Reflecting on our Nation’s History on the 8th Anniversary of Barack Obama’s Election as America’s First Black President

On November 4, 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama of Illinois defeated Senator John McCain of Arizona to become the 44th president of the United States, and the first African American to serve as president.

Whatever your views of his policies or 8-year presidency, it is worth taking note of this historic moment in our nation’s history.

At the time of our nation’s founding, there were about a half million African slaves in the United States, primarily in the south. Many of our nation’s founders – including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison – owned slaves. Though it’s also worth noting that many others – including John Jay, Benjamin Rush, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams—did not.

The 1787 federal Constitution, while never mentioning the words slavery or slave, contains three key compromises on enumeration (three-fifths clause), slave trade, and fugitive slaves. Those clauses are as follows –

Three Fifths Clause 

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

Slave Trade Clause 

“The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.”

Fugitive Slave Clause

“No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.”

Over 600,000 Americans died during our nation’s bloody civil war, fought, in part, over the issue of slavery.

The 13th Amendment formally abolished slavery when it was ratified in 1865. The Amendment reads –


Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship rights to former slaves and promised “equal protections of the laws.” The Amendment reads in relevant part –


All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, extended the franchise to black men. The amendment reads –


The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.


The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

After Reconstruction ended, the era of Jim Crow began. It would take until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s for African Americans to receive more robust protection for their civil rights. The struggle for racial equality and civil rights continues to this day.

I was on the National Mall (with a group of mainly Republicans, it should be noted) the day President Obama was inaugurated in 2009. At that moment, at least amongst the group of thoughtful patriotic Americans I was with, politics didn’t matter. We were witnessing history and a moment that made all of us reflect on the words in our Constitution’s preamble – “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”

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!