Yale University professor discusses Constitution, political issues at GVSU

By Kyle Bindas | 9/18/16 10:30pm

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GVL / Courtesy - GVNow Akhil Reed Amar

by GVSU.edu / Grand Valley Lanthorn

Grand Valley State University was visited by one of the biggest names in constitutional law and knowledge. Akhil Reed Amar, sterling professor of law and political science at Yale University, gave a presentation at the Loosemore Auditorium Wednesday, Sept. 14 titled "The Constitution Today," where he discussed the importance of the Constitution, his views on specific political issues and his new book.

Amar began his speech by honoring Constitution day, which was Sept. 16, by wishing a happy birthday to America.

He went on to emphasize just how important the signing of the Constitution is as an event in world history.

“In the world there is B.C and A.D., you see. Before the Constitution and after the document,” Amar said. “Because there are a few democracies in the world before (the Constitution).”

“We put (the Constitution) to a vote up and down the continent. Happy birthday to us, the world would never be the same,” Amar said. “Today, half the planet by landmass and population is democratic on the American model.”

Amar said the equality provided by the 14th Amendment is of great personal importance to him.

“Why am I a constitutional scholar? I’ll tell you why," he said. "Because this kid with Indian parents was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the first sentence of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution makes him a citizen of the United States, just like everyone else born in that hospital that day."

Amar spent a portion of the speech discussing his new book, "The Constitution Today: Timeless Lessons for the Issues of Our Era," which debuted the day before the talk. Amar said the book covers the main constitutional issues of modern time and puts them in historical context, including: race, gun control, same sex marriage, the vice presidency, the Supreme Court and some of the presidential issues in recent history.

Amar then opened the rest of the talk up to questions from the audience, offering them a chance to ask him about his opinion on a variety of constitutional issues, as well as answering questions about constitutional rulings and law.

During this period, Amar voiced his support of the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage by citing a Supreme Court case in the past and the Constitution. Amar said Loving vs Virginia guaranteed marriage as a basic human right and the 14th Amendment made discriminating people from things based on sex illegal.

Amar also disagreed with the notion of a subjective right in regards to constitutional decisions, and stated that there is an absolute right when it comes to certain issues.

“I believe there are right and wrong answers in the Constitution,” Amar said.

Amar warned of the consequences of a nation that is uninformed on the Constitution.

“We the people, actually, generation after generation believe in the (Constitution). Here’s the problem, we don’t read it, we don’t know enough about it,” Amar said. “You have to read the books (because) otherwise our civilization dies. You have not just a right. You have a duty.”

This talk was a part of the Common Ground Initiative, part of the Hauenstein Center of Presidential Studies at GVSU. The project is an effort to create an understanding of different political perspectives by hosting speakers and debates with people with a variety of different perspectives.

“Akhil Amar shows us that complexity is a natural and beneficial part of living in a democracy,” said Scott St. Louis, Common Ground program manager. “It’s OK if your opinions don’t fall on perfectly consistent partisan lines, that’s probably a good thing.”

This is the beginning of a cross-country tour for Amar, where he will be giving speeches about his book and his take on constitutional and political issues.

A list of future Hauenstein Center events can be found online at www.hauensteincenter.org.

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