In accordance with a newly mandated federal holiday, students and faculty were treated to an interactive history of the Supreme Court of the United States on Friday morning in Theatre I. The event was a celebration of Constitution Day, in which all educational institutions that receive any federal funding must take time to teach about the Constitution.
USF took a slightly different angle to Constitution Day and focused almost exclusively on the interpreters of the Constitution, the Supreme Court.
USF’s Constitution Day event was a panel of six authorities who each discussed a little bit about the Constitution and the Supreme Court. The floor was then opened up to questions.
Panelists included American history professor John Belohlavek, American government professor J. Edwin Benton, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and biology professor Bruce Cochrane, Communications Sciences and Disorders professor Cheryl Paul, Humanities and American Studies professor Priscilla Brewer, Pinellas County high school teacher David Tennian and political science major senior Cal Everett.
“I think it went very, very well, and I’m glad they do something like this,” said Benton.
He also added that he was pleased that they could go more in depth in some topics than in lecture halls or classes bound by a syllabus.
The majority of the event was Belohlavek and Benton giving a detailed history of our nation’s highest court from its early homeless days to the present. They chronicled how the judicial branch grew from being the black-sheep branch with no power to the powerful branch it is today, with the ability to initiate sweeping mandates.
The discussion touched on many court-related topics including confirmation of justices past and present, court packing (Lincoln’s attempts as well as FDR’s attempts), term lengths and future decisions the court will have to make, to name a few.
At one point the discussion turned to whether the court should even exist at all.The event was not highly publicized, and turnout was not enough to fully fill in the first five rows of the theatre.
“I thought it went well. I wish more students had come,” said Zac Floweree, a student who said he attended because he is interested in studying constitutional law.
Benton had some thoughts on the low attendance.
“I disagree with some of my colleagues who say they think students are more engaged and interested in public affairs than they were in my generation,” said Benton. “I think they are not as aware and not as concerned.”
The student representative on the panel, Everett, did make an appeal during the event to his fellow students in the audience at one point to get more involved in politics.
“The way to have an effect, the way to take into your own hands the control of what your rights, what your liberties will be … is to get involved. Civic activism,” said Everett.
Constitution Day was mandated last year by the federal government as a rider attached to an appropriations bill by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va. It is officially Sept. 17, the Constitution’s birthday, but was celebrated early across the nation this year in order to fall on a weekday. This was the first Constitution Day celebration of its kind.