*This post is part of ACSblog’s 2015 Constitution Day Symposium.
On September 17, 1787, the nation’s Framers signed their names to the new national charter they had just drafted -- what would become the United States Constitution. And so each September we celebrate this important anniversary, marking the day when our Founding Fathers signed the document that gave birth to our system of government and has governed our country in the more than 200 years since.
But as we celebrate this significant anniversary, we should also remember the many other anniversaries that are an important part of our Constitution’s story—anniversaries of the constitutional amendments that have helped to fully realize the Framers’ goal, made explicit in the document itself, to “establish Justice,” to “promote the general Welfare,” and “to form a more perfect Union.” Among other things, these amendments are what prohibit the government from interfering with our freedom of speech; they are what protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures; and they are what guarantee that all persons are equal under the law.
The Constitution we celebrate today and this week is as much a product of these anniversaries as it is the one that we mark by celebrating Constitution Week. And that is why it is so important to remember that our nation’s constitutional history did not end in September 1787, or even when that original document was ratified by New Hampshire (the ninth state to do so) and became officially established the following year.
The importance of our continuing constitutional story is sometimes ignored even by those who should most remember it—the members of the Supreme Court who have foremost authority and responsibility for interpreting the Constitution and for “say[ing] what the Law is.” Two years ago, for example, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, concluding that the “‘Act imposes current burdens’” and could not “‘be justified by current needs.’” Writing for the Court’s conservative bloc, Chief Justice Roberts gave astonishingly short shrift to the Fifteenth Amendment, the one that guarantees the fundamental right to vote and gives Congress the authority to enact laws, like the VRA, designed to enforce that right. Reading the Court’s opinion and its lengthy discussion of state sovereignty, one might almost be forgiven for concluding that our country’s constitutional history ended long before the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment. But, of course, it did not.