By Joseph D’Andrea
September 17 marked Constitution Day, the anniversary of when the framers of the United States Constitution signed the document that laid the foundation for our nation. To
commemorate the significance of this incredibly influential piece of history, New York State Senator Kevin Thomas (D) of Nassau County’s sixth district was invited by the Political Science Department and the Center for Student and Community Engagement to speak about the topic. About 50 students and faculty attended the event held on September 19 in the University Center.
Constitution Day became a federal holiday in 2004, 217 years after the original date of the document’s signing. Each federally-funded educational institution is required to hold a program that focuses on the significance of this date in history, and many other non-federally-
aided institutions throughout the country also take part in recognizing the holiday. Educating students of today about how the government that Americans live under is essential because it reminds us as citizens about the importance of standing up for your rights, even in a situation in which doing so was considered treasonous, as was the case with the Founding Fathers’ revolutionary acts.
Maggie Gray, chair of Adelphi’s Political Science Department, interviewed Sen. Thomas about the relevance our country’s Constitution holds in the modern age, as well as emphasizing how his own platforms reflect the ideologies expressed in the document.
Discussing federalism, Sen. Thomas said, “The U.S. Constitution gives the federal government a lot of power to regulate certain fields. There are also certain things that the federal government has left to the states, such as consumer protection. If there’s a conflict of law, the federal government wins.”
There are parts of the Constitution, found in the Tenth Amendment and Article VI, Clause II, that establish this relationship between federal- and state-level governments. The Tenth Amendment states that the powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states. Article VI, Clause II is where the Supremacy Clause can be found, which declares that the U.S. Constitution (representative of the federal government) “shall be the supreme Law of the Land,” meaning no state law can be in conflict with the Constitution.
The framework of federalism remains relevant each and every day, and has garnered much attention as of late following the Supreme Court’s recent decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, returning the right to abortion to state-level jurisdiction.
“If you read the Ninth Amendment,” Sen. Thomas said in regards to this current event, “it says that even though the federal government is not explicitly saying you have a right to a certain right, it doesn’t mean you don’t have it. You do have a right to privacy.”
Outlining his belief that the right to privacy—which is not mentioned in the Constitution, but has been claimed by many to have standing as a result of several Supreme Court decisions—Sen. Thomas alluded to the importance of how the Constitution’s language allows for different interpretations by what was then considered future generations.
With Election Day only a few weeks away, the significance of voting has yet again been brought into the public consciousness by many politicians and educators, in order to convince Americans of utilizing this impactful ability of theirs. Article II, Section I and the Seventeenth Amendment lay out the systems of voting in the United States. Article II establishes the Electoral College system of voting for President, and the latter modifies the Constitution to allow U.S. senators to be chosen by direct election, amending the initial system which saw senators being chosen by state legislatures.
While encouraging students to vote, Sen. Thomas said, “Our democracy is a work in progress; it is not perfect. That’s why individuals such as us need to be more active in the political sphere. As someone who has been going around speaking to a lot of groups, there are more similarities than differences. I see [division] only on TV. This nation needs people like us, who can stand up to what is wrong, and we need to be extra cautious about what we hear and read. You should go out to vote so that you can pick out an individual who can fight for you. Many of you don’t understand the power that’s inside of you with that one vote. You can change society.”