Independence Day

The Brooklyn Law School Library will be open 9am to midnight on Monday July 4th, the 235th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Patrons visiting the BLS Library on the Fourth of July can review the Annotated United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence by Jack N. Rakove (Call # KF4527 .A56 2009). This compact and easy to read book will help readers renew their appreciation for the genius of those who drafted the blueprints for America’s freedom and its republican form of government. This scholarly analysis of America’s founding documents makes clear the value of revisiting those texts and reviewing how they have been construed throughout US history. The famous first 110 words from Jefferson’s famous document read:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Although rarely cited in contemporary case law, the Declaration of Independence has a role in how courts review legislation. A recent article Representative Self-Government and the Declaration of Independence by Alexander Tsesis analyses how the courts can use those famous words when ruling on the constitutionality of statutes. One such example is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, where the US Supreme Court prevented Congress from differentiating between corporations’ and citizens’ campaign expenditures. The article uses the Declaration’s phrase about inalienable rights of the people, particularly freedom of political expression, to analyze the Court’s equating of corporations and natural people for First Amendment purposes in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. It goes on to conclude that “by granting corporations equal First Amendment protections on campaign speech, the Court attenuated the people’s unique place in electoral politics.”