Give the Gift of the Constitution on #GivingTuesday

#Giving Tuesday takes place tomorrow, November 29, 2016. It is an opportunity to participate in a national movement to make the holiday season about giving back to our communities and nation. It’s similar to how Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become days synonymous with holiday shopping.

This #GivingTuesday, I’m asking readers of my blog to give the gift of the Constitution by supporting the non-profit I have the privilege of running, The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource).

There is an often-told story that at the end of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a woman who asked him what sort of government the delegates had created. Franklin famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

To keep it, we must teach it. You cannot defend what you do not understand. And so in order for citizens to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they must first understand it.

James Wilson, a founding father from Pennsylvania, once said that “[l]aw and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.”

And, yet, countless reports and studies confirm that American citizens of all ages lack a basic understanding of our nation’s history and form of government.

Please consider donating to ConSource on #GivingTuesday to support our important work creating a comprehensive, easily searchable, fully-indexed, and freely accessible digital library of historical sources related to the creation, ratification, and amendment of the United States Constitution. Your donation will also support our educational resources and programs.

High quality life-long civics education is essential for the continued health of the American republic.

Please consider donating $100 or more today.

Your gift will help ConSource ensure that Americans of all ages value, in the words of Noah Webster, “the principles of virtue and of liberty,” and that we “inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.”

The Weekend Before Election Day: A Good Time to Make Sure You’re Fully Informed Before You Vote

The 2016 election is on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. More than 30 million citizens have already voted, taking advantage of early voting opportunities in many states. If, like me, you have not yet voted, I hope you’ll spend some time this weekend making sure you are fully informed before you head to the polls on Tuesday.

Ballotpedia, a non-partisan encyclopedia of American politics at all levels of government, has some very useful Election 2016 resources. This is a terrific one-stop-shop for folks who want a last minute primer on the 2016 election at the federal, state, and local level.

(1) To learn more about the candidates for President and Vice President and their positions on domestic, economic and foreign policy, check out this page.

(2) 34 of 100 seats in the United States Senate are up for reelection. Learn more about the Senate candidates running in your state here.

(3) Learn more about candidates for the House of Representatives here.

(4) A total of 93 state executive seats are scheduled for election in 23 states. All 13 types of executive offices will have an election in at least one state. Twelve states will elect governors, including a special election in Oregon, and ten states will elect attorneys general. Learn more here.

(5) 86 of 99 total state legislative chambers will hold elections on Tuesday. Learn more about these state legislative elections here.

(6) 162 statewide ballot measures have been certified for the ballot in 35 states. Learn more about ballot measures in your state here.

(7) There are many local ballot measures, as well. Check out this page to see what’s been proposed in your locality. 

(8) 63 state supreme courts and intermediate appellate courts across 34 states are holding elections in 2016. Learn more about your state judicial elections here.

(9) 39 of 50 states will hold elections for judges in general and limited jurisdiction trial courts. Learn more about these local judicial elections here.

(10) 46 of the country’s 100 largest cities are holding municipal elections this year. Learn more about your city’s municipal elections here.

(11) 644 of America’s largest school districts by enrollment are holding elections this year for 2,043 seats. These elections will take place in 38 states. These districts collectively educated a total of 17,177,187 students during the 2013-2014 school year—34% of all K-12 students in the United States. Learn more about school board elections where you live here.

(12) There are a number of political recall efforts in several states. Find out if elected officials in your state are being recalled here.

America’s Mock Election Results for the 2016 Presidential Election

Students around the country took part in a nationwide mock election hosted by the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ Youth Leadership Initiative and America’s Mock Election.

I co-hosted the results show about how the students voted.

Video of the results show is available here. In addition to discussing how the students voted in each state, we also discussed strategies for teaching about the election, the history of voting rights in the United States, and the importance of civics education.

The students who voted in the YLI/America’s Mock Election student mock election overwhelmingly favored Hillary Clinton. Clinton won 51% of the popular vote, while Donald Trump won 31% of the vote.

Scholastic also held a nationwide student mock election, where Clinton also prevailed – winning 52% of the student vote, while her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, received 35%.

It will be interesting to compare the results of these student mock elections with the final election results on November 8.

Secretary of Education John King Calls for More Civic Education

Last week, Education Secretary John King called for more civic education. He said promoting “democracy was one of the original goals of public education,” and K-12 schools and colleges and universities have an essential role to play in educating students to fully and meaningfully participate in the democratic process.

He went on to say

The strength of our democracy depends on all of us, as Americans, understanding our history and the Constitution and how the government works, at every level; becoming informed and thoughtful about local, state, and national issues; getting involved in solving problems in our schools, communities, states, and nationally; recognizing that the solutions to the complex issues our nation faces today all require compromise; being willing to think beyond our own needs and wants and to embrace our obligations to the greater good. Finally, I would argue that our democracy, our communities, and our nation would be stronger if all of us volunteered on behalf of others.

He went on to describe how little our nation’s young people know about our Constitution and system of government:

The Nation’s Report Card shows that only one in five eighth graders and 12th graders has a working knowledge of the Constitution, the presidency, Congress, the courts, and how laws are made. Not surprisingly, we’re failing even more of our children of color and children from low-income families. Only about one in 10, one in 10, African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students have a working knowledge of how government functions.

He called on our “nation’s schools and colleges to be bold and creative in educating for citizenship. Make preparing your students for their civic duties just as much a priority as preparing them to succeed in college and in their careers.”

In then went on to describe what he views as the foundational elements of an effective civics education:

(1) Students need to know the Constitution and legislative process.

(2) Students need to understand history and be familiar with the primary sources that have shaped our nation’s history.

(3) Students “need to be able to put themselves into others’ shoes, and to appreciate the different perspectives that have shaped our nation’s history.”

(4) “Civics shouldn’t be an add-on. It can be made a part of every class, not just social studies and history, but reading and writing, science and math.”

(5) Beyond knowledge, students also need to develop civic skills.

And on higher education, Secretary King said “Back in 1947, the Truman Commission on Higher Education for Democracy concluded that educating for democracy ‘should come first … among the principal goals for higher education.’ It should come first among the principal goals for higher education.”



National Constitution Center Podcast: The Candidates and the Constitution

If you’re interested between now and Election Day (November 8) in learning more about where the candidates stand on a variety of constitutional issues, I recommend checking out the National Constitution Center’s “Candidates and the Constitution” podcast series.

Topics include:

(1) Article II and the Powers of the President

(2) Article III and the Future of the Supreme Court

(3) Article V and Constitutional Change

(4) The First Amendment and Free Expression

If you’re looking for a quick overview of how the candidates have discussed a variety of constitutional issues this election cycle, you can check out this article I published last month in The Washington Times.

Knowledge is the Soul of a Republic: The Founders on Education

The Founding generation understood the fundamental importance of education. In 1785, John Jay wrote,  “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic[.]” Below is a selection of quotes from the Founding generation on the importance of education. I hope these quotes help inspire the current generation to invest in the education of our nation’s young people.

(1) “It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to a excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.” – John Adams

(2) “[T]he preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country.” – John Adams

(3) “The infant mind is pregnant with a variety of passions; But I apprehend it is in the power of those who are entrusted with the education of youth in a considerable degree to determine the bent of the noble passions and to fix them on salutary objects, or let them loose to such as are pernicious or destructive. Here then lies the foundation of civil liberty; in forming the habits of youthful mind, in forwarding every passion that may trend to the promotion of the happiness of the community, in fixing in ourselves right ideas of benevolence, humanity, integrity and truth.” – Nathanael Greene

(4) “The slavery of a people is generally founded in ignorance of some kind or another; and there are not wanting such facts as abundantly prove the human mind may be so sunk and debased, through ignorance and its natural effects, as even to adore its enslaver, and kiss its chains. Hence knowledge and learning may well be considered as most essentially requisite to a free, righteous government.” – Samuel Phillips Payson

(5) “[I]lluminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes[.]” – Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge

(6) “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and the wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate.” – John Jay

(7) “Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge. Without learning, men are incapable of knowing their rights, and where learning is confined to a few people, liberty can be neither equal nor universal.” – Benjamin Rush

(8) Every child in American should be acquainted with this own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice. As soon as he opens his lips, he should rehearse the history of his own country.” – Noah Webster

(9) “In a government founded on the sovereignty of the people the education of youth is an object of the first importance. In such a government knowledge should be diffused throughout the whole society, and for that purpose the means of acquiring it made not only practicable but easy to every citizen.” – James Monroe

(10) “It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.” – James Madison

(11) “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirit at the dawn of the day.” – Thomas Jefferson.

(12) “Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty & dangerous encroachments on the public liberty.” – James Madison

(13) “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” – Thomas Jefferson

(14) “It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising their sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. Thepeople themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.” – James Monroe



Facts are Stubborn Things: Take Time This Election Season to Educate Yourself About the Facts

In 1770, John Adams famously said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

In 1779, Thomas Jefferson wrote “Illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeats its purposes.”

John Jay also famously said “I consider knowledge to be the soul of a republic, and as the weak and wicked are generally in alliance, as much care should be taken to diminish the number of the former as of the latter. Education is the way to do this, and nothing should be left undone to afford all ranks of people the means of obtaining a proper degree of it at a cheap and easy rate.”

In a 1786 essay, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote “Freedom can exist only in the society of knowledge.”

James Madison in his 1810 address to Congress said “It is universally admitted that a well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.”

The Founding generation understood that facts matter.  And it is our responsibility as citizens to educate ourselves about the facts and to not allow the passions of the moment to overrule reason. Take time this election season to thoughtfully consider the veracity of claims made by candidates. Don’t give in to the allure of a post-factual society. Facts are stubborn, and foundational. You need facts to fully understand the world, and the free world requires a well-instructed people. In the words of James Monroe, “[it] is only when the People become ignorant and corrupt . . . that they are incapable of exercising their sovereignty.”

Announcing the Fifth Annual Harlan Institute -ConSource Virtual Supreme Court Competition for High School Students

The Harlan Institute and The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) announce their Fifth Annual Virtual Supreme Court competition. This competition offers teams of two high school students the opportunity to research cutting-edge constitutional law, write persuasive appellate briefs, argue against other students through video chats, and try to persuade a panel of esteemed attorneys during oral argument that their side is correct. This year the competition focuses on Trinity Lutheran Church v. Sarah Parker Pauley, exploring whether funding a playground associated with a Church violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

ConSource Executive Director Julie Silverbrook believes “the Virtual Supreme CourtCompetition is an excellent opportunity for high school students to develop core civic and constitutional literacy skills. Students are required to read the text of the Constitution, explore the history behind a contemporary constitutional dispute, and construct persuasive arguments. We know that experiences like theVirtual Supreme Court Competition leave a lifelong impression on participating students and encourages them to stay informed and engaged throughout their lives.”

Tanya Reyna, a winner of the 2016 Virtual Supreme Court Competition, noted that while her local community in Texas suffers from “an influx of drugs and criminals” and has dampened her views about the future of her community and the nation, her experience with the Virtual Supreme Court Competition “eased [her] apprehension [about the future].” She said that meeting “students, lawyers, professors, and judges” willing to take time out of their busy schedules “to inform younger generations of citizens about our legal system,” demonstrated to her that “as long as there are citizens like them, America will continue to hold a bright future.”

The members of the grand-prize winning team, the Solicitors General of FantasySCOTUS, will receive a free trip, including airfare and one night of hotel accommodations, to Washington, D.C. or New York City to attend the ConSource Constitution Day celebration in September 2017. Members of the runner-up team will each receive an iPad Mini. Members of the third and fourth place teams will each receive a $100 Gift card.

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Josh Blackman, President of the Harlan Institute, champions theVirtual Supreme Court Competition, which provides an “unprecedented opportunity for high school students to engage in the highest level of appellate advocacy. They research the issues, write briefs, and make oral arguments before our judges. The strong caliber of the winning teams last year really impressed us. We can’t wait to see how the teams perform this year!”

Teachers interested in participating should sign up at, add an account, read the problem, and get started!

Please send any questions to info@harlaninstitute.orgor

If you’re interested in supporting the Virtual Supreme Court Competition and the extraordinary students who participate across the country, please consider making a donation today!

“While Reason Retains Her Rule”: John Jay’s Words of Wisdom Strike A Chord in 2016

In 1788, John Jay published his “Address to the People of the State of New York on the Subject of the Constitution.”

I’m including below passages from his remarks that I believe should be read and reflected on this election cycle. I submit them to you without comment below.

While reason retains her rule, while men are as ready to receive as to give advice, and as willing to be convinced themselves as to convince others, there are few political evils from which a free and enlightened people cannot deliver themselves. It is unquestionably true that the great body of the people love their country, and with it prosperity; and this observation is particularly applicable to the people of a free country, for they have more and stronger reasons for loving it than others. It is not, therefore, to vicious motives that the unhappy divisions which sometime prevail among them are to be imputed; the people at large always mean well, and although they may on certain occasions be misled by the counsels or injured by the efforts of the few who expect more advantage from the wreck than from the preservation of national prosperity, yet the motives of these few are by no means to be confounded with those of the community in general.

That such seeds of discord and danger have been disseminated and begin to take root in America as, unless eradicated, will soon poison our gardens and our fields, is a truth much to be lamented; and the more so as their growth rapidly increases while we are wasting the season in honestly but imprudently disputing, not whether they shall be pulled up, but by whom, in what manner, and with what instruments the work shall be done.

. . .

Let us all be mindful that the cause of freedom depends on the use we make of the singular opportunities we enjoy of governing ourselves wisely; for, if the event should prove that the people of this country either cannot or will not govern themselves, who will hereafter be advocates for systems which, however charming in theory and prospect, are not reducible to practice? If the people of our nation, instead of consenting to be governed by laws of their own making and rulers of their own choosing, should let licentiousness, disorder, and confusion reign over them, the minds of men everywhere will insensibly become alienated from republican forms, and prepared to prefer and acquiesce in governments which, though less friendly to liberty, afford more peace and security.

Receive this address with the same candour with which it is written; and may the spirit of wisdom and patriotism direct and distinguish your councils and your conduct.