On this day in 1787, our founding fathers signed the Constitution, making us a nation of laws, not of men. The basic concepts of justice, liberty, and inherent human rights outlined in that founding document, are at the very foundation of our strength as a nation.
But 221 years later, the United States is facing one of the darkest chapters in its Constitutional history. The Bush administration has treated the Constitution and rule of law with disrespect unparalleled in our nation’s history. The list of this administration’s assaults on the Constitution is breathtaking: it includes the warrantless wiretapping program, its interrogation policy and justifications for the use of torture, its extreme positions on the legal status of detainees that have been repeatedly rejected by the Supreme Court, and its refusal to recognize and cooperate with Congress’ constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight. This is a shameful legacy that must be undone in the years to come.
On Constitution Day, we should also recognize that supporting the rule of law here at home can help to strengthen democratic institutions around the world that are critical to peace and stability — and, in turn, to our own national security. Right now, countries like Pakistan and Zimbabwe are grappling with their own constitutional crises. But we cannot be a credible example for nations like these if we allow our own Constitution to erode. The disparity between our words and our actions undermines our ability to defend the rights and freedoms of peoples around the world.
Our next president will face a difficult challenge. He must repair the wreckage the current administration has left, which means renouncing some of the powers the current President tried to amass as he turned a blind eye to the rule of law and separation of powers. No president will want to limit his own power. But if we are to be the nation our founders envisioned when they gathered in Philadelphia more than two centuries ago, we must work together — across party lines and at all levels of government — to protect and defend our Constitution and restore the rule of law.