Constitution Day: Federal judge praises historic document

By Nancy Benet


American citizens have to understand the U.S. Constitution to enforce its laws, a senior federal appeals court judge said Sept. 17 at the campus celebration of Constitution Day.

“We have to understand how we got to the stance we are at with same-sex marriage and sexual equality,” Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham said to a University of the Incarnate Word audience in J.E. and L.E. Mabee Library AJudge1uditorium.

“We have to ask ourselves what it all means because you can sort out countries and their laws in this world but once they are all together, they either abide by the rule of law or they don’t,” Higginbotham said.

Higginbotham spoke about the constitutional convention, the laws of the country, and the amendments that make up the Constitution in an observance the federal government requires of all higher education institutions receiving federal funding.

The Department of Government and International Affairs, part of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, plans the annual program to meet the federal requirement. Constitution Day has been celebrated every year on Sept. 17 since 2004 when then-U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd amended a spending bill mandating the observance.

Higginbotham talked about the history of the Constitution, beginning with the constitutional convention.

“You cannot just write a document,” Higginbotham said. “Brilliant demigods did not write the Constitution. It was the product of hard-working Americans who wanted political compromise. However, these documents are meaningless unless you enforce the values that are within that document.”

Higginbotham also talked about how abolishing slavery and other events shaped the future of the United States after the Constitution was adopted in 1787.

“The enterprise of learning history is difficult,” the judge said. “Reconstructing a set of events takes a long process. We need to learn these laws in order to be able to enforce them.”

Higginbotham closed his presentation by answering questions from the audience. He even gave some insight on what it is like being a judge.

“I look at lawyers and a question I always ask is, ‘What is it that you want to do?’ ” Higginbotham said. “As a human institution, we make mistakes. That is why we need to be able to read a case and write out the facts. The writing that we do and the facts are what control cases. It is not all about reasoning, argument and opinion. It is about the facts that you are reasoning and arguing about.”

Several of the students present at the program were interested in law, or had majors in government or international relations but freshman Maya Adair of Bradenton, Fla., wasn’t one of them.

“I heard about the presentation through a friend, and thought it would be interesting,” said Adair, an 18-year-old premedicine biology major. “The presentation was very informative and insightful. I think it is extremely important for students, especially students at the university level, to be aware of the values and importance of the U.S. Constitution and how our legal system operates. Judge Higginbotham was very successful in portraying the history behind the Constitution and touched some of the most famous Supreme Court cases known in American history.”

Leave a Reply