September 27, 2007 - Guest Editorial by Colorado Bar Association President Wm. David Lytle
By Colorado Bar Association President Wm. David Lytle
Our U.S. Constitution turns 220 years old on Sept. 17, 2007. When the founders of our country were writing the Constitution, they turned to history for examples of the kind of government they wanted and the kind of government they wanted to avoid. They believed that a government works best when its power is shared and not concentrated in a single authority.
Not only did the framers of the Constitution want to keep any one individual from having too much power, they wanted to make sure each branch of the federal government had some control over the other two branches, to keep any one part of the government from becoming too powerful. Their aim was to establish what John Adams considered the very definition of a republic: “a government in which all men … are equally subject to the laws.”
They carried out their vision through a constitutionally established series of checks and balances. In its most basic sense, separation of powers means the legislative branch makes laws; the executive branch carries out those laws; and the judicial branch determines if the laws as enacted, or applied, are constitutional.
Although the responsibilities of each branch of government are outlined in the Constitution, each generation struggles to define how the three work together. One of the strengths of our Constitution is how it adapts to changing times and situations while maintaining its integrity.
Institutions outside the government also serve as checks and balances on the powers of the government. We have a free press that can investigate and report on government actions; non-governmental organizations that advocate for different interests; and the power of “we, the people,” in whom government authority ultimately rests.
Lawyers have a special responsibility and relationship with the Constitution. At their swearing-in to the Bar, they affirm their support for the laws of the United States established by the Constitution, so that supporting the law becomes the guiding principle of the profession. We refer to this as following the “rule of law.”
Sept. 17 is the day formally set aside as Constitution Day, marking the date in 1787 when the U.S. Constitution was signed by the Constitutional Convention. The Constitution, however, continues to work for us every day. We can thank the framers of the Constitution, and the generations before us, for that. Let us remember not to take for granted what has been given to us. It is unique, it is powerful, and it deserves our attention and protection.
For resources related to Constitution Day and the separation of powers, contact the Colorado Bar Association at (303) 860-1115. You also may download information at http://www.abanet.org/publiced/features/sepdialogue.html.
Wm. David Lytle is a managing member of Altman, Keilbach, Lytle, Parlapiano & Ware PC in Pueblo.