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ISSUE 121 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/28/2007

Constitution Day questions limits

By Margaret Wade
Arts Editor

Friday, September 28, 2007

In celebration of Constitution Day, a student panel debated "Constitutional Limits in Times of War" last Monday. Fifty members of the St. Olaf community observed a modern expression of liberty exactly 220 years after 39 men signed the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.

Political Science Professor Doug Casson moderated the panel of five students with a broad range of viewpoints and political positions.

Each panelist was given five minutes to present his or her position on wiretapping within the context of constitutional law, and then the audience had an opportunity to ask questions.

Casson emphasized the willingness of the panelists to speak, inspired by their passion for liberty, not other incentives. "Liberty lies in the hearts of these men and women," Casson said.

Sharon Grawe '08 opened the discussion with a meticulous analysis of the Fourth Amendment in its historical context, consulting a pocket-sized Constitution for quick reference. Quoting Justice Hugo Black, in reference to the Katz v. United States dissent, "wiretapping is nothing more than eavesdropping by telephone," Grawe said. "I struggle with the idea that the Fourth Amendment includes a right to privacy when it explicitly excludes such language."

Vera Belazelkoska '09 shifted the focus from history to current issues with the Bush administration. "Executive powers have been abused," Belazelkoska said. "The Administration has misled the public with limited language."

Josh Clapp '09 countered Belazelkoska's critique and supported President Bush's actions.

"I believe the NSA wiretapping program was a constitutional and practical response to our national security needs," Clapp said. He cited several precedents that justify the current situation. "President Bush is just following the footsteps of his predecessors," Clapp stated in refrence to claims of presidential power made by the Carter and Clinton administrations.

Jason Teiken '10 described the Constitution as "a document to last through time." He expressed his appreciation for Constitution Day, saying, "I'm glad that constitutional issues are in our public conscience today."

Teiken turned to the founders, but he took a more critical approach than Grawe. "The Bush Administration and the subservient Congress have pursued unprecedented power," he said.

When Ishanaa Rambachan '08, the last panelist, began with some humor, the audience members relaxed into their seats. She noted pop culture references to the NSA wiretapping debate, including a West Wing anecdote and jokes from Leno and Letterman. "FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) was created to curtail authority," Rambachan said. "Wiretapping is not constitutional."

The panelists answered questions from the audience, which tended to be far more politically-charged than the more abstract discussion. Audience members focused on the war in Iraq, questioning what constitutes an emergency or the dangers of a slippery slope in sections of the Constitution. Despite the polarizing viewpoints on the panel, all panelists agreed on the importance of discussing the Constitution in response to current events.

Originally known as Citizenship Day, Constitution Day was created with the passage of an amendment by Senator Byrd in 2004, according to Dean May, who has organized the event for the past two years.

"The idea behind this event is that Americans need to know that the signing of the Constitution is an important event," Dean May said. "Lots of people in America don't know anything about the Constitution. It's important to provide a venue members of the St. Olaf community to celebrate its history."

Students also recognized the benefits of remembering Constitution Day.

"When it comes to current event debates, many times we forget the founding theories and documents," Rambachan said. "It's important to go back to the original discussion for our conversations today."

At the end of the event, panelists and audience members were still engaged in conversation. As students, faculty and staff continued their discussion into the lobby, Casson shouted: "Let the debate continue!"

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