Connecticut is known as the “Constitution State,” not just because that’s what appears on many license plates, but because of a very old document known as the “Fundamental Orders,” which some argue represents the first written constitution in America.
Not everyone agrees with the accuracy of that historical argument. Attorney Michael Besso, former law clerk to Chief Justice Ellen Ash Peters, Assistant Attorney General, and member of the board of directors (and Editor-in-Chief) of the Connecticut Supreme Court Historical Society, has researched the history of the Fundamental Orders in depth. I invited him to share his thoughts as a guest blogger.
Oh, how I love C-SPAN! It covered, and has made available for viewing on its website, a thought-provoking panel discussion at Princeton University earlier this month. The topic: Is The American Constitution Worth Preserving? Did the Founding Fathers bequeath us a timeless document, capable of addressing all problems for all ages, or is the Constitution an archaic, inefficient instrument in dire need of revision?
More than twenty years ago I began writing a book on dilemmas. Actually, it is more of a collection of dilemmas (the product of a tortured mind and soul), which I hope to publish as an eBook in the not-too-distant future. One of the dilemmas I collected was the “three-fifths compromise”–one of several deals the Framers made with the Southern, slave-holding states, to persuade them to sign on to the new Constitution. Under the three-fifths compromise, the number of representatives allocated to each state in the House of Representatives was based on the number of free citizens “and three fifths of all other persons” in each state. Southerners wanted all slaves counted; Northerners wanted none, hence the compromise.
Blame Aaron Burr. Not only did he kill Alexander Hamilton in a duel, he is arguably responsible for the filibuster, the procedural rule that effectively requires 60 votes in the U.S. Senate–ten more than a simple majority–to pass any bill. The institution oft-described as the “world’s greatest deliberative body” has been reduced to a national disgrace, a laughing-stock, a body composed of mostly rich, mostly white men, who can’t even enact legislation requiring meaningful background checks on individuals who want to buy firearms. Read the rest of this entry »
Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey Controversial Choice As UCONN Law School Visiting ScholarPosted: April 6, 2013
Law schools, like all academic institutions, should be places that promote freedom of speech and thought; that encourage, indeed provoke, students to think deep and hard about difficult issues and to consider alternate points of view. They should not shy away from inviting controversial speakers to their campuses. But when they do, students, faculty, administrators, and the public at large, should not be reluctant to challenge the speakers’ expressed views. The best responses to disagreeable speech are tough questions and opposing speech, not banning the speaker.
What, if anything, do Connecticut’s earliest legal documents have to say about the rule of law and its relationship to an orderly society? Let’s start with a document known as the Fundamental Orders, adopted on January 14, 1639 (or perhaps 1638 according to some sources). The phrase “Constitution State,” which we see so often on the license plate of the car in front of us, is based on the notion–accepted by some, disputed by others–that the Fundamental Orders represent the first written constitution in the western world. The Orders (of which there were eleven) established a formal confederation among the towns of Windsor, Wethersfield and Hartford and set forth a form of government. However, it is the introductory paragraph, a preamble of sorts, that explains why a government is desired: Read the rest of this entry »
The Connecticut General Assembly recently abolished the death penalty, albeit on a prospective basis only. The Connecticut Supreme Court will soon hear arguments on the constitutionality of executing individuals convicted of capital crimes before the death penalty was repealed. While researching this issue, I came across a wonderful site that has archived early Connecticut laws. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, there is just enough snow on the ground for today to qualify as a “White Christmas!” No doubt the folks over at Fox News would have considered the absence of snow on the ground (at least in the New England states) further evidence of the “war on Christmas” that they are so certain is being fought in this country. But as any fan of The Daily Show knows, that “war” can be traced back to our Puritan ancestors, who actually banned the public observance of Christmas for a period of time during the mid-1600’s. Read the rest of this entry »