KNOWLEDGE OF THE U.S. CONSTITUTION
Vice Dean Michael Dorf's Columns About the Survey on FindLaw.com
"Americans' Knowledge of the U.S. Constitution"
A Columbia Law Survey
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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Americans Don’t Know Their Constitution
“That result is troubling for a constitutional democracy in which popular consent underwrites the government’s legitimacy,” said Columbia Law Professor Michael Dorf, who wrote a column offering his interpretation of the survey on Findlaw.com.
The survey also revealed most Americans believe that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion would become illegal throughout the United States. Not so, says Prof. Dorf, who notes the distinction between what is constitutionally permitted, and what is constitutionally required. “This is at the very heart of the constitutional debate about abortion,” he said. “To judge by the rhetoric of political campaigns, one might think that abortion is the only issue for which our courts have responsibility. Pro-choice and pro-life politicians alike hammer away at the significance of judicial appointments for the abortion issue. And yet it turns out that two-thirds of Americans do not understand what is at stake.”
The American public fared better in answer to other questions on the survey, with a majority knowing the president may not suspend the Bill of Rights during a time of crisis, Supreme Court justices serve for life terms, and persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens and residents of the states in which they reside.
Professor Dorf maintains that an informed public is critical, and says we may be taking what the Constitution calls “the blessings of liberty” for granted. “Although the framers of our Constitution anticipated that the courts would invalidate unconstitutional laws, they also expected that ‘primary’ responsibility for setting constitutional limits would belong to elected representatives, and thus, ultimately, to the people.”
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