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Protecting the U.S. Constitution

By Tyson C Horrocks, Associate--In September 2010, a Constitution Day Celebration was held at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.  Justice Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, law professor, and president of Brigham Young University, now serving as an apostle in the LDS Church, spoke on the importance of the United States Constitution.  The U.S. Constitution has survived for two centuries and has been a model for constitutions drafted in nearly every other nation in the world.  Given its role throughout the world, it is important that we as Americans understand and support the fundamental principles of the U.S. Constitution.

In his speech at the Constitution Day Celebration, Justice Oaks outlined four major fundamentals of the U.S. Constitution:

1. Popular Sovereignty

Justice Oaks declared that the people are the source of government power and share a measure of the burdens and responsibilities of governing.  Justice Oaks stated, “The government of the United States had to be ultimately responsible to the will of the sovereign people, but it also had to be stable.  Without stability against an aroused majority, government could not give individuals or minorities protection against overreaching by the ruling majority.”

2. Division of Powers in a Federal System

Justice Oaks also acknowledged that the division of powers in a federal system divides government powers between the nation and state, limiting national powers and giving residuary powers to the state and local governments, which are most responsive to the people.  Judicial activism has the potential to adversely affect the dominance of state law.  Justice Oaks stated, “If the decisions of the federal courts can override the actions of state lawmakers, we have suffered a significant constitutional reallocation of lawmaking power from the lawmaking branch to the judicial branch and from the states to the federal government.”

3. Bill of Rights

Justice Oaks stated, “I maintain that in our nation’s founding and in our constitutional order, religious freedom, and the freedoms of speech and press associated with it in the First Amendment, are the motivating and dominating civil liberties and civil rights.”

4. Separation of Powers

Justice Oaks said that the checks and balances of separated powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches helps preserve independence from each other, with each fulfilling its own duties and needing to refrain from exercising the functions of the others.  “The courts must limit themselves to interpreting the Constitution and the laws and not stray into the legislative function of law-making.  In contrast, we are all aware that in our day the actions of the courts on major issues of public policy receive great attention in the media, and are frequently represented and understood as the actions of those who make laws rather than those who merely interpret them.”

Justice Oaks further cautioned against the politicalization of state judiciaries and judicial activism.  “In my opinion, the judicial lawmaking that has been legitimately criticized as judicial activism concerns the interpretation of state and federal constitutions.  This kind of judicial action is not reversible by the popularly elected lawmakers and cannot be changed by the sovereign people except in those unusual circumstances in which a constitutional amendment is feasible.”

Justice Oaks also suggested five duties for all Americans who support the U.S. Constitution:

1. Understand the Constitution

2. Support the Law

3. Practice Civic Virtue

4. Maintain Civility in Political Discourse

5. Promote Patriotism

The full Deseret News report on Justice Oaks’ speech can be read in full at this link.

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