222 and Counting

MIDGE%20RENDELL%20PICTURE“Midge” Rendell on the U.S. Constitution:  “It is an amazing document, if not perfect.”  Judge Marjorie Rendell sits on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  Though she says 98.9 percent of the cases that come before the panel do not involve “cutting edge” issues without clear predcedent, she and her colleagues are, of course, knowledgeable about the document.  But she tells me “As a federal judge, the beauty of the Constitution and its meaning and the fact that it’s so special really didn’t occur to me until I performed a naturalization ceremony and I looked at the citizens and realized they know what we have in our Constitution and our democracy and sometime we really don’t.  We”re ignorant about it lots of times.”
 
This Thursday, the 17th, is Constitution Day, celebrating the signing of the document 222 years ago.  It is also a day everyone, especially folks in schools, are encouraged to focus on it.
 
Judge Rendell is also First Lady of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and in that role is on a tour of the state talking with young people about the U.S. Constitution.  I asked her about the outreach, which began 5 years ago with the creation of PENCORD, the Pennsylvania Coalition for Representative Democracy.  Judge Rendell says, “The whole idea is to get civics education back in schools so that children have a basic understanding of the structure of government.  We feel strongly that without that they can’t really understand our democracy.”  PENCORD(pencord.org) has Keystone programs for teachers.  The programs provide curriculum journals to help guide the teaching.  The sad fact is that teachers are often lacking in understanding of the Constitution.
 
As for the structure of the Constitution, I asked the judge about the order: Legislative, Executive and then Judicial. Some believe the framers intended the Legislative to be the dominant branch.  But, with a smile suggesting a slight chuckle, Judge Rendell takes a different view.  “I would say they put the House and the Senate first so that we could come later and say whether what they did was right or not.”
 
Oh, and of her husband’s, the Governor’s, diet, “He’s doing quite fine. I’m very, very proud of him. He’s slimming down and taking it very seriously.”  (She says he’s lost about 30 pouinds.)
 
Now, that’s a constitution.

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