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Lectures To Celebrate U.S. Framework Document

Sept. 9, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

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Sam Houston State University will recognize the document that established the framework for the United States of America during the annual Constitution Day celebration on Sept. 14-15.

The event will include five lectures addressing various aspects of the law in Academic Building IV and the Lowman Student Center.

"Constitution Day is a day to remember the role the Constution has played in organizing our political system and providing a framework in which to discuss pressing social and moral issues over the past two centuries," said Thomas Cox, associate professor of history and chair of the Constitution Day committee.

A keynote address will kick off the celebration on Wednesday (Sept. 14) at 4 p.m. in Academic Building IV’s Olson Auditorium (Room 220). At that time, Leslie C. Griffin, the Larry and Joanne Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics at the University of Houston Law Center will discuss “How Much Speech Does the First Amendment Protect?”

Five SHSU professors from across the disciplines will present a series of lectures on Thursday (Sept. 15), all in LSC Room 320.

Philosophy professor Frank Fair will begin the day’s discussions with a survey of some of the history behind and the importance of judicial interpretation in such cases as Roe vs. Wade, the famous abortion case. “It’s All a Matter of Interpretation: How Judges Make Law” will be from 9:30-10:50 a.m.

“Judicial interpretation is an inescapable activity in any legal system. For a democracy such as ours the underlying issue is how to channel the exercise of power by federal judges—officials who are not elected and who ordinarily serve for life,” Fair said. “Slogans like ‘strict construction,’ ‘judicial restraint,’ and ‘a living Constitution’ express partisan views about the issue, and occasionally nominees to the Supreme Court are asked to express their philosophy about it.”

From 11 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. political science professor John Domino will discuss “Judicial Activism, Presidential Elections, and Judge Bashing.”

The term judicial activism appears in a variety of mediums, from academic journals to radio talk shows and has been raised in U.S. Senate judicial confirmation hearings, according to Domino.

“As the 2012 election looms, ‘judge bashing’ will commence with candidates—mostly conservative since the days of Nixon—using the term to blame judges for everything from crime, the moral decay of society, or the breakdown of the family,” he said. “My presentation discusses the origin and use of the term activism and how judge bashing is bad for our constitutional democracy.”

Criminal Justice professor Michael Vaughn will present the story of an innocent death row inmate, John Thompson, who was convicted of murder and imprisoned for 18 years, 14 of which he spent on death row.

“The state's attorney withheld exculpatory crime scene evidence from the defense, and the state's attorney manipulated eyewitnesses’ testimony so that Thompson was misidentified at trial as the killer, and the witness received a reward from the victim's family,” Vaughn said. “Claims of prosecutorial misconduct resulted in the case going to the United States Supreme Court.”

"Prosecutorial Misconduct: The Story of a Wrongfully Convicted Death Row Inmate" will be presented from 12:30-1:50 p.m.

Finally Cox and history associate professor Jeff Littlejohn will examine the ways in which ordinary Americans understand and use the Constitution to give meaning to their political beliefs with “The Constitution in Current Political Discourse,” from 2–3:20 p.m.

“Although written over two centuries ago, the U.S. Constitution remains our most important link to the founding generation,” Cox said. “Politicians, pundits, and ordinary Americans frequently invoke the ‘original intent’ of the founders to justify everything from gun control to the rights of the accused during wartime.”

Each Constitution Day attendee will receive a copy of the “The Hip Guide to the United States Constitution,” a pocket sized copy of the Constitution with commentary on the history and meaning of the document.

The Constitution Day celebration is sponsored by the SHSU American Democracy Project, the departments of history and political science and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

For more information, contact Cox at 936.294.4804 or thc001@shsu.edu.



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