The Constitution This Week: Cell phones, tweets, and strip searches

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.

The Constitution and … cell phones

This week the New York Times revealed internal documents detailing how local law enforcement has extensively used cell phone data to track citizens. This trend has prompted questions about the appropriate balance of helping law enforcement do its job and providing oversight to prevent infringement on civil liberties.

The Constitution and… teens on Twitter


After posting a profanity-packed tweet, 17-year-old Austin Carroll faced expulsion from his high school. Carroll argues that his words weren’t directed anyone and didn’t involve the school, and that he wasn’t using a school computer or network–he posted the tweet while at home. His case is one of several in recent years that have prompted difficult questions about the conflicting interests between school administrators’ attempts to monitor students’ online activities with the students’ First Amendment free speech rights and Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Constitution and… strip searches

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 this week that any person arrested and held temporarily for any offense can be subjected to a strip search, whether or not there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is dangerous or carrying contraband. Learn more about the case from Lyle Denniston’s analysis.

The Constitution and… President Obama’s civics lesson


On April 2, President Obama stated:

“Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. … [I would] just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and—and passed law.”

Many people quickly pointed out that President Obama’s statements reflected a misunderstanding of the separation of powers of the branches of government. Yes, the Supreme Court justices are appointed, not elected–but that’s consistent with Article III of the Constitution. And yes, the Supreme Court can overturn a law if they so choose–since the 1803 ruling in Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court has claimed the authority to determine the constitutionality of acts of Congress.

The president’s critics were quick to point out the irony that he taught law, including constitutional law, at the University of Chicago. The White House later attempted to clarify his comments.

The Constitution and… same-sex marriage

Several same-sex couples have filed a lawsuit challenging the Defense Against Marriage Act. According to the 1996 law, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, even if they are legal in a state, for immigration purposes. The couples argue that because of the equal protection guaranteed in the Constitution, their same-sex marriage should qualify for their green card application and other immigration purposes.

Further reading from Constitution Daily

Constitution Check: Is the Roberts Court driven by politics? — Lyle Denniston

The secret life of the Commerce Clause — Carl Cecere

Constitution Check: Is there a constitutional right to “stand your ground”? — Lyle Denniston

Holly Munson is the Programs Coordinator for Public Engagement at the National Constitution Center.

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