Essential Pittsburgh
5:12 pm
Mon September 16, 2013

The U.S. Constitution 224 Years Later: Why it Endures

The Preamble is one of the most well known phrases in the English language.
Credit National Archives / wikipedia

Some people underestimate just how influential the Constitution of the United States has been to the world.

Constitution Day is September 17 and the US Constitution remains the key document used in deciding important Supreme Court cases. But University of Pittsburgh law professor, David Harris notes that the Justices have very different views on how the Constitution should be read.

He notes that Justice Scalia regards the document as a “dead” Constitution, “in other words it means only what it meant when the individual piece was ratified.” On the other hand, Justice Breyer believes that the Constitution has to evolve through Supreme Court interpretation. Harris says Justice Breyer believes the constitution was written for the purpose of reinterpretation.

Despite these contradictions, the first three words, “We the people” rival the bible as the most famous opening to any literary work and not just for America.

“If you put it into historical context, the idea of ‘We the People’ proclaiming ‘Our government’ was revolutionary,” Harris explains.

He adds that this revolutionary concept affects the new countries that form today as they “always start with the idea of the people being sovereign and that’s one of our great gifts to the world.”

Professor David Harris will be the keynote speaker for Carnegie Mellon University's Constitution Day Celebration.