We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
These 52 words begin the document that has guided governance of the United States since September 17, 1787, and defined what it means to be an American. With just 27 amendments, the Constitution has held our country together for the last 225 years.
The Constitution was written by 55 men who came together in Philadelphia to create a Constitution that would replace the failing Articles of Confederation. The writers had a great sense of purpose – to save our country from failure and to preserve democracy.
The discussions leading to compromise and agreement were acrimonious, but the delegates shared a common vision – to create a founding document that would represent the interests of all parties, "We the People." The interests of all states, advocates of a strong central government, and those who feared one; abolitionists and slaveholders; all were heard. The final document is a masterpiece of compromise that is flexibly elastic and enduring. The document represents the best of its kind in the history of mankind.
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution — the Bill of Rights — were added by 1791, as an "Operator's Manual" and explained how the Constitution should be used. They assured our rights were clearly stated, including better definitions of due process (basic fairness), and they gave the people a clear voice in governing. We have a right to free expression, as a result, and we have the right to confront an accuser and to try our case before a jury.
In 1865 when the 13th and 14th Amendments were passed, with the rights granted by the Constitution and the first 10 Amendments, the states also had to treat us fairly with due process, and slavery was abolished. Many of the rights derived from our Constitutional battles are still threatened every day, perhaps none more so than the 6th and 7th Amendments, which give us the right to a trial by a jury in all civil and criminal cases.
Civil jury trials in the United States have declined dramatically in the last 35 years, with less than 5% of civil cases going to trial in 2011. As our nation suffers economic pressure and moves away from jury trials to judge only trials to save money, "we the people" are in danger of losing the critical checks and balances that our founders believed were at the center of our justice system, embodied in a jury trial, where we speak our minds and express our values.
The American Board of Trial Advocates and its educational foundation are committed to teaching young Americans, lawyers, judges, legislators and our Executive Branch of government about the right to trial by jury – a critical freedom that defines the American experience and makes us the envy of the world.
Government … of the people, for the people and by the people is not a new concept. A few thousand years ago, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle made it clear that the vote and the right to jury trial were essential to democracy.
As we celebrate Constitution Day 2012, let us remember that freedom is never free, and we must earn our citizenship every day. "We the People" depend on it.
We created this great nation to provide respite for all of us, who came from somewhere, to escape oppression, war, tyranny, hunger, holocaust, and to seek opportunity for ourselves and our children. Do not give up your rights. Cherish your right to vote, to fair treatment by government, and to a jury trial that our forbears struggled to create, and for which many have died on battlefields to preserve.
"We" are the people and we must stand for the essential elements of democracy!
William H. Ginsburg
Foundation of the American Board of Trial Advocates
Mr. Ginsburg has practiced civil and criminal law in Los Angeles and 21 other states since 1968 and has tried more than 300 jury trials.
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