Five Hundred Attend Constitution Day Keynote Address by Akhil Reed Amar of Yale University

Constitution Day 2016

Akhil Reed Amar of Yale University discussed the November 2016 election with Stockton students in Independence Plaza on Sept. 21, 2016. Amar gave the keynote address for the annual Constitution Day event held later that evening.

For Immediate Release; Photos on Flickr
Thursday, September 22, 2016

Contact:         Christina Butterfield
                        News and Media Relations
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Galloway, N.J. – “This is where the modern world begins,” said constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar on the significance of the adoption of the United States Constitution in 1787. “‘We the people’ are the hinge of human history, and the modern democratic world,” he continued to a crowd of more than 500 students, faculty, staff and community members who gathered Wednesday night for Stockton University’s annual Constitution Day keynote address.

Amar, a Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University, opened his address by honoring the founders of America, including Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, for whom the university is named.

“It was a momentous decision for our founders to sign the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – much like the momentous decision and world-historical influence of the upcoming election,” said Amar.

Amar, who has been cited by U.S. Supreme Court justices in more than 30 cases, wove the history of the Constitution with current themes related to the November 2016 election, including the progression of the political parties; the Electoral College’s roots in slavery; citizenship and immigration; gender and race issues; and the potential shift of power within the federal government. 

“You’re living in an extraordinary moment in this nation, and in the world,” he said. “This election constitutes the first time since the era of Abraham Lincoln when all four parts of power are realistically in play.”

The winner of the election will sit in the presidency, he explained, and could also carry the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. The president will also appoint a justice to the current vacant seat on the Supreme Court, which will sway the court from its current 4-4 split.

“That almost never happens,” Amar said.

He likened the “American constitutional project” to the big bang, emphasizing a reverberating momentum and continuous evolution.

“Half the world is democratic because of the Constitution. Great republics have been built and rebuilt upon the U.S. system and democratic values,” he said. “Our society is different than the framers’. Our Constitution is not our framers’ Constitution; we have made amends that have made it different, and the system gets better and better with constitutional amendments.

“The project doesn’t end at the founding. The world needs American and idealistic leadership,” Amar said.

Prior to his keynote, Professor Amar met with student leaders and lectured in Political Science courses throughout the day. He encouraged students to “always have a vision of justice,” and to learn from heroes and mentors.

“History only happens one way. You have to study history to study how great leaps in history happened. You have to study history to effect change in your life,” he told students. “Study the people before you. Welcome to the world, it will be disappointing because they had to make compromises. Learn from them.”

The scholar ended his keynote address stressing the importance of an educated citizenry, and encouraged the audience to “vote as if your life depends on it, because the life of the world might depend on it.”

“The press are not serious policy wonks. They are good-looking people we put on television and they don’t know anything,” he said. “Public education is essential. If [people] were paying attention and wrestling facts to the ground, [political] ads wouldn’t have much effect… they would have no effect on an educated public.”

Amar emphasized a need for political discourse, and acknowledged Stockton University’s political engagement efforts, and the Constitution Day event serving as an open, public forum.

“Great universities bring people together from around the world. I can’t think of a better place to begin that conversation than Stockton University - named as it is for someone who way-back-when signed a document that talked about a decent respect for the opinions of mankind. We still need to do that,” he said. 

“Among Professor Amar’s many accomplishments, he has received the DeVane Medal, the highest award for teaching excellence at Yale University. Teaching excellence – this means a lot at Stockton,” said President Harvey Kesselman in his welcoming remarks. “I am honored to introduce such a delightful human being. In seconds, you’ll be able to tell what kind of heart he has.”

“I can’t think of a better person than Professor Amar to help Stockton University celebrate the 229th birthday of the Constitution,” said Linda J. Wharton, Stockton professor of Political Science and co-coordinator of the annual event.  

Amar has written widely for publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, and Slate.

He also served as an informal consultant to the popular television series, The West Wing, and his work has been showcased on shows including The Colbert Report, Charlie Rose, and the MPH Show.

His most recent book, “The Constitution Today: Timeless Lessons for the Issues of Our Era,” was published earlier this month.

Constitution Day is one of a series of events at Stockton which include voter registration efforts, debate-watching parties, and other lectures on history, politics and elections. The activities are sponsored by Stockton’s Political Engagement Project/American Democracy Project, Office of Service-Learning, Office of the Provost, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs and the Stockton University Foundation.

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