Connecticut Bar Association Constitution Day Celebration

Most people are familiar with the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, a federal holiday celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of the Independence on July 4th, 1776. Less people are familiar with Constitution Day, a federal holiday honoring the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787.

Enacted in 2004, Public Law 108-447 designated September 17th as Constitution Day. However, before this law was enacted, September 17th was known as Citizenship Day. Whether you call it Citizenship Day, Constitution Day, or both, the purpose is to commemorate the creation and signing of the United States Constitution giving privileges and responsibilities to U.S. citizens.

Did you know the legislation declaring Constitution Day also mandated that each educational institution receiving Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an education program on the U.S. Constitution? The CBA members play an important role in helping our schools fulfill this mandate.

Traditionally, Constitution Day is celebrated September 17th, this year the CBA is extending the celebration to the whole week. For the 2012 program, the CBA is celebrating the 225th anniversary of our founding document; join us as we journey through our Nation’s values and ideals of citizenship and the right to vote.

If you are interested in presenting on the US Constitution to a classroom, during the week of September 17, 2012 please visit the Constitution Week registration page. You may also contact Marquita Peterson at (860)612-2025 or Melissa Wyckoff at (860)612-2036.

The country has come a long way in granting voting rights to all its citizens. Below are some topics related to citizenship and the right to vote.

The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution contains a citizenship clause stating, “[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” In 1868 this Amendment overruled the Dred Scott v. John Sandford court case (court records misspelled Sanford), holding that blacks could not be citizens. Furthermore, the 15th Amendment prohibited the federal and state governments from refusing citizens the right to vote because of their race, color, or because they were a slave at one time.

The broad language of 14th Amendment however, did not grant Native Americans citizenship. Most Native Americans were not recognized as citizens of the United States until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Before this act was signed into law, Native Americans were granted citizenship if they married a US citizen or were a veteran in World War 1. Even after the 1924 Act, Native Americans battled with states for the right to vote, and it wasn’t until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that put an end to states using discriminatory voting practices.

Voting rights for women were proposed at the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. The likes of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Women Suffrage Association a year later, with the purpose to achieve voting rights for women by ways of an Amendment to the Constitution. Finally, in 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified, prohibiting any United States citizen to be denied the right to vote based on sex. The validity of the amendment was tested and upheld by the court in Leser v. Garnett, 258 U.S. 130 (1922).

The long debate over the voting age in the United States intensified after World War II and especially during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War period of our Nation’s history, all males over the age of 18 were eligible for the draft but they had to wait until age 21 to vote. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote,” was a common slogan used during the youth voting rights movement. It wasn’t until July 5, 1971 the battle to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 had been won and 26th Amendment was law.

When it comes to whom citizens vote for in elections, it wasn’t until the 17th Amendment that United States Senators were voted for by popular vote. Previously, U.S. Senators were elected by state legislatures.