The Constitution This Week: Health care, SXSW, and plea bargains
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… health care on trial
The Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments next week for the challenge to the federal health care reform law. This week the National Constitution Center’s Peter Jennings Project hosted a moot court of the trial.
2. The Constitution and… Springsteen at SXSW
Last weekend, Bruce Springsteen delivered the keynote address at the annual South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. (Full video here.) One moment was particularly memorable:
“Here we all are in this town together, musicians young and old, each celebrating in their own way a sense of freedom that was Woody [Guthrie]‘s legacy. Rumble young musicians rumble, open your ears and open your hearts.”
Springsteen’s remarks about notable musicians and their influence on his own music and on American history and culture echoed many of the themes explored in From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen, an exhibition on view at the National Constitution Center through September 3, 2012. The feature exhibition celebrates freedom of expression and takes a comprehensive look at Springsteen’s catalog, including the meaning and significance of his songs.
3. The Constitution and… plea bargains
Two of the three opinions issued by the Supreme Court this week dealt with the right to legal counsel (see a recap here). The court ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel applies to the plea bargain process, and that if defendants can prove they turned down a plea bargain because of ineffective counsel, they may have their sentences overturned.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia criticized the ruling, stating: “Today the Supreme Court of the United States elevates plea bargaining from a necessary evil to a constitutional entitlement.”
4. The Constitution and… the House budget
This week the House Budget Committee approved a budget resolution for 2013 that focuses on balancing the budget and significantly shrinking federal programs like Medicare. It is now set to move to the House floor. The plan, drafted by Representative Paul Ryan, who is the Budget Committee Chairman, is of course in sharp contrast to President Obama’s plan presented last month. Check out a side-by-side comparison here.
5. The Constitution and… “Socialism”
A Washington Post blog called attention to an artist who has recently come out with a painting of a sinister-looking President Obama burning the Constitution, with the title “One Nation Under Socialism.” In other news, GOP candidate Rick Santorum suggested that even President Obama would be a better choice for voters than Mitt Romney. Perhaps conservatives and Obama can call it even, then?
“A Guide to the Supreme Court Challenges to Obama’s Health Care Law” – Adam Liptak, The New York Times
“Against Interpretation: ‘Cosmic Constitutional Theory,’ by J. Harvie Wilkinson III” – Jeffrey Rosen, The New York Times
“In assassinating Anwar al-Awlaki, Obama left the Constitution behind” – David R. Dow, The Daily Beast
“Juvenile murderers: Is life without parole unconstitutional?” – Ariane de Vogue, ABC News
Holly Munson is the Programs Coordinator for Public Engagement at the National Constitution Center.