Friday, March 28, 2008

Obama & The Constitution

The New Republic published a short commentary on the constitutional aspects of Obama's speech last week on race. Doug Kendell basically picks a bone that isn't there. He criticizes Obama for saying that equality was embedded in the US Constitution in 1787 and that he doesn't credit the Civil War amendments or note that the starting point for true equality started with the 14th amendment. But I don't think that's what Obama said. Even in the Kendell piece, Obama is quoted as saying the ideal of equality was embedded, not equality itself. And Obama rightly notes that it took subsequent generations to remove the "original sin" of slavery.

That said, as a legal history buff Kendell does include some good bits, including this:
Not one lawyer in 100 can identify Ohio congressman John Bingham as the main drafter of the 14th Amendment. Yet Bingham is a fascinating historical figure: he served in Congress in the 1850s as the country was torn apart and in the 1860s as it was stitched back together. He was a federal judge and the nation's minister to Japan. As a prosecutor, he convicted John Wilkes Booth's co-conspirators, and as a member of Congress he gave closing arguments in President Andrew Johnson impeachment trial. All that, plus he drafted Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which is perhaps the single most important paragraph of our Constitution.
Now there's a book to be written. Here's the Wikipedia site on Bingham.

On a related note, I'd been long wondering why Obama was not stressing his constitutional cred. It turns out he was enough that the Clinton campaign took him on and criticize Obama for claiming he was a constitutional law professor when he was just an senior lecturer. Well, like a few other things this week (letter to Pelosi), that back fired. Check out this statement from the University of Chicago (where Obama teaches) :
Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors, although not full-time or tenure-track. The title of Senior Lecturer is distinct from the title of Lecturer, which signifies adjunct status. Like Obama, each of the Law School's Senior Lecturers have high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined.
In other words, Obama has taught for 12 years and at any time could have gotten the semantic title Hillary's quibbling over.

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