending the privacy and other freedoms that we take for granted. This is purely a political issue; the numbers of individuals (obtaining birth right citizenship) don't support it.

John Brennan--Maybe. I think we should look at why we have the provision. If the historical reason for having it no longer exists, why keep it? If you're going to amend the Constitution, that is where you start with the reasoning behind the provision.

David Thronson--No. What's different now from when the 14th was passed in 1866? Our immigration laws have changed considerably. It is not easy to become a US citizen today. These are people who came here, lived, worked, and raised children and are now in limbo.

The panel turned to the Arizona law allowing police to stop and investigate those that they believe are aliens, a law supported by three out of four Michigan voters. "Does this pass constitutional muster?" Guerrieri asked.

The speakers argued the law was unconstitutional for two reasons; one, the US Constitution gives the Federal Congress the power to create uniform law on naturalization and two, the fourteenth amendment brings in with the reasonable suspicion standard creating a problem of profiling by the police.

Guerrieri asked the panel to look at the recent case requiring defense lawyers to advise their criminal clients of possible deportation consequences of accepting a plea offer. They agreed that this is a serious problem and that the defense attorneys will need training in immigration law in order to fulfill their obligations to their clients. In some cases the criminal damage may be minimal, while the ultimate consequences could be severe.

Cooley Law School held an all day symposium on September 16th at its Lansing campus. The panel included Hon. Roman H. Gribbs, retired Michigan Court of Appeals Judge; Bill Walker, founder and president of the Friends of Article V Convention; Robert G. Natelson, senior fellow at the Independence Institute and the Goldwater Institute; Christopher R. Trudeau, associate professor at Cooley Law School; Hon. James L. Ryan, senior circuit judge for the U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals; Hon. Thomas E. Brennan, former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and founder of Cooley Law School; Paul D. Carrington, law professor at Duke University School of Law and the author of Reforming the Court: Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices; Joel S. Hirschhorn, author of Delusional Democracy and chair of the Independent Party in Maryland; Michael Hekman, symposium editor of Cooley's Law Review; Philip J. Prygoski, professor at Cooley Law School; William H. Fruth, author of Ten Amendments for Freedom and President of POLICOM Corporation.

The Cooley panel discussed Article V of the Constitution, which grants states such as Michigan the right to request a Convention for proposing amendments to the U. S. Constitution. The panel addressed the pros and cons of making changes to the Constitution in light of the increases in the power of the federal government, the increase in the national debt, and recently passed healthcare and banking legislation.

Activities in other counties about the state included "The Right to a Jury Trial" -- a PowerPoint presentation developed by the Genesee County Bar Association for students in the district. GCBA attorneys examined both the U.S. and Michigan constitutions. Students learned how the Constitutions provide for jury trials for criminal and civil cases, the process of a jury trial, and examined jury selection and responsibility. The attorneys also distributed pocket editions of the Constitution and bookmarks to students.

Lawyers in Washtenaw County presented materials and exercises to all 6th and 7th graders in the Ann Arbor Public School District regarding the 6th Amendment issues of voir dire and the Confrontation Clause.

Published: Thu, Sep 23, 2010

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