This week and the Constitution: Egypt, stump speeches, and pay freezes [VIDEO]

News headlines, politicians, and hot-button issues come and go, but one 225-year-old document continues to emerge in our conversations about our nation’s most important questions and challenges: the Constitution. The Constitution is a big buzzword for Election 2012, and more than ever, citizens, pundits, and politicians are turning to the Constitution for answers–and sometimes ammunition, as they try to prove the Constitution is on their side.

Here’s a brief look at the top constitutional news stories and commentaries from this week.

1. The Constitution and… Obama’s Law Prof

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Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard who taught both President Barack Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts, appeared on The Colbert Report on Jan. 30 to discuss the Constitution, particularly his theory that the Constitution is a verb, not a noun. “You sort of live the Constitution, you don’t just look at it,” Tribe said.

2. The Constitution and… Congressional Pay Freezes

A Jan. 30 National Law Review opinion article declared Congress’ current pay freeze unconstitutional because it “violates both the letter and the spirit of the 27th Amendment.” With the widespread concern about budget deficits, it may seem like a good idea. The authors put it this way: “Our argument is not that members of Congress deserve a higher salary. It is merely that a constitutional republic must operate within the confines of its articles and amendments, even when doing so might seem inconvenient.”

3. The Constitution and… Stump Speeches

It wasn’t exactly a victory lap for Ron Paul, who finished last in the Florida Republican primary. But in a Jan. 31 speech to voters, he exuded confidence in his message (if not in his campaign), echoing his call for “personal liberty.” He said, “The answer: send only people to Washington, send only people to the White House, that know and understand and read the Constitution and enforce the Constitution.”

4. The Constitution and… Egypt

On Feb. 1, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg finished off a visit to Egypt, where she was meeting with legal experts and law faculty and students to discuss Egypt’s constitutional transition to democracy. In one television interview, she lauded the virtues of the U.S. Constitution and the wisdom of the Founding Fathers but also encouraged Egyptians to look to other countries’ constitutions for inspiration–and to remain focused on freedom. She stated: “A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom. If the people don’t care, then the best constitution in the world won’t make any difference. The spirit of liberty has to be in the population.”

5. The Constitution and… Birth Control

Well, maybe George Stephanopoulos’ debate question about contraception wasn’t so silly after all. President Obama has faced criticism from various religious and congressional leaders for his administration’s choice to include religious-affiliated institutions in a provision of the health care reform law that requires employers and insurance plans to cover birth control. Speaker of the House John Boehner, who is Catholic, called the mandate unconstitutional, saying it violated the institutions’ religious freedom. The White House defended its choice as a step to promote women’s health.

Further Reading…

Privacy, Technology and Law” — Barry Friedman, New York Times

Rand Paul to challenge appointments” — Seung Min Kim, Politico

Senator Mike Lee: Constitutional Charlatan” — Doug Kendall, Huffington Post

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi calls for changes to constitution” — Jason Szep, Reuters

Holly Munson is Assistant Editor of Constitution Daily, the blog of the National Constitution Center.

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