The Norman Transcript

Local news

October 2, 2009

Kennedy: Constitution open to interpretation

The authors of the U.S. Constitution intentionally made it open to interpretation so that it could be adapted to meet changing societal issues, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said Thursday in Norman.

"I think (they) sensed that they were on the edge of world history, but they were cautious and they knew it was difficult to rise above injustices and inequalities of their own time," said Kennedy, who is often viewed as the swing vote on the Supreme Court.

Kennedy addressed about 1,500 University of Oklahoma College of Law alumni and students at the centennial celebration for the college at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center.

Kennedy was the keynote speaker at the event. He participated in a fireside chat with OU President David Boren, who praised Kennedy as he introduced him.

"He's one of the most important persons on the court laying out the importance of individual liberties," Boren said.

Boren asked Kennedy what he thought of the state of civic education in the U.S.

Kennedy said that Thomas Jefferson said democracy requires "virtuous, enlightened people." It's evident, he said, that young people in the U.S. are not being educated about the history of this country or the freedoms they possess.

"You don't take a DNA test to see if you believe in freedom, it's taught," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said more emphasis needs to be placed on educating American citizens.

"You cannot defend what you do not know, and we are in crisis," he said.

Earlier Thursday, Kennedy taught a Constitutional Law class to first year law students at the College of Law.

Student Megan Dearth said he was an excellent teacher and asked students questions. He asked one woman about the Constitution and when she didn't know the answer, he gave her his copy.

"He carries a Constitution," Dearth said. "Pulls it out and hands it to her so she could read it."

Dearth said she was honored to hear the justice and be taught by him in class.

"Any attorney I talked to said that's a once in a lifetime opportunity," she said.

Julianna Parker Jones 366-3541

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