ASU launches Center for Constitutional Design

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ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law has launched the Center for Constitutional Design, which is focused on helping people understand the U.S. Constitution. Earlier today we spoke with the Center’s executive director, Stefanie Lindquist.

What is the Center for Constitutional Design?

“It’s a new center at the Arizona State University Law school, funded by the generous support of the Lodestar Foundation here in Phoenix, with a focus on the Constitution, on education about the Constitution, and research about the Constitution, with a very explicit comparative angle.

“So we’re looking at other nation’s constitutions, other state’s constitutions, tribal constitutions, to better understand how we might think about our own, how we might improve it or reform it, and advance constitutional democracy for future generations.

What are you looking at the Constitution for?

“Specifically to ensure that it remains as durable as it has been over the past 230 years. As you know, our constitution is the oldest constitution in the world right now, but it’s also incredibly brief.

“As a result of that we have a lot of provisions within the Constitution that are ambiguous that we’re constantly in the process of interpreting and implying to new circumstances. We want to be sure at the Center that the Constitution survives for many, many more generations, and we think that we can help support the constitution going forward.

Improving or reforming the Constitution raises alarm bells for many.

The Constitution has an amendment process as you know. It’s said by some to be the most difficult constitution to amend, and it is a very cumbersome process to amend the constitution. But frankly, a constitutional amendment in a general form takes place every time the Constitution is interpreted by the judiciary.

As I mentioned before, the Constitution includes many vague phrases, and so those need to be implemented in ways that apply to real-world situations. So in some ways we might think about the Constitution is constantly undergoing new interpretations as we, as the nation, encounter new situations.

But the idea of a ‘living and breathing’ document does not sit well with many Americans.

I understand that, and I think looking to the framer’s intent is a valid way of looking at interpreting the Constitution. We have taken a very explicitly non-partisan approach at this center. We want to bring in all thinkers, Originalists, individuals and scholars who think the Constitution is a living document, because it’s through the exchange of these kinds of ideas that new ideas about how the Constitution can apply for centuries to come can be developed.

How is this done, are there courses involved?

We’re definitely thinking about curricular development, not only at the college level but also for elementary school children and high-school children.

We are supporting research through a fellows program at the center which includes political scientists, journalists, sociologists. We obviously are welcoming speakers to the law school who can speak about protecting constitutional democracy.

And also teaching. Thinking about how to develop courses that can support democracy and constitutional democracy.

Stefanie Lindquist / Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Design

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